For the fourth consecutive year, Community Futures Middlesex hosted its International Women’s Day Symposium and Luncheon on March 6, 2020. With a total of 199 registered attendees and participants, it was a resounding success for everyone involved, selling out all of its tickets. The event was held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at FireRock Golf Club in Komoka.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was #EachForEqual, emphasizing that we all play a significant role in striving for gender equality. To align with this theme, the focus of Community Futures Middlesex’s event was sharing stories from three female entrepreneurs, followed by a keynote speaker. The various backgrounds and stories were incredibly diverse.

Cassie Krygsman discussed her experience as both a mother and an entrepreneur, notably how these two worlds collided for her in the creation of Curiosity Box. Krygsman’s business targeted parents seeking crafts and activities for their children,
winning many awards. She sold Curiosity Box to her partner but now works as a consultant to other entrepreneurs.

“International Women’s Day means we can reflect, honour and evolve about who we are, how far we’ve come and what we can control individually today and moving forward—as women and as a whole,” Krygsman said. In other words, as she puts it, “looking outside the box.”

Another presentation by Kay Habib highlighted the intersection of gender equality and racial diversity. Habib is the owner of Skill Decor, an interior design company in London, as well as the founder and CEO of Skilled Accents. This social enterprise turns scrap fabric into accent pillows, with an emphasis on employing refugee women from countries like Syria and Iraq.

“International Women’s Day means celebrating women without thinking about where they are from, what colour their skin is, how much money they make and who they choose to love,” Habib explained. Her experience as a refugee from Pakistan provided great value.

The final female entrepreneur to speak was the president and CEO of Eve and Co, Melinda Rombouts, who talked about the company’s “ladies first” approach. Based in Strathroy, Eve and Co’s cannabis products cater to women in the Canadian market. Its greenhouse space of over one million square feet is also led by female farmers in the growing of its products.

“International Women’s Day means celebrating the accomplishments of women who inspire us, supporting the women around us who struggle every day to become the people they hope to be and raising our children to believe they have no limitations,” Rombouts said.

To cap off the morning, Juno Award-nominated singer and musician Emm Gryner presented the event’s keynote speech. In addition to her speaking engagement, Gryner graced the audience with a musical act. One of her life’s goals is to help others find happiness through singing and finding their voice, blending humour and heart into her performances.

“International Women’s Day means I celebrate the hard work myself and others have done to champion human rights and equality. I work to support my fellow warriors as we celebrate our unique and powerful identities as women,” Gryner explained before the event.

Other participants who helped in delivering the program included Cathy Burghardt-Jesson, Warden of Middlesex County, Andrew Wallen, the Executive Director of the Western Ontario CFDC Association, and Karen Vecchio, Member of Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London. Attendees were also treated to a buffet lunch and had time to network during a coffee break.

Jane Hartley, Program Manager of the Women’s Rural Resource Centre (WRRC) in Strathroy, and Corrie Schneider, the Executive Director of One Spark, also provided an overview of their respective organizations. The event’s net proceeds of
$2,000—collected through registration fees, grants, sponsorships and silent auctions—were donated to the WRRC and One Spark.

Funding and sponsorships for the event were provided by the Middlesex Workforce Development Partnership, the Western Ontario CFDC Association, Libro Credit Union, Cadillac Fairview and Middlesex County. Community Futures Middlesex looks forward to next year’s International Women’s Day but encourages everyone to support gender equality every day.