2019 Community Contributor of the Year, Western Canada: Elise Ahenkorah

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : September 13, 2019

MacKenzie Pudwell

Elise Ahenkorah is the Founder and Inclusion Strategist at inclusion FACTOR, a data-driven equity, diversity and inclusion strategic planning firm. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of #shemeets, a national organization that supports the success of women of colour and Indigenous female artists, entrepreneurs and innovators through knowledge-sharing, community connections and mentorship. She has held board positions in Calgary Pride, Alberta Hates Crimes Committee and Fierté Canada Pride. Elise is a proud first generation Ghanaian Canadian from the Ashanti region. She is a recognized inclusion strategist, community builder, speaker and entrepreneur.

Elise has dedicated her career and time to building a more inclusive and equitable community around her and loves the work she does because it’s deeply rooted in her own passion for genuine inclusion as it encourages people to be their most authentic selves. Some of her most memorable projects include building STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) mentorship programming for Indigenous peoples, presenting on the subject of inclusion at the University of Calgary and University of Texas, and building inclusive marketing for a beauty brand to highlight diverse influencers.

“As a person of colour, I understand how important it is to live freely as your authentic self to live, work, love, contribute, and to become the greatest version of yourself.”

With the ever increasingly diverse community demographics, Elise sees it as essential to actively prepare inclusive spaces, rather than simply react to the need it.

One of the challenges she has faced with her work occurred during her time as the Vice President for Calgary Pride. Elise is the first Black Pride Executive in Calgary and Alberta. Pride organizations across Canada were receiving feedback through consultation from marginalized, racialized, Indigenous, two-spirited and trans community members that uniformed officers at pride parades made many feel unwelcomed and triggered. This became a priority discussion for Calgary Pride during Elise’s tenure. She initiated the organization’s first city-wide consultation discuss solutions for building better relations with the local police force. Elise worked in collaboration with Calgary Pride’s board members, Calgary Police Services’ senior leadership and VOICES (Calgary’s coalition of two spirit, trans, queer and straight people of colour) to highlight a mutual commitment to change.

Calgary Pride’s executive team witnessed divide between local law agencies and Pride organizations, and wanted the relationships to be different and handled more collaboratively. Elise took her intersectional lived experience, and diversity and inclusion skills to oversee the development of a set of best practices and strategy to facilitate diverse community engagements. Calgary Pride conducted an online feedback survey and held several accessible townhalls throughout Calgary to identify if uniformed police should participate in pride parades and determine best practices for how Calgary Police Services’ could effectively and meaningfully engage with local marginalized, racialized, Indigenous, two-spirited and trans GSD community members. The community consultations paved a pathway for Calgary Police Services’ formal apology to local GSD community members in July 2018. Before Elise’s involvement and creation of these community consultations, the involved parties never strategically communicated or proactively recognized the diverse and unique needs of Calgary.

“It is my sincere hope that my experience as a Black queer female community leader enacting change that has never been done in Calgary’s history inspires other diverse people to share (and at times force) for their voices to be heard and to leverage their unique and sought-after expertise to shape our nations’ communities for the better.”

Elise wanted to highlight that despite all of the great work she does, there are many amazing people of colour and queer community builders who have come before her, worked alongside her and to come after her that don’t get their stories shared, that aren’t given the space or recognition of their stories being shared.

She wanted to have us stop here and acknowledge the diverse community leaders across our nation that have and are enacting change for us all. Elise is a firm advocate for self-representation of diverse individuals within leadership and decision-making roles within various sectors to enhance Canada’s inclusive innovation and community building ecosystems. The collaborative nature of innovative cultures or communities reinforces the idea that everyone is a potential source for ideation and innovation — and this is where Elise believes diversity and inclusion shines.

 

Tags Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion Awards of Success Awards of Success 2019 CCDI CDNdiversity

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