It’s an exciting day at YWCA Hamilton as we welcome our new CEO, Medora Uppal!
Medora is no stranger to YWCA Hamilton, having worked as our Director of Operations for the past decade. She is well-known in the community for her work and advocacy in housing, homelessness, and gender-based violence, as well as helping to ensure programs and services at YWCA Hamilton run smoothly.
We sat down with Medora in advance of her first day in her new role to chat about her journey, her thoughts about our organization, and her vision for the future.
How are you feeling as you take on the role of CEO?
I’m feeling excited, and I’m feeling nervous, all at the same time – it’s all part of taking on a new role in an organization I love. I feel so grateful and privileged to have this opportunity to lead from a place where we are so strong, thanks to the leadership of our previous CEO, Denise Christopherson. I get to stand on her shoulders and take it to the next level, which is so exciting.
But really, in terms of leadership, it’s not all about me. The CEO role is a critical leadership piece, but there’s a whole team of amazing people that you need to have around you in order to make it successful. I’m so fortunate that there are great people in the organization who are leading really well, and who have helped build the organization to where we are today.
There’s so much work to do, but I’m excited about how we are positioned – that we are an organization that can actually do the work, and that could be part of the solution to these bigger problems. None of us can do it alone, and it’s going to take the work and allyship of other organizations, other levels of government, and different stakeholders in the community – but I think YWCA is a strong leader in addressing gaps and inequities that exist in our community.
Tell us about your career journey within YWCA Hamilton.
I’ve had the same position since Day One – Director of Operations. I came in to help build capacity within the organization, and focus on some specific areas of growth — particularly housing and homelessness responses for women and gender-diverse people – and to look at new opportunities. Over time, my portfolio became larger and larger, and I started taking on more and more over time.
There’s lots of things I’ve learned during my tenure in the organization – gender-based violence and housing and homelessness were the areas that I had the most strength in, but I’ve learned about child care, developmental services, working with seniors, I advanced my knowledge about employment and training, and supported the development of a social enterprise.
I also worked on getting really clear on our mission, vision, and values. When I started, that was the first thing that Denise and I did together, bringing in Antiracism/Anti-oppression values to support an intersectional feminist framework, and to be driven through that lens. That was a really important critical development over the last 11 years – to center ourselves in our purpose. While we honour the legacy of what YWCA was before us, it also had to change – it’s no longer about white Christian feminism. And that was big change within the organization, and a big part of the journey. If that didn’t happen, I would not have been the right person for the CEO role today.
You’re known in the community for your work in housing and homelessness. Why are you so passionate about this issue?
I see the continuum of the housing response that we provide as really important. We’re providing low-barrier shelter, we’ve got transitional housing, we’ve got housing for women and children fleeing violence, we have group homes and independent living services we provide largely for women with developmental disabilities, and then we have permanent affordable housing. That’s where I see us continuing to grow and expand.
Women and gender-diverse people are not all the same – they have a range of needs, and their needs change over time. As an organization, we have an opportunity to respond, and to make sure that people don’t fall through the cracks. I see us continuing to do more specialized work in our housing responses, and being able to support women, families, and gender diverse people in different unique ways — ways that actually meet their needs – instead of just providing housing. I see us building more, and expanding more.
I really believe that we can’t just leave people in poverty – that we have to offer more. We have to consider the intersection of health and well-being with housing, and we can help address the gap with our programs and service delivery. But we also need to do a lot of work in terms of research, policy development, and advocacy – because what we can’t take for granted is that these things are known and understood. We have to be very deliberate about getting information out to the community to help them understand why we need specialized approaches, and why it’s not a one-size-fits-all model, whether it comes to housing & homelessness, healthcare, childcare, or other needs.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments as Director of Operations?
When I got the call from CHMC that they were giving us over $10 million in funding for the Putman Family YWCA. That was just a huge, huge, accomplishment. Permanent affordable housing is part of the solution to these problems that I had been working on for so many years, but it’s so challenging to actually be able to build. There was so much work involved in getting to that point.
It was just a proud moment –- and then I knew we could do so much more. It was just so amazing, especially as a women’s organization, because up until then, I don’t think people took us as seriously in this space – despite all the years of work, we’re often overlooked. It was an amazing moment not to feel like we were being left behind or forgotten.
As you look to the future of YWCA Hamilton, where do you hope to lead the organization as CEO?
My vision is not just to serve the community – it’s to change the community. It’s a bold goal, but we can get it done with deep collaboration with our staff, with our community, with other service providers, and with all levels of government. It’s about bringing all of us together on behalf of the voices who have been left behind, left out, who have been excluded – and then creating real change.