Life

Solange Tuyishime: Elevating Women, Girls and the World

“She has given a voice to those who often feel they don’t have one. She has inspired and advocated for women’s rights and empowerment around the world. Her ability to find positives and hope in some of the most difficult times should serve as inspiration to all of us.”

Those are the words of Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, who, in 2023, perfectly encapsulated the life purpose, tangible impact, and attitudinal fortitude that define Solange Tuyishime. It’s a long way from the genocidal madness of East Africa to the Order of Ottawa presentations in our placid nation’s capital. In accepting that award from Sutcliffe—to go along with her 2022 Business Innovation Champion of the Year Award, her “40 Under 40” designation, and her dual titles in Miss and Mrs. World Canada International competitions—the gatekeepers of Tuyishime’s second home officially recognized the spiritual determination by which she remade her life, and her ongoing mission to help remake those of others.

That all-consuming mandate is carried out through Elevate International, of which she is President and CEO. The organization’s purpose is to inspire world leaders to adopt a humane agenda that includes a constructive commitment to gender quality. It’s a cause furthered by Tuyishime’s role as Canada’s Ambassador for UNICEF, where again she advocates for the empowerment of women and girls. She is also the founder of Naylah’s Legacy, a non-profit organization set up in memory of her daughter, which assists premature babies and their mothers.

After years in the bare-bones bardo of refugee camps, Tuyishime arrived in Canada at the age of thirteen. Her first step on the path to international advocacy was an influential volunteer position at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, N.B. and that city’s YMCA.

“I was drawn to their mission of empowering youth and building stronger communities,” she reflects. “I saw firsthand the impact that these organizations had on the lives of young people, how they provided a lifeline in times of need, how they instilled hope and resilience in the face of adversity. I knew that this was where I belonged.”  From there, the poetic, polemic Tuyishime went on to earn degrees in journalism and public administration. “That way,” she explains, “I could facilitate change with both words and action.”

Elevate International has established a range of initiatives that have created pathways for gender equality. Its Champions Program pairs aspiring female leaders with senior executives from a variety of sectors, who provide guidance, support, and other opportunities for professional growth. For the succeeding generation, there’s the Elevate Girls Leadership Program, whose workshops and activities provide tomorrow’s women with the skills, confidence, and support they need to excel in school, careers, and life. Both programs share a common goal: “We’re building a world where women’s voices are heard, their talents are valued, and their leadership is celebrated,” announces Tuyishime.

Tuyishime is equally devoted to the rights of the younger set. Her work with UNICEF has brought her to Jamaica and Haiti, where she witnessed the transformative impact of UNICEF’s interventions in the lives of youth firsthand. “I saw how programs aimed at removing youths from the streets and creating after-school programs and safe spaces provided them with the support, guidance, and opportunities they needed to thrive,” she recounts. “These initiatives not only kept them away from danger but also empowered them to connect, learn, and envision a brighter future.”

Haiti proved an even more personal experience, echoing her war-torn background and the disposition she assumed to overcome it. “Amid adversity and hardship, I found hope as I connected and conversed with youths in schools. Despite their challenging circumstances, they harbored great dreams and a vision for a brighter future. It was a poignant reminder of the resilience and optimism that exists within every child, regardless of their circumstances.”

Like Tuyishime, the children of Haiti refused to be defined by their sociopolitical lot. They subscribed to a fundamental resilience, optimism, and vision for the future that, according to kindred spirit Tuyishime, is the admixture required to convert “destiny” to “possibility.”

Going forward, Tuyishime will continue to fight for gender equality, education, healthcare, and environmental protectionism—the enemies of the socially responsible egalitarianism she has found in Canada. As she puts it with her usual lucidity and eloquence, “By working together and addressing the underlying causes of inequality and vulnerability, we can create a world where women and children can live healthy, safe, and empowered lives. This will require collective action, political will, and sustained commitment, but the benefits will be immense for generations to come.”

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