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May 5, 2016
Before the spotlight shone on the very first event, Surrey’s SheTalks YVR was named one of CNN’s “10 International Women's Day events you'd be crazy to miss” in the spring of 2015. Within its first year of hosting conferences and events featuring female speakers in the Greater Vancouver area, SheTalks has grown from a single one-day event to four separate conferences throughout the year, and the momentum is building. 
 
“There is no issue that’s just a women’s issue,” says Barinder Rasode. “It’s important to give women a space where they feel safe to tell their stories.” Rasode, a former Surrey City Councillor,  is a director at a nonprofit that promotes BC’s natural resources sector and is on the board of the Fraser Health Authority. She’s also a mother of three and lists her responsibility of raising happy children as being her top contribution to the world.
 
Rasode is the co-founder of SheTalks, along with entrepreneur Natasha Raey. In 2015, Raey was working with a local media company when her passion for the TEDTalks style of storytelling compelled her to bring together a collective of women to design the SheTalks concept. 
 
“It’s very rare that women aren’t told to look better, be better, do more,” says Rasode, who partnered with Raey just ahead of the first SheTalks event. “Here we have examples of women who have achieved so many things but they deal with issues around childcare, they deal with the same relationship issues, they’re taking care of aging parents, body image issues, depression, MS, like that’s all a part of every woman’s journey.”
 
“Our biggest gift is how women support each other, not always to empower or elevate, but just to say to women that you’re actually great just the way you are.” Rasode adds that the main premise of the event, and what has kept them going, has been the storytelling and seeing the reaction from attendees. “To hear what other women have gone through, and how they have come out on the other side, makes other women be like: ‘Yeah, I’m going to be just fine.’ I think that’s a really powerful message.”
 
Founders Barinder Rasode and Natasha Raey.
 
The SheTalks model is to bring forward a mix of speakers, where 30% are names people know and 70% are women that haven't done any public speaking before. Rasode says that’s because a SheTalk is not meant to be a speech, but instead a coffee conversation — with just a few more people — and that model has worked really well.
 
Raey believes that a key to SheTalks’ success has been its inclusivity, but she couldn’t have predicted how evocative, authentic and raw the event would truly get. 
 
“We try to create as safe an environment as possible for our speakers and participants, but the talks at SheTalks are so real and vivid that they affect people in so many different ways,” says Raey. “I knew storytelling was impactful, but SheTalks has really illuminated just how impactful it can be.”
 
Participants range from ages 12 to 85 at the events, and men bring their daughters because it’s a way for them to connect for the day. “There are issues that affect women, but if your mom has breast cancer, as a son or a husband, that does have an impact on you as well, so breast cancer is also an issue for men.”
 
Going forward, the committee has focused on doing four events over three years that include SheTalks YVR, SheTalks Resources, SheTalks Technology and SheTalks Health & Fitness.
 
Technology and Resources came about because the committee felt that they are two areas in which women are making great strides. Rasode says that Health & Fitness is about starting conversations so that participants can do what’s right for them in their own lives. A wide range of speakers will be included, “from the fitness models on magazine covers, to paralympic athletes, to a mom who started a yoga class to deal with her mental illness, so she and her friends, instead of going for wine, started to do yoga.”
 
Raey’s dream is to continue to nourish this platform and creative space for women to come together, share and connect.  “I hope we can continue to strive to create a safe place for women in a world that doesn’t always feel safe, and that our SheTalks team can model what true female empowerment, kindness and love look and feel like.”
 
The next SheTalks event is SheTalks Resources, on Friday, May 13, 2016, at the Vancouver Convention Centre (East). You can follow SheTalks on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about their upcoming conferences in the Greater Vancouver area.
 

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Rebecca Bollwitt

Rebecca Bollwitt founded the award-winning blog Miss604.com in 2004 where she covers events and lifestyle news in the Metro Vancouver area. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook .

More stories by Rebecca Bollwitt

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