International Women’s day marked it’s 100th year this month. As a celebration of strong women, the Bay Observer separately interviewed two very smart, professional, and powerful women.

May-Marie Duwai-Sowa

May-Marie Duwai-Sowa

May-Marie Duwai-Sowa is the publisher and editor-in-chief of lifestyle e-magazine Illuminessence. She was born and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa and grew up in the midst of civil war until she immigrated to the United States in 1999. Duwai-Sowa is passionate about promoting social change and equity in both her personal and professional undertakings. In 2003, Duwai-Sowa immigrated to Canada, where she currently resides with her family in Hamilton, Ontario.

“Hamilton has a tremendous network of dynamic and remarkable women who are doing phenomenal things that need to be celebrated.  They exude a refreshing dose of positive energy and I am extremely delighted to be a part of such a thriving community, which is only going to keep blossoming with time,” said Duwai-Sowa

Duwai-Sowa is a skilled professional specializing in community development strategies, public policy implementation, diversity, equity and inclusion. She holds an Honors Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Rider University in New Jersey and a Masters degree in Sociology and International Development from University of Guelph.

Duwai-Sowa is currently the Accessibility and Equity Specialist for the City of Hamilton but has held many positions including: Community Developer with Hamilton’s Centre for Civic Inclusion, Economic Development Adviser with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

An avid volunteer, she is a member of many different organizations and committees including the International Honor Society in Social Sciences, Equal Voice Canada and Hamilton Positive Space Collaborative.

Barbara Stewart

Barbara Stewart

Barbara Stewart is a shareholder of Cumberland Partners Limited in Toronto, the parent company of Cumberland Private Wealth Management Inc. Before she worked with private clients she advised clients on the foreign currency-trading desk for one of Canada’s major banks.

Stewart has finished a series of three research papers regarding powerful women and the way they are investing not only their money, but also their time. She is currently launching her third installment of the Rich Thinking series entitled, How Smart Women are Investing/Spending their Resources in 2013. This paper is a logical follow up to the previous one examining how women learned about money and finances while growing up. She spoke to over 100 smart and powerful women and collected direct quotes from them about how they achieve success in their busy, demanding lives.

Stewart is passionate about financial literacy, and exhibits a particular interest in the ways women use their money and money-knowledge. She speaks internationally on the subject of financial literacy and is passionate about educating the public on the topic.

Stewart is a CFA charterholder who specializes in Financial Counseling and Portfolio Management; The CFA Institute is association whose goal is “to serve the greater good by creating an environment where investors’ interests come first, markets function at their best, and economies grow.”

Barbara and her husband, Duncan live in Toronto with their Bernese Mountain Dog, Sam. Barbara’s interests include hiking, swimming, yoga, reading and travel.

The Questions:

Katie Stoneman: What kind of advice would you give to a woman to achieve success?

Barbara Stewart: Success = having the freedom to define, create and finance your own future. […] My advice to any woman is to make sure you have your own work – something that you are passionate about. Whether this is your day job or whether your day job affords you the opportunity to make a contribution in your spare time, do something that is yours. Work provides a feeling of confidence and over time this leads to the freedom to choose your own lifestyle and future.

May-Marie Duwai-Sowa: Women must understand that achieving success is a journey and the first step starts with taking a leap of faith to follow your passion or gut instinct to fill a void or satisfy a need. It is understanding that success is a process which involves having the courage to venture into a very challenging, daunting and sometimes untrodden path. What is important is that women take time to really learn and enjoy whatever they pursue. Women should also accept that success holds different meanings for different people, so defining success within a narrow or rigid lens is not practical.

KS: How can a woman balance her home/personal life with their professional life? How have you achieved a balance in your personal life?

MD: It’s always a juggling act, which I am still trying to perfect. I hope to figure it out soon.  For now it’s mostly at the expense of sleep.  I make a conscious effort to focus on my family when at home or spending time together.  After everyone is asleep, I get back to work for a few hours to catch up on outstanding tasks.

BS: From the research I have done, it is clear that the key to a feeling of balance is spending your time and energy on a cause that is meaningful to you. This gives you a feeling of being grounded. […] My balance comes from integrating my research work (my passion) with my professional career as a portfolio manager.

KS: What was the most surprising trend you came across in your work?

BS: I always knew that some women were ‘having it all’. But what surprised me the most is just how many of the women I spoke to are ‘having it all’. It used to be that people would work for years and years in a horrible job hoping one day they would be able to do something that matters to them. […] But today women aren’t waiting to retire or to move to the corner office or to finally get on a Board of Directors. They are spending their time, energy and/or money on personal causes. Lots of women are living all parts of themselves now. Women are not waiting.

MD: The most surprising trend I have come across in [my work] meeting with professional women is their willingness to share their experiences, resources and networks.  They are also really interested in networking and collaborating, which is quite refreshing.

KS: How are women making a difference in their world while going about their daily lives?

BS: The dozens of quotes in the white paper really speak for themselves. I put the causes into three different categories: save your family, save the world and save your soul. In a way all three are similar. For example, investing in our children and passing along our core values is a great way to make the world a better place. It is also good for our soul to know that we are investing our time on this and ensuring that our children will become self-sufficient and independent.

MD: I think it speaks to the nurturing qualities of women because we [tend to] look for a deeper meaning in our actions and interactions.  We feel that our lives and actions should have a bigger purpose so it [has an impact] on our family, friends and acquaintances.  So it’s easy to see why women seek to align their personal values with their everyday life and business because it just makes it more fulfilling and meaningful.

KS: How long did you work on the Rich Thinking white papers? Where did the idea come from?

BS: My original idea came to me four years ago while I was hiking in the Rockies. I was feeling irritated by all of the seemingly archaic articles in various publications re: women being “underconfident” or “risk averse” investors. […] I decided to do my own research and see if I could set the record straight. From there I have written 3 white papers on topics related to women and finance and all have been based on interviews with accomplished women. […] I wondered what women were doing today with their money – what are they most passionate about?

KS: How did you decide to put the paper together in this way, focusing on all the quotes from the women you interviewed?

BS: I started out thinking I would write about all of the conversations in an organized manner. In the process of putting the paper together it became very obvious to me that the quotes were best left in their original form. […] I think the white paper reads in a more authentic way and my main objective is to get these wonderful messages out into the mainstream so that women/money becomes the positive story that in fact it is.

KS: How long have you been working on Illuminessence? What got you started?

MD: The desire to establish Illuminessence stemmed from my passion to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of women.  Since moving to Hamilton in 2007, I have come across a lot of young professional women doing remarkable things and I felt that it would be great to have a platform to showcase their accomplishments and utilize it as an opportunity to inspire others to emulate their example.  Developing the idea in earnest started last summer and has evolved to what we have now created.  We’re still evolving and it’s quite an exciting process.

KS: How has the response been so far?

MD: Essentially, everybody we’ve approached has helped us in some capacity and that’s something you don’t get easily.  The willingness of others to help us nurture our idea and accomplish our goals is a demonstration of their commitment to our community’s growth and development.


I’m a 20-something journalist living in Hamilton and passionate about the city’s life and culture. I adore Hamilton, enjoy speaking to the people here, and I believe this city offers a lot of fun, enriching, unique, and creative experiences and people to have those experiences with. Steel City is making a comeback, and I want to write everything I can about it.

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)