Leader, Strategist, Doer, Women Advocate, Canadian, New York City

Humorous, accepting, compassionate - say those who are in Michelle's orbit. I'd add non-judgmental, savvy, resourceful, adventurous, driven, loving. It takes skills to be sharp-tongued, witty and show empathy and kindness within the same instance. Michelle fights for under-represented women at the Center for Reproductive Rights, but on her "spare" time she starts charter schools, takes on care of a tiny baby, whose mother lies in the ICU and advocates for her family and coworkers. This woman fights for women, children, humans. "Without action, you're not going anywhere", said Mahatma Gandhi. I am proud to know Michelle and have her inspire me year to year, to be my best self.

1. Name.

Michelle Dees.

2. Where is your hometown?

Toronto (almost!) Ontario.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Chief Strategy & Operations Officer at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)?

My journey has felt more like a series of fortunate opportunities rather than a well laid-out plan. Instead of finishing my work study program in university of Waterloo, I happened to volunteer in Guyana. This led to me running an orphanage there for three years - probably the most formative experience of my life. 

In business school I interned in NYC, where I met my husband. We quit our jobs without a plan which gave me courage to switch from biotech company into a non-profit organization, focusing on developing of an HIV vaccine, called International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).  I loved my 13 years there, and was very much inspired and impressed by the mission, work and the dedicated people.  I feel just as inspired and proud working at The Center for Reproductive Rights where I'm in charge of strategy and operations.

Throughout my life, I always felt the need to work for a mission-based organization, and I take great pride in the roles that I’ve held in the aforementioned companies over the years. 

Finally, I think I’ll round out my list of accomplishments by being really proud of my boys, my sons Lachlan and Malcolm! 

   My journey has          felt more like a series of fortunate opportunities

5. What did you study in school?

Biochemistry, then business.

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

I’m not sure I had a real picture of what my life was going to be like at 20!  And I’m still not certain I’ve figured it out yet.

7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate.  I can’t think of any major disappointments that didn’t lead to a better outcome.  Seriously, I’m struggling to think of a real and lasting disappointment I needed to overcome. Wow.

8. Advice for other women?

Just to go for it! I think we all feel like we’re making it up all the time, so don’t let uncertainty hold you back.

9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?

It’s hard for me to see the way forward for feminist values as any different from all equal rights, from sexuality to race to gender.  We need to elect people who will create laws and policies that promote equality. 

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

HOME!  With my family.

11. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges? 

Right now, with my boys being so little, it’s hard to see out into the future.  Ask me in five years!

12. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?


13. What are you hopeful about?

Two things:

As awful as news cycles are, the vast majority of the world continues to be healthier and healthier. YES to science and data-driven policy! 

Second is how incredibly passionate and engaged young folks are around the world.  Maybe there is hope!

14. What are some ingredients to a good life?

Understanding what your core values are and sticking to them.

15. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

It just gets better and better.

16. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum.  A good read about women’s preferences shaping evolution.

17. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why?

Patricia (Pat) Fast! Always Pat Fast!! I aspire to be her when I grow up.  I have never met a woman who is such an amazing combination of tough, caring, brilliant and genuine.

Pat served as a Chief Medical Officer at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Over the course of more than 12 years, Pat has led the development of IAVI’s clinical research program—including 13 AIDS vaccine clinical trials and the development of the capacity of partners to conduct some of the first-ever clinical trials in developing countries. And if that wasn't enough, she was also one of the key players behind the rapid response, development and testing of an Ebola vaccine during 2015 outbreak.

18. Can you nominate women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?

Pat Fast, 

Maya Rudolph and

Alejandra Cardenas.

19. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

Meh, I’m not really an online person :)