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Young Black Women’s Society of Boston focuses on leadership development

Kassmin Williams | 4/23/2014, 10:54 a.m. | Updated on 4/23/2014, 10:54 a.m.
This year marks the third annual Next Generation Women of Color Summit, which aims to encourage leadership in girls and women. Courtesy of YBWS

When Alicia Canady founded the Young Black Women’s Society of Boston along with four of her friends, it was because the then 23-year-old saw a need for an organization and network that catered to young women of color emerging in their careers.

The women she looked up to as mentors at the time were women who belonged to organizations focused on those who’ve already reached the point of success in their careers and lives, Canady said.

“That was a moment for me where I said ‘that’s fine if you’ve already arrived, but what about the women who are on their way to that destination? Why aren’t we investing in that group?” Canady said.

Canady, Wachmide LaBranche, Rashonda Ambrose, Nachelle Gordon and India Holmes founded the volunteer-led organization in 2005 with a goal to provide a platform for professional and personal development and civic engagement for young black women.

Since then the organization has attracted a group of dedicated and passionate women who have invested time in seeing the organization reach its full potential, and who have allowed it to serve for the past nine years.

“There are historical organizations around that are doing great things for people of color, but I think what makes YBWS unique is that we’re not connected to a national organization,” Canady said. “For the past almost 10 years, we have funded ourselves. Our membership fees helped support our programming and our organization.”

While the organization has always had a focus on providing leadership development to young black women (targeting ages 21 to 25), the group has honed in on the need for their professional development in recent years, specifically for first-generation women who don’t have a professional network built into their families.

“You hear about a lot of programs and a lot initiatives throughout the city that are focused on just women or emerging leaders, but there isn’t a platform for young women of color in terms of their personal and professional development,” Canady said. “For example, who is telling you when you get out of school how to play the game in the workplace whether it’s nonprofit or corporate? Somebody needs to tell you how to play the game. Who is talking about your personal brand? Who is talking to you about your own personal board of directors or about getting on nonprofit boards and the power of civic leadership? Who is helping you to learn how to speak publicly so you can get promotions and negotiate your salary?”

The organization has scaled back on the number of programs it produces to focus more on each member’s leadership development.

Its core development program is called “ACCESS” and focuses on a different skill each year. The current focus is on personal branding.

The program includes various modules on the subjects and talks with guest speakers. Members participate in an evaluation at the beginning, middle and end of the program, Canady said.

Members also participate in retreats and quarterly meetings and have the opportunity to gain leadership roles within the organization.