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Heather Barnabe Wants to Empower Women to Be the Boss

The CEO of the Toronto-based non-profit G(irls)20 on the upcoming G20 summit, packing light and female leadership.

Heather Barnabe

Heather Barnabe is giving girls a seat at the table. As CEO of the Toronto-based non-profit G(irls)20, she oversees a program that places young women on boards, as well as the organization’s Global Summit. Each year, an international group of 18- to 23-year-olds is selected to travel to the host city (last year it was Buenos Aires) where they receive leadership training and put together a call to action for world leaders ahead of the G20. We caught up with Barnabe before she flew to Tokyo to prepare for this year’s summit in May.

How would you define your packing style?
I only do carry-on, so light and neatly folded.

What inspires you about the Summit?
Our delegates. Whether they’re from Afghanistan or Argentina, these young women want to improve their communities – they are bright and empathetic and doing work well beyond their years.

What kinds of projects have the delegates initiated in their communities?
The Gender Lab, started by our 2015 Indian delegate, facilitates workshops in Mumbai for girls and boys to learn about gender bias. Another one of our delegates, a Nigerian-British woman, launched Luton Lights, where girls from marginalized communities learn skills like coding.

How has the organization evolved since it launched in 2009?
Once upon a time, it was simply about getting women into the workforce. Now, it’s about reducing barriers to leadership positions, which is indicative of a new generation of women who don’t just want to work — they want to be the boss.

What stood out on your latest trip to Argentina?
The strength of civil society. In the last year, women there have started an incredible movement focused on tackling femicide. We were fortunate to hold our summit at a time when the feminist movement and gender equality were on the tips of everyone’s tongues.


What's in the bag of Heather Barnabe

01 BOOK
I love the way Zadie Smith writes about 21st-century issues through intersectional lenses. White Teeth is my favourite; it’s funny and irreverent, but biting in its social commentary.

02 FOUNTAIN PEN
This beautiful Montblanc pen was given to me in Nepal by a project partner. Once I fill it up with ink, it lasts for weeks, so I bring it everywhere.

03 BAG
My AllSaints tote converts into a backpack, is very comfortable to wear and holds everything I need on a flight.

04 EYE PATCHES
One of my staff said Peter Thomas Roth hydra-gel eye patches were a lifesaver, and she was right. I find flights so dry, but these reduce puffiness and moisturize perfectly.

05 LIMETOWN PODCAST
I’m obsessed with this fictional podcast about a town where, overnight, everybody disappears. It’s legitimately unnerving and the writing is excellent.

06 T-SHIRT
This bamboo Generositee tee is my red-eye sleep shirt. It says “Build Bridges Not Walls,” a G(irls)20 mantra. We brought one for each of the 2018 delegates in Argentina.

07 SCARF
One of my best friends gave me this Kit and Ace scarf for my 35th birthday. It’s so soft and warm that I wear it on every flight I take.

08 REUSABLE CUP
My KeepCup has been to four continents with me. It doesn’t take up tons of space and keeps me from wasting disposable cups.

08 NOTEBOOK
If you ever see me on a flight, I’m usually working – I do some of my best writing in the air.

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INTERVIEW