By Johanne Adam
In April 2019, alumna Catherine Cano (BSocSc ’84) began her term as administrator of the International Organization of la Francophonie (IOF). The IOF is a collection of 88 states and governments that govern some 300 million Francophones around the world, making it the second-largest institution of its kind after the United Nations (UN).
As the right-hand officer of Rwandan native and secretary general of the IOF Louise Mushikiwabo, Catherine Cano is tasked with making sure that the IOF’s administration and finances are well managed. “I need to modernize and reform the organization, which will be a major challenge,” said the new administrator.
“I feel ready, confident, and secure in taking on this role. I suddenly realized that my years of experience have provided me with a wealth of knowledge and perspective.”
Catherine Cano says that the IOF’s mission is more important than ever.
“The Francophonie around the world is vibrant, but it is threatened. More and more people will be born in Francophone countries, especially in Africa, but French may not necessarily be the language they speak in their day-to-day lives. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the French language and its cultures survive and grow. The idea is to consolidate Francophone education and training, and to help create jobs in which French is the language of work.”
Choosing the University of Ottawa to better understand the world
As the child of a French father and a Quebecois mother, who were themselves born of Spanish and Scottish parents, Catherine Cano grew up in a multicultural environment that she sought to explore. To do so, she earned a bachelor’s degree in international politics and communication at the University of Ottawa.
“I’ve always wanted to learn about cultural diversity and how foreign societies function,” she said. “The University of Ottawa is home to many students from a range of countries. As a result, I quickly made friends with a group of foreign students and enjoyed many discussions with them on how we do things and react to certain issues.”
Before becoming IOF administrator, Catherine Cano was CEO of CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel. In 2018, she received the Meritas Tabaret Award for Alumni Achievement from the University of Ottawa.
A journalist by training, she reached the highest echelons of broadcasting in Canada, the US, and elsewhere around the world during a stellar career that included a year in Qatar restructuring Al Jazeera’s English-language network.
“I’ve travelled a lot. As a producer with Radio Canada, I had the opportunity to travel internationally to report on the Prime Minister. I’ve been around the world twice and have covered G7, Francophonie, Commonwealth and APEC summits.”
Catherine Cano has also been at the helm of some interesting projects, including Route 338, CPAC’s innovative tool for teaching democracy, and the Canadian version of the Vote Compass, which helps people learn more about political parties and their platforms. She also created Perspective, the only Canadian program dedicated to international affairs.
These projects have harnessed the inventive thinking and creativity that have earned her a host of honours over the course of her career.
Honours and awards
Her skills as a trailblazer and innovator have generated many accolades, including two Geminis, the prestigious Michener-Deacon Fellowship and the Innovator Leadership Excellence Award from Women in Communications and Technology (WCT).
The Women’s Executive Network (WXN) has included her twice in its list of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.