As founder of the Ribbon Rouge Foundation, Moréniké Ọláòṣebìkan works with local communities impacted by HIV.
Photo by Dale Northey.
If you had asked Moréniké Ọláòṣebìkan as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have said an actress. Now, Moréniké, founder of the Ribbon Rouge Foundation—a non-profit organization that is committed to raising the voices of people affected by HIV through policy advocacy and the arts—answers differently.
She believes that the Ribbon Rouge Foundation is her life’s work. “I grew up in Nigeria so the divide between super wealthy and super poor is very obvious... There’s always been that concern for discrimination and inequality,” Moréniké says. After contracting tuberculosis at 18, Moréniké received treatment in a facility that also helped people living with HIV and tuberculosis co-infections. There, she saw the downstream effects of discrimination and inequality first-hand. “I remember that I felt shame,” Moréniké recalls about her experience with tuberculosis, “there was definitely felt stigma.”
This exposure to tuberculosis and the HIV community stayed with Moréniké when she later moved to Canada and pursued a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy at the University of Alberta. During this time, she founded the Ribbon Rouge Foundation and organized her first fundraising event. “I started [Ribbon Rouge] from a very naïve, very small program mindset,” she says, “I thought the solution was money... over the years I’ve learned more about social injustices and know it isn’t just a money problem or an access to drugs problem.”
In a recent year of self-exploration and re-evaluation, Moréniké decided that she wanted to gain the skills needed for her foundation to make a more meaningful impact. Balancing her full-time job as a pharmacist in Edmonton, Moréniké began the Social Innovation Certificate program at SFU Continuing Studies in search of practical tools that could help fix complex problems.
“Social Innovation was one of the most life-changing courses I've taken.”
Photo by Dale Northey.
“[It] was really important to me that I could apply what I was learning to my foundation in real time,” she says. The program allowed her not only to relate her past to the present (“I was able to connect the dots between why I feel so passionate about getting to zero HIV infections and who I am as a person”), but also look forward to the future. “All of my theories of change got thrown out the window in the first module,” she recalls.
Ribbon Rouge’s mandate shifted as a result. “What we are doing now is much deeper than when I started at SFU,” says Moréniké. The foundation (represented by Moréniké) now sits on the Alberta provincial steering committee advocating for HIV and participating in creating social and structural changes to address sexually transmitted and blood-borne infectious diseases. It has also implemented a listening campaign to engage with disproportionately impacted communities of African descent in Alberta.
“One of my professors ended up being the connection that facilitated that movement. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re making huge strides,” Moréniké says, “[Social Innovation] was one of the most life-changing courses I’ve taken.”
More about Morenike
For her Social Innovation practicum presentation, Moréniké produced this video describing how the program has reframed the way she's approaching her work at the Ribbon Rouge Foundation.