Inspiring Leadership Forum: Virtual Edition presented by TD brings together 1,200 attendees from around the world

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: March 5, 2021 10:00 a.m.

Investigative journalist and award-winning author Suki Kim
Investigative journalist and award-winning author Suki Kim Photo: Screenshot of the 2021 Inspiring Leadership Forum: Virtual Edition presented by TD

The world abruptly changed after the 2020 Inspiring Leadership Forum last March, and event organizers soon realized that an in-person event in 2021 was no longer a possibility. Disappointed but determined, the committee decided to embrace the challenge and completely reimagine the event to deliver a virtual experience to attendees in 2021. On Wednesday, March 3, over 1,200 people from around the world gathered online for the first ever Inspiring Leadership Forum: Virtual Edition, presented by TD. 

Emcee Lisa Mitchell, Associate Vice-President of Advancement and Communications, joined host Pam Klein, Chancellor and the Chair of the Inspiring Leadership Forum, to welcome attendees to the virtual event. Pam shared what this year’s theme, “The Courage Within”, means to her. 

“For me, courage is demonstrating the mental or moral strength to do what’s right,” said Klein. “Personally, one of my greatest tests of embracing the courage within came with a cancer diagnosis. Facing my children and family. In the prime of my career not letting cancer define me or diminish my dreams. Balancing the fears, hope, and practicalities.” 

Holly Austin Gibbs shared her story of being sex trafficked at the age of 14 by a man that she met at a local mall in south New Jersey. After being recovered by law enforcement, she began to blame herself for what had happened. After struggling with depression and drug addiction, she decided to begin sharing her story to help other victims of sex trafficking. 

“I carried shame and blame of this past experience. I was fearful of people finding out,” said Austin Gibbs. “Socially, I struggled for a long time. What really helped me to overcome was meeting other survivors of labour and sex trafficking.” 

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Survivor of child sex trafficking
and advocate against all forms
of human trafficking, Holly Austin Gibbs. Photos: Screenshots of the 2021 Inspiring Leadership Forum: Virtual Edition presented by TD 


Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach in the National Football League

Emcee Lisa Mitchell, Associate Vice-President of Advancement and Communications, joined host Pam Klein, Chancellor, to welcome event attendees


Award-winning novelist and investigative journalist Suki Kim spoke about her experience working undercover in North Korea. In disguise as a Christian missionary, Kim spent her days working as a teacher at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. She chronicled her experience in her bestselling book Without You, There Is No Us

“My findings were incredibly difficult because I lived in a compound, and my classroom was being recorded. I was being watched 24/7, I was never alone,” said Kim, reflecting on her time in North Korea. “I would put all of my information on a USB stick, and I wore it around my neck. I was terrified of losing it, because it held all of my notes. The fact that this had never been done before is because it is nearly impossible to do without getting caught.” 

Closing keynote speaker Dr. Jen Welter spoke about her glass ceiling-shattering career in men’s football, what she has learned about leadership, and the value of being a different voice in the room. Welter was the first woman to play running back in a men's professional football league with the Texas Revolution, and was named the Revolution’s linebackers and special teams coach the following year. In the summer of 2015, Welter was a linebackers coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, making her the first female coach in the NFL. 

“Leadership comes from the experiences we go through, and how we take those experiences into the next level,” said Welter, looking back at the time in her life when she was first entering the NFL. “One of my mentors told me that his best advice was to be 100 per cent authentic. If you’re that same person every day when you’re in the NFL, the same person that you are here, those guys will absolutely love you. But, if you’re fake in any way, they will sense it, and they will eat you alive. At any moment I wasn’t sure what to do, I kept those words with me.” 

Proceeds from individual ticket sales at this year’s event helped to support the new Inspiring Leadership Academic Entrance Award, worth a total of $30,000. This four-year undergraduate scholarship recognizes students who, through their commitment to academic success, volunteer activities, and community leadership, have demonstrated the potential to lead. The first scholarship winner will be introduced at the 2022 Inspiring Leadership Forum. 

Mitchell and Klein wrapped up the event by announcing the theme and speakers for the 2022 Inspiring Leadership Forum. Recognizing that the past year has been difficult for many people, event organizers wanted to focus on an uplifting, positive theme, and chose Happy on Purpose

The keynote speakers for next year’s event are: 

  • Colette Carlson is a human behavior expert, and Founder of Speak Your Truth, Inc. As an acclaimed author and keynote speaker, Colette inspires leaders and teams worldwide to change behaviors that impact their relationships, revenue, and results, and shares her insights on successful leadership.
  • Jenn Harper is a Social Entrepreneur, and Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty. As an Indigenous woman, she wants to show young people in Indigenous communities that when you have an idea and you do the work – despite life experience – you can create your future based on how much work you put into something and what you’re willing to sacrifice.
  • Serena Ryder is a Juno Award-Winning Musician and Mental Health Advocate. For Serena, music is medicine. Her raw and earnest song writing, and beautifully electric live performances, have made her a favourite amongst fans, peers, and critics alike.

The 13th annual Inspiring Leadership Forum will take place on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Tickets will be on sale soon at  


Inspiring Leadership Forum 2021: Virtual Edition, presented by TD Speaker Spotlight on Dr. Jen Welter

Inspiring Leadership Forum 2021: Virtual Edition, presented by TD Speaker Spotlight on Holly Austin Gibbs

Inspiring Leadership Forum 2021: Virtual Edition, presented by TD Speaker Spotlight on Suki Kim