2020 WOD Recipients

The 2020 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards Recipients

YWCA Metro Vancouver is pleased to announce the recipients of its 37th annual Women of Distinction Awards presented by Scotiabank.

More than 800 guests and volunteers joined our first-ever virtual event on September 23rd to honour inspiring nominees and their achievements. 

This year’s recipients are:

Arts, Culture & Design

Beth Carter

Beth, Curator of Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, is committed to purposeful engagement with the Indigenous community to create meaningful exhibitions and programs and to support women and elevate Indigenous female voices. Beth has expanded exhibitions from two to six annually, all co-curated with an Indigenous cultural expert. She also developed the Content Committee, comprised of Indigenous artists and educators to advise on programs. Beth has initiated exhibitions by women focused on women, including solo exhibitions by female artists which explore the role of Indigenous women and the Two-spirit community and the group exhibition, Womxn and Waterways, with special attention to the roles of child-bearers, healers and doulas. Recognizing the value of mentorship, Beth has mentored 8 Indigenous women in the past five years in curatorial studies. 

Business & the Professions

Cheryl Nelms

Cheryl is General Manager, Project Delivery, Metro Vancouver and during her former role as Acting General Manager, Engineering Services at City of Vancouver, Cheryl was the first woman Acting City Engineer. Cheryl led enormous infrastructure projects and prioritized improving the number of women hired in Engineering, culminating in the City’s first departmental diversity and inclusion action plan. Her efforts saw a 46% increase in the number of women employees in Engineering since 2016 and to support staff retention and development, Cheryl reinstated an engineering mentorship program. She spearheaded the City’s Women Deliver Legacy project, securing over a quarter-million dollars in funding for programming to raise awareness of gender equity issues and a site for a women’s housing and services project, the construction of which was approved to be led by female public works staff and tradespeople.

Community Champion

Margaret Mubanda

Margaret, a Resource Social Worker, Ministry of Children and Family Development, initiated the Youth Aging Out of Care Project in the City of Surrey, in collaboration with other organizations, leading to provincial government support to extend beyond a young person’s 19th birthday. Margaret fostered children for more than 15 years, providing her with a unique perspective to better support children in her care at home and work. Margaret also co-founded Daughters of Hope International Community of BC in 2005 to provide support and empowerment to new immigrants, especially women and children, as they adjust to life in Canada. She is a long-standing member of the Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition Committee and Provincial Council Representative in her local constituency association in Surrey-Whalley, among several other community non-profits of which she is active with.

Connecting the Community

Sharon Selby

Sharon Selby is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Founder of Toddler to Teen® Anxiety Solutions. Through Sharon’s curriculum, children engage in activities that help them understand and manage their anxiety. Sharon’s groundbreaking children’s book, Surfing the Worry Imp’s Wave, is a resource for parents and educators to explain anxiety to children and practice strategies for managing it. Based on cognitive behavioural therapy, the book is the first of its kind for younger children and includes a digital discussion guide to further aid parents and educators in explaining the core concepts. To help overcome barriers to counselling and to innovate beyond the 1:1 model, Sharon created and facilitates long-running groups for anxiety that are affordable, flexible and available throughout the year, as well as runs a biweekly online parent support group.

Education, Training, & Development

Leonie Sandercock

Leonie Sandercock is a Professor of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, and her scholarship in community development and urban planning has had a profound impact on the discipline. For decades through books, film and education, Leonie has addressed diversity and difference in planning. Her documentary, Finding Our Way, served as a catalyst for facilitating reconciliation workshops in rural BC communities and workshops for high school teachers in the Vancouver School District. In 2012 she initiated a two-year Master's degree specialization in Indigenous Community Planning, designed and delivered in partnership with the Musqueam First Nation. It is the only program in North America to address the challenges facing Indigenous communities as a result of colonization and emphasizes community- and land-based learning and integrating Indigenous ways of knowing.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Teara Fraser

Teara is Founder and CEO of Iskwew Air, launched the first Indigenous woman-owned and operated airline in Canada. Teara launched her airline in an industry where less than 3% of executives are women and even fewer are owners. While a passenger in a small airplane in Africa, Teara discovered her passion for flight and at 32, obtained her commercial pilot’s license. In 2010 she started her first business, KÎSIK Aerial Survey Inc, which she sold in 2016. She launched Give Them Wings to inspire Indigenous youth with the possibilities of flight and provide a roadmap to achieving their goals. Teara is also the Founder of Raven Institute, an organization that hosts a gathering space, leadership programs and reconciliation efforts, including RavenSPEAK - a cohort-based learning program for Indigenous change makers. 

Environmental Sustainability

Meredith Adler

Meredith is Executive Director of Student Energy, a global non-profit empowering young people to accelerate the sustainable energy transition. Since 2015, she has helped quadruple the organization in size to serve more than 50,000 youth in 150 countries and has grown the annual budget from $288,000 to more than $1 million in 2019. Meredith co-designed the Student Energy Chapters program, post-secondary level clubs that teach students practical skills to take action on energy in their communities; there are now 42 Chapters across Canada and globally. Meredith played a key role in developing Student Energy’s “Space for Youth” and in 2019 worked with the Government of Canada to design and launch the first-ever young leaders’ delegation in Vancouver, where 60 young people from 25 countries came to participate contributing to panels and ideation.

Health & Wellness

Joelle Bradley

Joelle is a hospitalist promoting better advance care and end-of-life planning at Royal Columbian Hospital. To address gaps that exist in this field, she founded and led the Advance Care Planning Shared Care Committee, which connected patients and health care providers through symposiums, collaborative research and a community engagement program. Joelle is also the lead and co-founding physician of MDs4Wellness, a group of more than 400 local doctors who focus on physician wellness and support each other through collaboration and connection. Since 2019, Joelle co-created, hosts and co-produces the popular podcast Behind the Stethoscope to provide local physicians with an opportunity to share stories of personal struggle and success. Joelle is a trainer in the Serious Illness Conversation Guide (SIGC) and will co-host her first SIGC training for physicians in 2020.


Mebrat Beyene

Mebrat is Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre Society and co-led a consortium of four non-profit organizations to create Transitions, a coordinated initiative to support sex workers wishing to decrease their involvement in, or exit, sex work. Under her leadership, WISH reversed a critical funding shortfall and increased programs that support more than 300 women daily. She has recently been in consultations with the City of Vancouver and BC Housing to offer the country’s first-ever shelter for women in sex work. As Co-Chair of Living in Community, a collective of advocacy organizations, health centres and law enforcement, Mebrat co-led a working group that aims to create a provincial “bad date sheet” so sex workers and advocacy organizations can share reports about dangerous experiences.

Reconciliation in Action - Indigenous

Marion Buller

Marion is a member of the Mistawasis Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan and was the first Indigenous woman appointed as a judge in BC. While a Provincial Court Judge in Metro Vancouver, she established the first Indigenous Court in BC where community members, Elders, offenders and victims work together with the judge to help the offenders heal while still being held accountable and responsible for their actions. The seventh Indigenous Court opened in April 2020. As Chief Commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada from 2016-2019, Marion created a hearing process based in Indigenous ceremonies and traditions, empowering witnesses to share their painful truths. Marion led the inquiry to a successful conclusion and release of a nationally and internationally lauded final report.

Reconciliation in Action - Indigenous Ally

Courtney Daws

Courtney is Vice President, Governance and Policy at Castlemain Group and is a staunch advocate and a true ally for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. At Castlemain, Courtney leads projects that build the strength of Indigenous governance, the foundation for self-determination, which is essential in reconciliation and overcoming the history of colonialism. Courtney was one of the youngest women to serves as Director of Operations/Chief of Staff at the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) and is a key contributor to the BCAFN Governance Toolkit – A Guide to Nation-Building. The Toolkit is the most comprehensive study on Indigenous governance and Nation rebuilding efforts of First Nations across Canada. During her legal academic studies (2001-2004), Courtney argued that Canada committed genocide through Residential Schools, a widely accepted view today.

Research, The Sciences & Technology

Megan Levings

Dr. Megan Levings is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC and a Researcher at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. An immunologist and preeminent researcher of regulatory T cells (Tregs), her world-leading study changed the understanding of how this immune cell works in humans, providing valued new insight into how it can be used as cell therapy in disease and for improving outcomes of organ transplantation. She holds five provisional patents of which two, describing methods to use regulatory cell therapy as a new way to improve the success of transplantation, have been licensed by TxCell S.A. (a French biotechnology company) which plans to begin clinical testing of the approach in 2020. A proud non-scientific achievement is her contribution to bringing systemic changes to UBC to prevent gender pay inequity.

Young Woman of Distinction

Michelle Kwok

Michelle is Co-Founder and CEO of the Female Laboratory of Innovative Knowledge (FLIK) and built the first female-focused apprenticeship portal, allowing female leaders and apprentices to connect and work together. Having previously worked in traditionally male-dominated industries, such as sports, business and tech, Michelle discovered her niche at the intersection of technology and impact. Michelle leads FLIK to achieve equity and actively cultivates a community of ethnic minorities, diverse socioeconomic statuses and women from isolated communities. The apprenticeship program is available remotely, enabling women in rural communities to gain equal access to opportunities as those living in urban communities. Noticing that females are the subject of less than 25% of news stories, Michelle set out to document untold stories of visionary women and share them on the platform.

Outstanding Workplace


TELUS is a world-leading communications and information technology company guided by the belief that diversity creates a whole much stronger than the sum of its parts. In 2018, TELUS’ engagement score rose to 85%, placing TELUS within the top 10% of all employers globally. To move toward parity and inclusion, TELUS conducts both an Employment Equity survey and a Gender Pay audit to proactively acknowledge and close existing pay gaps. The company provides flexible work options that promote work-life balance and team members work with leaders to build customized career development plans and discuss their progress against the plan throughout the year. TELUS invests in physical, psychological, financial, social and environmental well-being and since 2000, TELUS team members and retirees have contributed $1.2 billion to create stronger, healthier communities.

The Icon Award

Dr. Bonnie Henry

As BC's top public health officer, the first woman to hold this post, Dr. Henry has been leading the province's COVID-19 response. She has been praised for her calm and informative approach in mitigating the transmission of the virus and her "Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe" message has guided citizens of BC to work together in the face of the pandemic. Dr. Henry is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Medicine. She is the past chair of Immunize Canada and a member of the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the National Infection Control Guidelines Steering Committee. In her career, Dr. Henry has been actively involved in a wide variety of large-scale public health crises both in Canada and internationally. These challenges include supporting the WHO/UNICEF polio eradication program in Pakistan in 2000; working with the WHO to control the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2001; leading the operational response to the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003, and responding to pandemic H1N1 influenza in 2009. She is the author of “Soap and Water and Common Sense,” a guide to staying healthy in a microbe filled world. Dr. Henry is also tackling one of the biggest and deadliest public health challenges facing British Columbians: the opioid overdose crisis. Under her supervision, BC is taking the lead on new approaches to prevention, treatment and harm reduction services: addressing underlying causes of drug use, promoting supervised consumption and encouraging drug checking of unregulated, highly toxic drug supplies.  

The YWCA Women of Distinction Awards honours individuals and organizations whose outstanding activities and achievements contribute to the well-being and future of our community.

Since 1984, YWCA Metro Vancouver has paid tribute to more than 320 award recipients and more than 1,930 nominees.