How a little cookbook helped Sophie Stevens become a veteran change-maker before the age of 25.
By Brian McGregor
Photography by Mark Sommerfeld
Sophie Stevens gets results.
When she heard about the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal, she went straight to her high-school principal’s office to figure out a plan for students to raise funds to help the relief effort. Two weeks later, she and her classmates had raised $16,000 through a community coin drive.
When Sophie decided to write a “female empowerment cookbook,” she contacted the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, to see if she would contribute. The Premier wrote back with words of encouragement, along with the Wynne family’s recipe for ginger snap cookies.
Sophie has many passions that drive her to get results: helping others, gender equality and female empowerment. As for where her overall motivation as a change-maker stems from, that’s a matter of history.
It goes back to elementary school, when Sophie first found the WE Movement and stretches on through her local and global action via WE Schools, her run as president of her high school’s WE Club and an eye-opening trip to Kenya as a teen with ME to WE.
Today, a first-year university student pursuing a career in healthcare, Sophie’s dedication to volunteerism is as fresh as it was when first instilled by WE Schools all those years ago.
At 18-years-old, the Toronto teen is already a savvy social entrepreneur, as her aforementioned cookbook—her latest endeavour—demonstrates.
A collection of stories and recipes from inspirational women working in fields including, politics, journalism and business, Good Recipes, Great Women: A Female Empowerment Cookbook was conceived out of a dream to join ME to WE on another volunteer trip. With sales from the product going towards a ME to WE Ecuador Co-ed Women’s Empowerment Trip later this year, affecting positive global impact is a key driver in Sophie’s fund-raising goals.
When speaking to her, it’s clear the young woman views the trip as critical to her growth as a change-maker. “I want to learn from as many people as I can in my life,” she emphasizes. “I felt that the next step in my journey was to learn what life as a female is like in Ecuador.”
Her interest in the region was piqued after hearing the story of a local woman named Maria, who left her small community in search of a better life. “I heard how she was the first to leave her community in hopes of gaining a higher education,” recalls Sophie. “She was successful and has since returned to her community to share her knowledge and inspiration through the development of a Women’s Empowerment Centre.”
At every stage in Sophie’s journey as a change-maker, WE can be found. According to her, her desire to volunteer in Ecuador—all her work in the local and global community—can be traced back to when she was a child, sitting at her first WE Day in Toronto, listening to Spencer West address the audience. “He told us, ‘no matter what obstacle is in front of you, each of us has the power to change the world’,” she recounts. “Here’s a man with no legs who has done these incredible things… I thought ‘my limits should be endless’.”
Visiting Kenya with ME to WE later in life reaffirmed this thinking, and—if her current project is of any indication—also shaped an enduring interest in international development.
During the three-week trip, she dug trenches and built walls for an all-girls school called Oleleshwa, all the while developing a new appreciation for the gift of opportunity. “That trip changed not only my perspective on life, but how I live my life every day,” says Sophie. In fact, watching WE facilitators at work in Kenya shaped one of her most treasured values: give a hand up, not a hand out. “For me, that was extremely telling of the WE organization,” she comments. “[It showed me] just how important it is to be aware of what actions you take when travelling and volunteering.”
In the lead up to her trip to Ecuador, Sophie has embraced this sentiment; her cookbook is an embodiment of it. “I wanted a platform for meaningful conversations about female empowerment,” she explains. “And, I wanted people—especially young girls—to know how many women are out there are fighting for their equality on so many different levels.”
The choice to centre that platform around food came naturally to Sophie. “Food has always been very important in my house,” she shares. “I grew up in a house where my mom was always cooking and where we had an entire a bookcase full of cookbooks. I learned at a young age of the power food had to bring people together.”
A cookbook “filled with stories of amazing women making great strides in their own ways,” Good Recipes, Great Women contributors include ME to WE CEO, Roxanne Joyal; Lisa Diep, Head of Strategy and Operations Peace Collective; and Clare Cattrysse, a Director with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Someday, Sophie hopes to join the ranks of these women. Her goal? Return to Kenya as a healthcare professional and give a hand up to local women because as Sophie believes, “every girl should not only have dreams, but should have the opportunity to follow through with them.”