Panoram Italia Toronto Feb/March 2014

Page 27

Toronto FEB-MARCH 17-32_Layout 1 14-02-03 2:21 PM Page 27

Franca Gucciardi


Finding her inspiration By Leah Kellar

“You have to take me back!” Franca Gucciardi recalls saying to her mother as a 12-year-old girl, pleading for a return to her former life in Sicily.


he family had moved permanently to Toronto in the 1980s to live with her mother’s aunt in a little crowded house in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, which has held a reputation for being one of the city’s roughest. Her mother, whom Gucciardi describes as, “The quintessential Sicilian woman: strong, creative, relentless when it comes to what they will do for their children,” found work in a factory. Gucciardi’s parents had owned land in Sicily, but permanently settled in Canada in the hopes of securing a better future for their two young children. “My high school was full of kids like me whose parents had changed everything to be able to give them a future,” Gucciardi said. “There were real consequences. I had seen the struggles; I knew what it meant.” Consequently, she did not harbour any grandiose ideas about what life without a post-secondary education would mean for her. “It wasn’t exactly the making of how you would think a conventional scholar would start out, and so I started getting involved.” In August 2013, Gucciardi received one of the first ever top undergraduate merit scholarship awards in Canada and got the news that she was accepted into the leading women’s executive development program in the world. She is now one of only 34 women to be named as a ‘fellow’ in the International Women’s Forum (IWF) Leadership Foundation’s Fellows Program. The program provides intensive leadership development and training at two of the top business schools in the world: Harvard Business School and INSEAD, a global graduate business school. Fellows complete classroom course work, engage in case-study discussions and benefit from peer advice. The IWF, founded in 1982 in the U.S., inspires and promotes leadership within a membership of over 5,000 women of diverse careers, ethnic backgrounds and cultures spanning five countries and 26 nations. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Gucciardi met her 33 other fellows during the program’s orientation session in October. “As women leaders we always hear, ‘Women don’t support women.’ Quite frankly

what this has proven to me is how wrong that is!” she said. “There was nothing but supportive and engaging discussion. I loved that because it breaks that myth that women can’t be mentors, supporters and sponsors of other women.” Forty-one-year-old Gucciardi knows about the life-changing impact that recognizing and investing in the potential of young women can inspire from her own experience. She is the current CEO of the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation, which administers the Loran Scholar program. The undergraduate scholarship program in Canada evaluates candidates on the basis of authentic character, service and leadership potential. Gucciardi became one of the first Loran Scholars in1990. “In Canada, we understand the importance of supporting people who are in need, but there is often a clear reluctance to invest in talent, to nurture that talent and to devote the significant resources required to fully realize the potential of our young people. This reluctance can be a barrier to success in this country. When I was chosen as a Loran Scholar, I met individuals who showed me that I had both the skills and the responsibility to contribute positively not just to my local community but to the whole country.” Much has changed in her life outlook since the days when Gucciardi pleaded with her mother to return to Sicily, but many aspects of who she is at heart have only grown stronger. She combines this Sicilian pride with her Italian-Canadian identity to promote what she learned at a young age. “Education helps make the leaps and bounds from one generation to the other. As Italian-Canadians we need to make sure the next generation understands that.”