Brava to 3 powerhouses
from Plan International Canada
DR. TANJINA MIRZA
Winners Aiza Abid, Tehsin Jaffer and Tanjina Mirza with Plan International Canada colleague Anjum Sultana
A gender equal future starts with
girls’ empowerment today
Give the gift of leadership training, mentorship and opportunities for girls who live in diverse contexts within low-income communities around the world.
Words: Linda Nguyen & Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé
Design: Bianca Jozwiak
Talk about Girl Power: Aiza Abid, Tehsin Jaffer and Dr. Tanjina Mirza, recognized as Canada’s Most Powerful Women
Earlier this year, 100 Canadian women were honoured
by the Women’s Executive Network for being rising stars and trailblazers from the private, public and
Not one, or two, but three women, from Plan International Canada were named to the 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winners list.
“This year’s winners truly inspire us in the way they lead from a place of truth,” Sherri Stevens, owner and CEO of WXN, said
in an announcement.
The awards categories range from community impact, emerging leaders and skilled trades. Past winners have included Plan International Canada board chair Rona Ambrose and two former Plan International Canada CEOs,
Rosemary McCarney and Caroline Riseboro.
They make Canada a better place by unabashedly following their passions and purposes without apologies, excuses or hesitation. Their bravery, grit, focus and strength shine not only in their own accomplishments, but also in the way they show future generations what’s possible.”
– Sherri Stevens,
owner and CEO of WXN
Meet the Winners from
Plan International Canada
KPMG C-Suite Executives laureate winner
Tanjina was born in northeastern Bangladesh,
the oldest of three sisters.
Her family experienced poverty, and the country was in the middle of a famine, but she says her home was filled with love and warmth, and she had a father who always pushed her to dream big.
Tanjina, the chief programs officer at Plan International Canada, vividly remembers people stopping her father in the street and telling him, “I’m so sorry you do not have a son.”
Even though her father was unrelentingly supportive, Tanjina knew these comments reflected the harsh reality that girls weren’t as valued as boys. But despite society’s expectations, and her own humble circumstances, Tanjina persevered and achieved her dream to become
At a recent town hall meeting with her colleagues,
Tanjina shared that her story should be the reality
for millions of other girls.
“A girl just needs the opportunity and the ability
to be educated,” she said.
As a woman of colour and a first-generation
immigrant to Canada, Tanjina says her pathway
to becoming a leader had its challenges.
But she pulls her strength from other strong women in her life, like her grandmother, who opened a high school for girls in Bangladesh that continues to graduate hundreds of students each year.
Tanjina joined the organization more than 20 years ago, and currently leads the design, implementation, and creation of innovative solutions for improving international development and humanitarian response program quality and effectiveness around the world.
In addition to her medical degree, she has a master’s in community health and a PhD in demography. In her storied career, Tanjina has worked in hospitals, refugee camps, research centers, academia, UN and NGOs around the globe.
“My grandmother was a tiny woman. She could barely read and
did not have much education, but she had courage to challenge
the men who opposed her.”
“Regardless of where I am working, my mission is always to
advance human rights and alleviate poverty,” says Dr. Mirza.
Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders winner
Winners Tehsin Jaffer and
Aiza Abid posing with Plan International Canada President and CEO Lindsay Glassco and other leadership team members
Tehsin remembers a mentor pulling her aside to
give her some sage advice early in her career.
“Own your power,” she recalls.
As the lead of global youth engagement at
Plan International Canada, it’s a message
Tehsin now shares with other young women.
“I had to confront my discomfort at considering myself a leader or someone with influence,” she explains. “I had my eureka moment after a colleague put me on the spot after I backed away from an opportunity to lead.
“They said to me, ‘You have power and influence. I need you to be my advocate – to work this system, to bring everyone together, and elevate us as a whole.’”
Since she joined Plan International Canada five years ago, she’s been doing that while working to support programs associated with youth leadership, international development and
Owning her own power, and enabling others to do the same, has shaped Tehsin’s empathetic leadership style – and influenced the leadership advice she shares with other youth.
“Assume the best in others. Always assume that everyone's trying their hardest and give people the benefit of the doubt.”
“Some of my generation
have been taught to position themselves as the expert in the room. That’s the wrong way
to lead. As a leader, you need
to recognize that you are surrounded by brilliant minds. Your job is to help create the environment for them to be able to share their knowledge, their experience and their expertise.”
TESHIN’s TOP 2 LEADERSHIP TIPS
The 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award winners at a gala on Nov. 17, 2022 in Toronto
RBC Future Launch Future Leader winner
Aiza describes herself as “painfully shy,” but the specialist of
youth engagement at Plan International Canada says she had to
step up after meeting children living in extreme poverty during
a childhood trip to Pakistan.
It made her aware that there were children facing poverty
she had no experience with.
“For the first time in my life, I felt overcome by the desire to
speak,” says Abid, who started working with Plan International
Canada as a youth ambassador in 2017.
“I set out to use my voice to tell stories in a way that amplified the voices of those who were willing but unable to share their own.”
Her commitment to not-for-profit work started when she was in Grade 10 when she founded Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation, an organization that has provided hundreds of thousands of children with teddy bears, clothing and books.
“I’ve been a children’s rights activist since I was a child. (My sisters and I) never let our gender define what we are capable of. If anything, it empowers us because we have so many powerful women to look up to in our lives,” says Aiza.
– dr. tanjina mirza