The organizer: Karyn Steer
The pitch: leading iSisters Technology Mentoring
The cause: to provide technology training for disadvantaged women and girls
Karyn Steer arrived in Montreal from Britain 20 years ago and soon found herself looking for something to do.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m a bit bored. So I’m going to volunteer,’ ” recalled Ms. Steer.
She got involved with a charity that supported women who had been affected by the downturn in Montreal’s textile industry. “I was brought on to launch a program called Opportunity Transition to work with the women to develop transferable skills,” she said.
A few years later, she moved to Ottawa and worked with several groups, including the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. It was there that she came in contact with iSisters Technology Mentoring, a local charity that offers computer and technical training to disadvantaged women and girls.
iSisters partners with other charities to deliver a variety of courses, which range from teaching the basics of how to use a laptop and cellphone to instruction on Excel, Word and other software. It also has special programs for older women as well as budding entrepreneurs.
This summer, Ms. Steer, 55, was named iSister’s executive director and part of her mandate is to broaden the organization’s reach. iSisters currently serves around 600 women and girls annually. Ms. Steer is hoping to expand the charity’s range of services and the areas it serves. That could include branching out to more remote parts of Ontario, creating partnerships across the country and setting up programs in refugee camps to help new migrants before they arrive in Canada.
iSisters relies on grants and donations to cover its $300,000 annual budget and Ms. Steer hopes to develop new sources of funding. “The biggest challenge with our sector is we create these incredible programs, we get them funded for a year, lose the funding and then they are never revived,” she said.
iSisters was founded in 2001 by four teachers who worried about the growing gap in access to technology. Ms. Steer said the charity’s programs are even more important today.
“Technology plays a really big part in the pathway to employment and financial independence,” she said. Improving digital literacy also helps women connect with vital resources and form communities. “It opens up a much wider world for them.”