Jamii's Women In Leadership 2020 Initiative

LAINI is a Swahili word that means to flatten an area with the intent of making it accessible. It is a very similar meaning to “esplanade”, which is a flattened path for people to walk on. LAINI is about giving every woman the confidence and tools to see themselves as leaders; it is about equal chances, and the ability for all to walk the path of leadership.

Jamii being an arts organization, LAINI will use the arts as a tool to actively engage and inspire participating girls.


For years, Jamii has been engaging young women in its programming through volunteering opportunities, participating in creative workshops, and working within the organization.

Jamii’s most recent programmes for women include:

  • “I am me (Girl, I got you)": A photography exhibit created by a group of 10 young women, under the artistic leadership of queer-identifying artist Brianna Roye. The exhibit was part of “Contact, Photography Festival” in May 2019, and challenged society’s image of women. The group created the exhibition entirely: from choosing the theme, to taking the photos, to choosing where and how to display them.

  • “I am me. I am Beauty.”: In September 2019, a group of 10 young women participated in a series of 3 workshops inviting them to develop their own one-year goals and the journey to getting there. This was explored through group conversation, one-on-one guidance and craft, under the leadership of Empathy Facilitator Georgia Reynolds.

  • Long-term commitment to young women: Girls and young women who have previously volunteered with or participated in Jamii’s programming are offered the opportunity to work with the organization. Since 2017, Jamii has offered eight 2-months contracts to young women of color who were interested in acquiring further leadership skills and management experience, as well as, for the most part, first time working experience.


However, we have never had an official Women in Leadership programme. Between July and September 2019, Jamii invited 20 young women (Jamii’s past participants) to take part in a one-on-one discussion on the impact of the organization personally and to community.

Here is a series of testimonials that speak to the work we have already done. All are excerpts from the one-on-one series of 20 interviews. We promised anonymity to the participants.



“I gained confidence with my abilities; it was the first time singing in front of a crowd."



 “Jamii has enabled my connection with community which wasn't there before. Jamii has potential for creating social capital and link for people to access public information like town hall meetings, which I got to be part of.”



 “When you transition to high school there is no time to do things you like doing so Jamii created a space for that, and to think critically about my own creativity.”



 “Jamii brings out the need to preserve community values. This has given me motivation to advocate for community in relation to social housing.”



“Jamii programming opened me up to new art forms and better understanding of creative processes.  Especially film, being part of a production team and working/watching the entire creative process, showed me that every part of film is artistic and creative.”

“My experience with Jamii confirmed the type of photography I would like to do. Now I observe to capture interesting moments. I can capture the essence of people.”


“Jamii helped me resist the system of oppression I grew up with where in South Asian culture, young women stay at home. Jamii is offering an opportunity for experience and exposure for these women.”



 “Jamii gave me a sense of responsibility. Setting up the tent at the event made me feel like an important team member.”


Tanjin Ashraf

Tanjin has been living in the Esplanade community for the past 22 years. She joined Jamii because she heard about it's empowering programming and saw the beautiful art installations throughout the neighbourhood. In the past, she was a camera assistant for the 'At-Heart' film project and she is currently analyzing the impact of Jamii programming. Tanjin completed her undergraduate degrees in psychology and education in 2015, and finished her Master of Education degree in August, 2019. She loves travelling and has taught in China, Taiwan, South Korea, and England. She will be moving to Melbourne, Australia in 2020 to pursue a PhD in education policy.


Even though the full report on these conversations will not be available until December 2019, here is a summary of the initial findings:


Multiplicity of Opportunities for Interpersonal Growth

Interviewed participants cited various Jamii programs and projects which contributed to their interpersonal growth. Four participants described how the Patchwork Village project provided opportunities for interpersonal growth, including gaining confidence to present in front of an audience, learning about the stories/narratives of fellow community members, and the chance to share their own stories with the community.


Two other participants emphasized how their knowledge and awareness of Indigenous cultures was enhanced through Jamii programming including Indigenous Week and Elder’s Talk. One of them even mentioned how the experiential activities from Indigenous Week helped her connect with the Indigenous community in a way the education system has not been able to.


An important sub-theme is the opportunity for intimate (close-knitted) experiences. In addition to the programs /events mentioned, participants cited that Feetprints, Écoute Pour Voir, At Heart and Jamii movie nights were programs that allowed them to have intimate experiences with the community.


Importance of Art in Community Enrichment

Participants reported that the arts-based programming significantly enriched the community. Seven participants believed the mural project in the basketball court impacted the community the most. One participant remarked how, “The mural at the basketball court has given us Esplanadians a sense of pride.” Another participant said how the mural was a, “huge healing moment’ because it helped fix the damages made to the court. The basketball court made one of the most significant impacts because it is a permanent installation which will made a long-term impact.


Five participants discussed how the At-Heart film project provided for community growth, including understanding new perspectives, explored important aspects including social construct and disability, brought forth voices that were usually underrepresented, and brought people together through the participatory filming process. Participants also commented on how the widespread recognition of the film helps bring the Esplanade community issues and values into the limelight.


A full report is being prepared by Tanjin Ashraf and will be available in December 2019.

Based on these initial findings, we created a first draft for a Women in Leadership programme. In October, we then invited a group of 15 women from our community to discuss extensively this first draft.  Together, we identified that LAINI should address the following needs:

  • Leadership skill training;

  • Mentorship through one’s journey;

  • Opportunities for practical leadership experience;

  • Inspiration through other women’s stories;

  • Self-reflection (career counseling);

  • Network and support;

  • Resilience (courage to fail);

  • Challenging gender roles.



  • Nurturing leadership skills (creative thinking; being in charge; listening with generosity and connecting with others; expressing one’s opinion and ideas; collaborating; leading “with” rather than “over”; inspiring those around you);

  • Discovering their artistic path/finding their voice;

  • Igniting self-drive (building self-confidence; finding inspiration; exploring purpose);

  • Connecting girls to matching mentors.


In addition to the above, this program would also offer networking opportunities, encourage critical thinking and offer direct leadership experience.