Creating Change: Lessons, Skills, and Advice


Lessons and skills

  • As an activist, you must have the press on your side to report from a positive point-of-view. Mary Lou made strong connections with the press, believing it was important to keep the public informed.
  • Use email networking effectively. Mary Lou instigated sending emails on relevant women's issues to the interested public every two weeks.
  • Good communications are crucial. One example Mary Lou gave was the Report Card on the Status of Women in New Brunswick. It was a report rather than a condemnation, with the relevant departments of government, Cabinet ministers and staff, involved in discussion of the issues.
  • It is important to adopt a cooperative and inclusive approach rather than a confrontational one even while understanding that government may not act on an issue that needs improvement.
  • You must surround yourself with good people—this can make or break an organization.
  • Grapple with the tensions you encounter. For Mary Lou while working with LEAF, the biggest lesson was how to call yourself a feminist and still be responsible to the organization's financial and policy dictates.
  • Remember that those you are trying to educate may put their own interests before the principles of fairness or equity.
  • Each new organization requires fresh learning and revelations.
  • Learn what it means to be a good board member and to assume positions such as chair, and how to operate effectively on committees. Understand mission, policies, practices, procedures; financial responsibilities—and the politics involved.
  • All volunteer boards should run skill development sessions for board members. Having the mission statement available at every meeting and reviewing actions in terms of this statement is one way to ensure consistent recognition of founding principles.
  • There is a different set of skills for every situation you're involved in, for instance one for female researchers, another for dealing with politicians both male and female; another for chairing a board (volunteer or not).
  • Walk the talk. Bring aspects of fairness into formal conversation and everyday connections.


It's that whole idea that everything in life has a language of its own and to get things done you have to know various languages. There is a specific register for getting something done with politicians, another with volunteers, and I think my experiences helped form that language and switch those registers.

  • Pick a cause for which you have passion—you'll need this energy to sustain you.
  • Networking is crucial: nothing can be accomplished by going it alone. If you act as an individual to oppose a position, you're seen as cantankerous, but if it's done with the support of others, you will be perceived as an advocate.
  • Carefully choose your destination but identify and strategize about the roadblocks along the way.
  • Choose your compatriots carefully; avoid "yes-but" people and others who exude negative energy.
  • Never put yourself in a position of acting as "un-elected opposition."
  • Be flexibly determined!
  • Women are politicians before they go to high school but don't put themselves front and centre. It's women who are running things, as secretaries, those who organize the Home and School, run church organizations, food banks, transition houses, and community health services. These are political positions, so get involved and put yourself forward to assume your leadership role.
  • Choose one particular thing you want to get involved with and talk to older women who've been there. Find an older woman to mentor you—someone who will help get you involved, not to lead you by the hand but to support, educate, and suggest.
  • You must get involved and listen to the nuances around the table to understand the issue fully.
It's a realization of how demanding and exact some tasks have to be in order to get results. You can have these visions, aspirations, and thoughts, but things really have to be done within the parameters of the language.