New conference aims to level the playing field for Vancouver’s women of colour

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      A new conference coming to Metro Vancouver aims to improve work and wellness for women. 

      The Bigger Ideas conference, organized by Efe Fruci of education and empowerment charity Odihi, grew out of her desire to help women and femmes, and particularly women of colour, succeed in all areas of their life. 

      Fruci says an organization like Odihi has been a lifelong dream of hers. Growing up in Nigeria, her own access to education was complicated, as she spent her teen years helping to look after her younger sister. Her story isn’t unusual, she emphasizes: if families are struggling, it’s often the daughters who have to drop out of school to take on caregiver roles or find work. 

      “A lot of girls cannot go to school in Nigeria,” she says. “A lot of families are very much low income; they can’t afford it, and they don’t have any other safety nets that they can rely on, so education is not a priority.”

      She returned to school as a mature student, which led her to culinary school and a Masters in health science—while simultaneously running her own educational charity.

      That eventually led to Fruci starting Odihi in 2020, with the aim of spreading education and empowerment to women both in Canada and internationally (she moved to Vancouver five years ago, after spending time in the UK and US). The organization has many different programs, from helping connect people dealing with miscarriages to running sessions to prepare women for executive boardroom positions. Through it all is a commitment giving BIPOC women and girls the tools they need to succeed—be it networking connections, mentorship, or material assistance.

      “I’m giving people things that I didn’t have, I couldn’t afford,” Fruci reflects, “but also things that I’m hearing my community members telling me that they can’t afford in Vancouver.”

      That same spirit is behind the Bigger Ideas conference, which grew out of Fruci noticing the difficulties in finding a foothold in Vancouver.

      “When I arrived in Vancouver, it was a whole different pool. Within the Black community, there was already that lack of access for us, and then on top of it there was also this layer of disconnection between where our resources are, and the ones that we can afford or be able to access for free,” she recalls. “Vancouver was so tight knit, it really felt like you were in competition with almost everyone that you met.”    

      Fruci says she went to networking events and was routinely snubbed or ignored when she tried to make connections. After George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement’s momentum led to those same people reaching out to ask for her aid.

      “Of course, I said no, because I understand the intention,” Fruci says. “It felt like a token. And that’s the constant repetition of a lot of things that I’ve heard from a lot of BIPOC women: that they feel so neglected, so unseen, in a lot of white-dominated spaces, even at work. That’s exactly the thing I’m trying to dismantle and restructure.”

      Instead of competition, Bigger Ideas wants to encourage cooperation and collaboration. It’s open to all women and girls, and the schedule is set to include everything from talks on leadership, entrepreneurship, and disability inclusion, to breakout sessions on non-profit grant writing and social marketing, to career and cultural coaching. There are set to be immigration lawyers to help international students and newcomers navigate work permits, as well as wellness experts offering nutrition and pilates workshops. 

      The mix of topics, participants and activities is intentional.

      “In diversifying our networks and talking with each other, we can truly see what value we have to offer one another—what advantages and what privileges we all have to help the other person to also have a leg up in this ladder,” Fruci enthuses. “That way, people can be woken up to what isn’t working, and how we can start fixing this world together.”  

      The Bigger Ideas Conference 

      When: September 16, 9am to 6:30pm

      Where: Massey Theatre, 735 8th Avenue, New Westminster 

      Admission: From $43.93, available here