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Our History

The International Women’s Forum is a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization based in Washington, D.C. created in 1982. Canada became the second international forum outside of the United States, when it was officially admitted as a Forum and issued letters of patent on October 26, 1995. Founded in Montreal by Vermont Forum member, Patricia Gabel, who became the inaugural President, along with Micheline Bouchard, Diane Bussandri, Mary Larson, Lucie Pépin, Dorothy Reitman, Michèle Thibodeau-Deguire and Mackie Vadacchino, the Canadian Forum was envisioned as an inclusive national organization. When Vancouver became the second chapter of the Canadian Forum in 1998, the governance structure of IWFC was firmly established.

As IWFC continued to expand from its Montreal base, local Chapters of the organization were created in cities and regions across Canada. Vancouver chose to leave IWFC in 2007 to become an independent Forum. Nonetheless, the Canadian structure has been adopted by many other international forums: that is, a country-wide federation with a central governance model and one set of by-laws. IWFC has a national Board of Directors with representation from all of the regional and municipal Chapters. IWFC has always nurtured a special relationship with the international organization such that our members have been invited to assume significant roles on the Board of Directors and Leadership Foundation. This has led to the sharing of best practices between IWFC and the International body.

Since inception, IWFC has continued to adapt the governance structure to meet the evolving needs of a growing organization. The Board has moved from being a hands-on administrative governing entity to a policy driven Board who oversee a professional Executive Director who in turn hires additional support staff. Increasingly, the Board has augmented conference calls with in-person meetings and established a mini-conference in conjunction with the AGM, encouraging the attendance of all IWFC members. A number of national initiatives have been explored in service of our mission “to develop and exercise women’s leadership.”

Functionally, the organization is dependent on membership fees which subsidize the Chapter and Forum activities as well as support the global organization’s office. The Board is responsible for this distribution. The Board directs the affairs of the Forum in such a way to ensure that the Chapters are the “engines” of the organization while the Board determines strategic priorities and fosters a sense of national identity and belonging. The Board is charged to maintain standardization of membership practises and facilitate both internal and external communications. Only the national President has the authority to speak publicly on behalf of IWFC, unless she delegates that responsibility. IWFC has hosted international conferences and has established a protocol with our Embassies when we attend conferences abroad.

IWFC created an Archivist position in 2011 to continue to capture the history of IWFC. Historical materials together with the Corporate Minute Book and the By-Laws, provide a fulsome insight into the IWF Forum in Canada.

As IWFC continued to expand from its Montreal base, local Chapters of the organization were created in cities and regions across Canada:  Toronto (1991), Atlantic (2001), Calgary (2000), Ottawa (2000), Waterloo (2007) and Edmonton (2009).