Tenant Spotlight – Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA)
A personal story
When CIWA’s CEO, Beba Svigir, first immigrated to Canada, there was very little support for women such as herself with University degrees and who could speak English.
“There was lots of assistance for those that could not speak the language and needed to get into entry level jobs,” Beba says. “I thought that it would be very simple for me to find a job and pursue something that I was trained to do.”
Beba has been the CEO of CIWA for 10 years now and reflects that the most memorable moments of working for the organization have been helping professional women graduate from bridging programs.
“For me, I say this for a selfish reason. It took me years to get to a point where I felt that my job was in line with what I was capable of and what I brought to Canada in terms of education, training and experience,” she says.
When Beba began her career at CIWA, she felt it was important to make the process she had gone through much easier for other immigrant women who would follow.
“I am very proud to say that today, when we see women graduate from bridging their skills, they are typically part of a six month program,” she says. “We get them from A-Z and in that time frame, many of them land permanent positions in the companies where they do their placements.”
CIWA allows these women to accomplish in six months what took Beba years to achieve.
“It’s a very sad fact on a personal memory, but I am so proud of each and every one of the women we work with and for CIWA for providing the right services,” Beba says.
Established in 1992, CIWA is the largest immigrant women agency in the country providing 40 specialized programs and services for immigrant women and their children in all areas of life.
With 150 employees, the organization currently occupies half of Strategic Group’s First Street Plaza building and brings programs and services to over 120 communities and locations adapting to clients’ needs – those who have multiple children for example, or who lack knowledge on how to use transportation. CIWA’s programs and services are active in churches, schools, community organizations, even grocery stores, making them accessible to their multi-barrier clientele.
The best part
“The best part of my job is when I clearly see that we have made a difference in someone’s life,” Beba says.
CIWA has a program called “Find me a home” – a direct immediate program for women fleeing family violence and wanting to break away from the cycle.
“We sometimes have women that come to our door in the morning with children and suitcases without setting up an appointment and they say, ‘I’m here to change my life, please help me,’” she says. “They come to us knowing that we don’t just tell them where to go, but rather help them holistically through the process of independence, dignity and honourable opportunities.”
Beba explains that CIWA will provide these women staff to help them, accommodation, taxi and food vouchers and simply say, ‘come to CIWA tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. and we will work on it.’
“When tomorrow comes, they show up right on time, their children are looked after in child care, they go and speak to a counsellor, and you can see that with each day that goes by, they are; a little bit taller, better put together, stronger and more beautiful because they think ‘I’m a woman’, and then there comes a moment where you feel that this is now an empowered person who trusts the agency and our contacts,” Beba says.
“Witnessing this woman who now feels that she is engaged in the process that will bring fulfillment to her life, now that is the best part.”
CIWA has reached exponential growth in the past few years, growing the agency by more than 500% in terms of budget and space.
The organization has been a tenant of Strategic Group for 12 years, then occupying just one floor, and since, expanding to five.
“In 5-10 years, I think CIWA will see the stable incremental growth to address: client needs we may have not been able to address before, and to enhance existing services so that we don’t have waitlists and have a very quick response to client needs,” Beba says.
“As far as diversity and the number of services CIWA provides, we are truly there.”