Yvette Yakibonge is one of six sisters raised by a single mom, who immigrated to Montreal, Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in search of a better life for her family. When Yvette was six years old, the family relocated to Edmonton. Coupled with her mom’s journey, the experience instilled in Yvette a strong sense of resilience—and a deeper purpose to give back.
“When we first moved to Alberta, we didn’t speak any English, my mom was alone with six girls. There were just so many challenges,” she shares. “It really exposed me to the difficulties immigrants face in Canada. But we were able to benefit from a great system and policies in place that really helped us.”
Inspired by the support she and her family received when she was growing up, Yvette started volunteering in her community at a young age—particularly at Alliance-Jeunesse-Famille de l’Alberta Society (AJFAS), an organization dedicated to empowering francophone immigrant families like her own in Edmonton.
“I really believe that we all have a purpose. We’re all called to impact our world in some shape or form and to change it for the better. And I’m passionate about doing that through public policy.”
Pursuing a deeper purpose
Discovering a deeper purpose early on to support immigrant families, and especially women and young people, Yvette knew she would have to equip herself with the tools and knowledge to achieve those goals. Enter the Max Bell MPP program.
“I think there has to be a new way of doing things, of challenging the status quo and the powerful opinions that have reigned for so long—and that’s what really drew me to the program,” she says. “I feel like there’s a new generation of people who understand the complexities of policymaking and aren’t afraid to come at them with new, innovative approaches.”
Another big draw was the program’s balance of theory and practical application, along with the Policy Lab and the opportunity to study at McGill.
“I really liked the idea of working on a project for the duration of the program and presenting something at the end,” she remembers. “Also the opportunity to study at McGill, one of the best academic institutions in Canada. I knew I’d get an unparalleled learning experience, research collaborations, workshops. It was the whole package.”
Now six months into the program, Yvette says the experience is already changing how she sees the world and exposing her to new perspectives—from “hearing about the professors’ journeys and learning from their experiences” to spending time with her fellow students from all four corners of the globe.
“I feel like this program has opened my eyes to so many different perspectives. We have one student from Tanzania, another one from Peru, and we’re learning about all their lived experiences,” she says. “It’s so interesting to hear their take on social dynamics in their home countries, and they’re really interested in the way things work here in Canada.”
Before joining the MPP, Yvette worked as a public servant for five years, including two years at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) where she was working as a case processing officer when she was accepted into the program. Her role involved applying legislation and policy every day, but not necessarily understanding the reasoning behind them.
Thanks to the program, she says, “I have a much better understanding of policy, as well as leadership and problem-solving skills, that will all help to serve me in whatever future roles I’ll be working in.”
A future without limits
Yvette plans to return to the IRCC after she graduates, but says the program has sparked her interest in potentially taking on more of an advisory or analytical role. Her ultimate dream, however, is to work for the United Nations.
“My dream job has always been to work for the U.N. I’d also love to go back and work in the DRC, to bring back all this knowledge and all these tools and help build the country,” she explains.
Yvette is no stranger to adventure and embracing challenges. She took part in season 4 of The Amazing Race Canada with her twin sister, Rita, in what she calls “the most exciting, stressful, thrilling and scary experience” of her life. But taking the MPP—and overcoming the challenges of keeping up with such an intensive program in the midst of a global pandemic—has only served to solidify her sense of resilience and fearless approach to life.
“I’m learning every day that the limits I thought were there may not be. There are so many opportunities, both here in Canada and abroad, to really impact communities and bring about sustainable, lasting change.”