Authored by Stuart Murray

Leadership does not have an age.

Darlene Cuevas is 16 years old. But she plays well above her years when you get into a conversation with her about humanity, innovation and sustainability. She debunks the myth that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. The fact is Darlene Cuevas is a leader today.

I met with Darlene outside the home of Manitoba Harvest one Thursday morning. She immediately gives you the impression that she is energetic, passionate and interested in engaging in a conversation.

When Darlene is not in school finishing her grade 12, she spends a great deal of time volunteering for Harvest Manitoba. And in order to accommodate my schedule, Darlene changed her volunteer time from Saturday morning to Thursday morning. That was generous on her part.

Darlene and her family immigrated from the Philippines to Winnipeg in October 2019. Once she was enrolled at Winnipeg’s St. John’s High School she immediately looked into various organizations to volunteer because “community involvement has always been present in my life…it wasn’t much of a question, it was just part of our routine.” That response made sense as she served as a member of the Girl Scouting Movement for 9 years before moving to Canada.

When I asked her why she chose to volunteer at Manitoba Harvest she explained that she wanted to be part of an organization whose mission was to solve hunger and poverty within Winnipeg and Manitoba.

Her vision not only for Winnipeg but for Canada is to reach a point where every human has the right to access food. She acknowledged that we collectively still have a long way to go but was determined to be part of a solution to help those in need.

To further demonstrate her leadership, and now that she has completed her grade 12 studies at St. John’s High School, Darlene has successfully enrolled in the University of Manitoba Faculty of Engineering and wants to pursue solutions to incorporate everyday sustainability through innovation. Specifically she said “whichever field of innovation I find myself in, my ultimate goal will always be to strive for better, even if that is through medical research and technology, environmental conservation, or agricultural advances.”

In her modesty, Darlene did not mention that she is one of 100 recipients of the prestigious $100,000 Schulich Leaders Scholarships which are given to undergraduate students studying science, technology, engineering and math.

The world has been blessed by the likes of Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Amanda Gorman… all amazing young women who are making the world a better place for all humanity.

I am not predicting the future for Darlene Cuevas. But when asked why she believes in the importance of pursuing innovation and sustainability in everyday life, she responded “this question coincides with a much bigger one that asks about my life’s purpose. It is an amazing challenge and a reason to get up every morning.”

Darlene Cuevas is a Winnipegger. She is local, but her vision and her sites are set on a national and international horizon.

I felt I wanted to ask her so many more questions.

And then she reminded me that her volunteer shift at Harvest Manitoba was about to start and she had never been late.