Women Leading the Way Luncheon

Welcome to the 2023 Women Leading the Way Luncheon brought to you by TD Wealth. This year’s topic is “Key themes in groundbreaking report on Canadian women and philanthropy”.

Despite the challenges wrought by the global pandemic and the subsequent economic disharmony, Canadian women have provided further evidence that they remain a driving force within the charitable sector. Not only do they provide much-needed funding, particularly at the grass-roots level, and a cadre of volunteers, but women participating in the sector are increasingly driving systemic change.


Jo-Anne Ryan, Vice President, Philanthropic Advisory Services, TD Wealth will share key themes from TD’s hot-off the press groundbreaking research report that examines Canadian women and philanthropy.

She develops strategies to help clients incorporate philanthropy in their overall financial and estate plans. She has also led TD’s research efforts around Women and Philanthropy since 2014. She is the architect and Executive Director of the Private Giving Foundation, the first donor advised fund to be launched by a financial institution in Canada. Jo-Anne is a member of CAGP’s government relations committee. She is a member of the Estate Planning Council of Toronto and an active volunteer on several gift planning committees for charities. She is also the Vice Chair of the Board for Bishops University Foundation and is a member of the advisory board at Carleton University for its Masters in Philanthropy and Non-profit Leadership program – the only one of its kind in Canada

Alisha Esmail, Founder and CEO, Road Coffee

Coffee has never been far from founder Alisha Esmail’s mind; it’s an integral part of her daily ritual and one she has savoured for many years at home and throughout her worldly travels. Her past work executing development projects in Haiti, Nepal, Jordan, South Africa and other places set fire to a deep desire to make a positive impact and spark change in an industry that is fraught with turmoil and unethical practice. Driven by her experience and entrepreneurial spirit, Alisha set out to create that change. Her passion for people and coffee culminated in the form of Road Coffee.

In the years that followed Alisha spent time involved in development projects round the world, bettering access to food and water in Nepal, and participated in various projects from Haiti to South Africa bringing impact and long term change. It was during these experiences that she decided to change her career path to focus on using business as a platform to bring change and development.

She often spent time on coffee and tea farms, learning about their process and meeting the farmers and their families. Alisha quickly learned first hand about the systemic injustices and inefficiencies keeping them in poverty and stunting their growth. Visiting these farms, and seeing just how hard farmers are working, made it clear that they’re being taken advantage of by those in power – and that things really need to change.

Blending her passion for ethical business and international development, she saw an opportunity to make a greater impact and founded Road Coffee on the same values she lives every day. Since starting Road Coffee, she’s led the team to develop a unique sourcing model called their BeyondFair program as well as their own micro-loan program that unshackles coffee farmers from reaching their full potential.

Alisha’s overarching mission is to inspire and equip individuals to pursue their passions.

Ina Brownlee, The Brownlee Family Foundation

Ina was born in Biggar, Saskatchewan. After graduation she moved to Saskatoon where she continued her education. Ina married her husband Wayne in 1975. They moved to Regina where Ina worked in a real estate office and had two children. In 1989, the family moved back to Saskatoon. Ina once again worked in a real estate office until retirement. Today, Ina and Wayne focus their time on their foundation, The Brownlee Family Foundation.


Sheri Benson, CEO United Way Saskatoon and Area

For over 25 years, Sheri has brought people together to tackle some of the most pressing issues both at the local level and at the national level.

As CEO for United Way in Saskatoon, she worked with community, labour and business groups to launch Saskatoon’s first-ever Plan to End Homelessness and the provinces 1st Housing First Program Journey Home. Journey Home is living proof that, with collaborative and caring leadership, we can end homelessness. Sheri also implemented the organization’s ground-breaking Indigenous Engagement Strategy.

Sheri was elected Member of Parliament for Saskatoon West in 2015 serving for 4 years. As an MP, she served as the NDP Critic for Labour, Deputy Critic for LGBTQ2+ issues, NDP Critic for Housing and Vice-chair of the Special Committee on Pay Equity. She collaborated with a local community activist from Alberta to sponsor the first petition in Parliament to end conversion therapy gathering over 18,000 signatures. She successfully worked with labour groups to push the government to finally ban the importation and use of asbestos in Canada.

Sheri AKA Safety Sher (a nickname given to her by her Dad) knows that a world where everyone has a safe affordable place to call home IS possible, is doable, is affordable, is one of the building blocks for great communities. While still searching for her dream job, the Czar of Ending Homelessness, she loves working at United Way, her other dream job. 😊

2023 Fundraising Campaign

While you’re here, please consider contributing to the United Way Saskatoon and Area 2023 annual fundraising campaign and help us reach our goal of raising $4 million!

For 65 years, United Way Saskatoon and Area has fostered local partnerships with the goal of bringing people and resources together to build vibrant, healthy, and safe communities. Each year, United Way mobilizes millions of dollars in investment, hundreds of volunteers and organizes dozens of community building projects to make life in our communities better and safer for everyone.


United Way’s unique approach to community investment recognizes the importance of the many service providers addressing people’s immediate needs – such as finding shelter, offering a meal, or providing a safe place for kids to learn and play – and strategically funds the programs and agencies best positioned to effectively deliver those services. Last year, 42 programs and agencies received nearly $4 million in support from United Way.


Many communities are experiencing a homelessness crisis. This year, United Way provided additional funding to a new women’s shelter and five other agencies essential to helping move people into shelter and eventually homes. United Way has also invested nearly $5 million in funding to Journey Home since 2014. This initiative is Saskatchewan’s first and only housing first strategy, an approach widely adopted in Medicine Hat that led to a “functional end to homelessness” in that city. United, we can achieve the same.


United Way is also preventing future homelessness by providing mental health support and providing school-age kids and youth opportunities to stay engaged with our communities while funding safe spaces for them to live, learn and play.

Choose the united way. Donate today. Thank you.


Dan Matthews2023