The Power of Choice

Nour Hachem-Fawaz is Blazing
The Way for Herself and Other Women 

Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Heike Delmore Photography

Nour Hachem-Fawaz didn’t go from grassroots to award winning national not-for-profit president and founder overnight, nor did she do it alone. Recently recognized as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by WXN (Women’s Executive Network), Nour says, “I gained it because so many mentors and role models and leaders said ‘yes’ to me.” It was their encouragement that built her up, and now it’s her turn to pay this forward to other women and underrepresented groups.

Her organization, Build a Dream, started in 2014 with the aim to close the gaps in industry that deprives Canadian businesses of the innovation that diversity brings. Nour started the company after watching her mother persevere through struggle as she started and grew a successful auto parts company, a male-dominated field. “I wish I could say that this was fully planned, that I knew Build a Dream would be this national not-for-profit impacting the lives of women across the nation, but it started as a one-time event here in Windsor-Essex and it started because so many of our stakeholders here said ‘yes’.” 

Schools and industries across the Windsor-Essex County said “yes” to diversifying the workforce and to educating young women about alternate pathways while also inviting them to the discussion table. This launched the possibility for Nour to spearhead the first Career Expo, where 150 young women and their families came out to St. Clair College to hear from female role models and their experiences in traditionally male-dominated workplaces. Thanks to these leaders who were sharing their narratives, these young women were connected to resources for working in STEM or the trades as early as high school. 

“We found that the parents really appreciated the information,” Nour explains the turn out of that first event. “They didn’t know the pathways their daughters could pursue. You can’t be what you can’t see, so that’s what we do: we introduce women to role models who believe they can do this.” 

The impact on these women and their families was potent and quickly turned into a movement. Today the organization not only helps hundreds of thousands of women across the nation but it also helps to shift the mindsets of industries, governments, and educators to say: we need to prioritize the importance of helping young women build their confidence, access resources and tools, and believe that they can achieve any of their goals. 

“We know that as we grow up these young women are still not exposed to these pathways like working with hand tools or power tools, or even to the idea of working in the skilled trades or having a family and still running a national organization.” Nour explains that she often breaks barriers when young women find out that she runs her not-for-profit while also mothering two children. “I can’t express to you how many times I have young women come up to me and say: ‘I always thought I’d have to choose between my career and family and it’s so incredible to see someone do both.’” 

It’s not only important for other women to see this, Nour says, but also for her kids to witness. In order for her kids to know that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, they need to see the reexamining of gender roles happening within their household. “We underestimate the conditioning and messages we send to our kids along our journeys,” Nour adds, which is why they demonstrate that mom and dad contribute to their household in both ways together. 

Nour’s husband was the first to find out that she was being recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women and she shares that it was an emotional and humbling experience. Nour also recognizes the importance of the credibility that this award brings and the spotlight for her organization. “As a woman of colour who immigrated to Canada, it’s an honour to have this award represent what we can all achieve collectively: to have a voice at the table.” Nour adds that she and her team joke that Nour has always invited herself to meetings and tables. “I’ve built that confidence and courage over the years and recognize that when I go into those rooms, I’m not just advocating for myself, I’m advocating for other women.” Her greatest advice that she shares is that you need to advocate for yourself and be confident when asking for something. “You’ll get 100 ‘nos’ before you get that ‘yes’. You’ll fail along the way but you’ll learn to let go of perfection and find balance.” 

She looks at this award and sees the trajectory of possibility that this provides for Build a Dream. In her mind she hopes people will see that we need to prioritize these issues and to not just let women through the doors but to do the hard work of creating an equitable and inclusive environment. “In order for us to make the social impact, we need to go out there and advocate to governments to make larger investments. Without that it’s hard to be able to develop life changing programs that will give us a return, because once a young woman learns her potential, that can never be undone.” 

Nour emphasizes that the work that they do isn’t done alone and that thanks is due to the trailblazers that she’s met along her own journey; the people who have made so many sacrifices and broken barriers but looked behind them, put out their hand and said “let me help the next generation.” Nour often says that when you’re supporting a woman, you’re helping to support a whole generation of other women who are going to follow in her footsteps. 

Nour believes we live in a time where we can encourage youth to be anything they want to be and we can do that by using our power and privilege to open doors of opportunities so that those who are most vulnerable aren’t left behind. “We’re going beyond breaking stereotypes and shattering glass ceilings. We’re handing them back the power of choice: the power to choose who they want to be when they grow up.” 

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