A woman of influence
Farah Mohamed was a popular bartender when she dispensed drinks at Alfie’s pub back in the early ‘90s. She has a new gig these days: serving up life opportunities for young women.
Farah Mohamed, Artsci’93, who has dedicated much of her career to the global empowerment of women and girls, has been saluted by Women of Influence Magazine. The publication, the editorial voice of the Toronto-based organization Women of Influence, in December named Mohamed one of Canada’s “Top 25 Women of Influence.” This new honour recognizes Canadian women who have cracked the glass ceiling in five categories: business, health, NGO, professional services, and the public sector.
Farah says she was “surprised and delighted” to receive an accolade in the NGO category for her work as president of The Belinda Stronach Foundation (TBSF), a position she held from its 2008 founding till the end of 2011.
“To be in the company of those women and recognized by Women of Influence, which I think is a terrific organization, was really overwhelming for me,” she says.
As president of TBSF, Farah worked hand in hand with Belinda Stronach to build the foundation, whose mandate is to improve economic, political, and educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth and women in Canada and abroad.
For a person whose life is so firmly entrenched in politics, Farah says her years at Queen’s were surprisingly partisan-free. “For somebody who ended up having a life in politics, I didn’t do a lot of student government stuff,” she says with a laugh, explaining that her work-study scholarship kept her busy.
In her student years, Farah worked as a bartender at Alfie’s and was involved with some AMS clubs. She credits the “tremendously engaged” Queen’s campus with keeping her informed about political goings on. “Queen’s provides a lot of opportunities to be political and outspoken and to figure out your interests without actually holding office,” she says.
After graduating with an honours BA in political science, Farah backpacked through Europe. When she returned to Canada, the 1993 federal election was in full swing.
“I didn’t have a job, so I volunteered to work for Liberal candidate Paddy Torsney [in Burlington, Ontario],” she says. The summer gig turned into a full-time job on Parliament Hill in 1995, after Farah finished an MA in political science at Western. From there, she moved on to act as Director of Communications for politician Anne McLellan (Lib., Edmonton West) in her roles as Minister of Justice (1997-2002), Minister of Health (2002-04), in the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien, and as Deputy Prime Minister (2004-06) under his successor, Paul Martin.
"We live in a global world, one in which what you once might have thought was impossible is now absolutely possible."
Farah helped to set-up the Stronach Foundation in 2008. One of her proudest achievements while heading that organization was the creation of the flagship G(irls)20 Summit initiative, which brings together female delegates ages 18-20 from each G20 country, plus one from the African Union.
Farah left TBSF in December to curate the G(irls)20 Summit full time, an experience that she expects to be equally challenging and rewarding as she looks forward to this year’s summit, to be held in Mexico City, May 28-30.
“We’re not saying, come together, let’s have a nice little Kumbaya party where we talk about solutions and don’t do anything,” Farah says. “This is really about action.”
But even Women of Influence have heroes. While Farah hails Paddy Torsney and Anne McLellan as her mentors, she says her biggest heroes are her parents.
“I know everyone says that,” she says with a laugh, “but I think about the fact that my parents came [to Canada] as refugees, and they came here with nothing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for their support.”
Farah says she also has a “smart, engaged, and supportive” group of girlfriends and mentors who number in the hundreds.
“You know how you always hear about the ‘Old Boys’ Network’? We’re the ‘New Girls’ Network,’” she says. “I think for a long, long time, we’ve missed opportunities to support our female colleagues, and I want to be part of a movement where we do that.”
She encourages young women at Queen’s to work hard and “keep their minds open to different possibilities.”
“We live in a global world, one in which what you once might have thought was impossible is now absolutely possible,” she says. “Dream big, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Go for it. You’re not going to succeed if you don’t try.”