Lived Experience Leadership


As per the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s reports and national consultations on the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of women and girls 2, in spite of our invaluable contributions and leadership, for decades our voices, needs, interests, concerns, and first-hand experiences as lived experience leaders have not been prioritized or respected. This is further compounded by the lateral violence and ongoing oppression that many of us experience. 

2. Elder Mae Louise Campbell, Interview. (Winnipeg, February 28, 2020).

Lived experience leadership is central to this project, which privileges the voices of persons who have direct experiences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. 

That said, the concept of lived experience leadership is not well known, but one that has long been valued and practiced by Indigenous peoples. Indeed, it has guided Indigenous culture, ways of being, and learning with all relations since time immemorial. As Elder Mae Louise Campbell explains, “It is humanly impossible to feel another’s interior being if you have not lived through their experience. That’s our Indigenous way. That’s what makes us uniquely different. Our Spirit remembers everything through our historical lived experience and, in turn, we become lived experienced leaders and healers.” 3

3. Baljeet Sandhu, Lived Experience Leadership: Rebooting the DNA of Leadership, 2019, p.3, available at

Lived experience leadership spans everything from perspective, to understanding, to wisdom and knowledge, to avoiding tokenism and essentialism, to respect, to empathy, to inclusivity, to survival, to honesty, to courage, to power, to support, to love, to self-reflection, to accountability, and responsibility 4

4. See, for example, Public Safety Canada, The Way Forward to End Human Trafficking: National Consultations Discussion Paper, 2018, available at; Canadian Women’s Foundation, “NO MORE” Ending Sex Trafficking in Canada: Report of the Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada” 2014, available at; and Canadian Women’s Foundation, “We need to find our voices and say, ‘NO MORE.’” Report from the National Experiential Women’s Roundtable, 2013, available at

Put simply, lived experience leaders are “change-makers, innovators and leaders who have activated their lived expertise to inform, shape and lead their social purpose work (often in combination with their learned and practice experience) to directly benefit the communities they share those experiences with.” 5

5. Elder Mae Louise Campbell, Interview. (Winnipeg, February 28, 2020)

Indeed, many of the lived experience leaders who contributed to this project work in the counter sexual exploitation and counter sex trafficking sectors. As Jeri Moomaw stresses, “Nothing About Us Without Us!”. The need for our meaningful participation in decision making and policy formation cannot be underemphasized.


“Experiential leaderships means sharing it with my people. Do you understand what I mean? Yeah, and helping them.”

Who We Are

Experiential and Indigenous-led voices are sacred. We cannot move forward in a good way without our voices at the centre of counter sexual exploitation and sex trafficking initiatives locally and globally. 

It’s time we are honoured, acknowledged, and given credit for our longstanding leadership, invaluable work, and innovative ideas. For too long, we have experienced lateral violence and a lack of support. 

In the words of Elder Charlotte Nolin, “I’m not a survivor, I’m a warrior.” As lived experience leaders, we are courageously and determinedly doing the hard work to help ourselves and our fellow sisters. 

Our strength, resilience, knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, creativity, courage, solutions, and successes counter stigma and victim blaming based on circumstance. 

Indeed, we continue to reclaim our power and control to heal ourselves and other women in our local and global communities. Culture and ceremony are central to this healing.

four overlapping circles with red lines



The time is now for lived experience leaders to have decision making power and representation in the design of solutions.

Our knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are invaluable. Indeed, we have the answers and know the way forward when it comes to curtailing sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. 

Moreover, we and our communities are often impacted most – for good or for bad – by such decisions. As such, we have a lot at stake.

Having decision-making power goes beyond consultation, meetings, or opportunities for officials to listen. Rather, lived experience-led projects are characterized by intentional and meaningful leadership and involvement of lived experience leaders at all stages.

To be clear, this means that from design to completion a group of lived experience leaders of varying perspectives and backgrounds have the power to lead and run a project, with decision-making about everything from funding, content, messaging, language, next steps, and beyond.

In doing so, it’s critical that lived experience leaders receive increased visibility so that the public has a better understanding of who we are. In the words of Erik Gray, “I did not know it was possible to be strong and to be a sex worker or a trafficked person until it was an example for me. […] We all need access to reflections of ourselves.”

Indigenous Model
of Understanding

As Elder Laurie Mackenzie emphasizes, “All stages of change, shapes, and sizes of people belong.”

The Indigenous model of understanding is premised on inclusivity and togetherness. This means embracing diversity, respecting intersectionality, and honouring the vast variability in life experience of persons with lived experiences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

Indeed, every path is unique – a multitude of factors including race, gender, sex, and class shape dimensions of experience and social inequalities.

All perspectives, voices, and people are welcome. We accept, honour, and love all human beings. Lateral violence and the divide and conquer mentality must end.

“You have to honour each person’s journey and whatever that looks like in whatever timeframe that might take.”