Tammy Yates was at a crossroads after graduating from Cambridge University 14 years ago with a Master’s of Philosophy in International Relations.
“‘What next?’ was the question I asked myself,” she said.
Remaining in England, returning to her native Trinidad & Tobago or exploring job opportunities elsewhere were her choices.
England was quickly ticked off the list.
“I love the country but the cost of living is ridiculous,” said Yates, who was awarded a full scholarship to the second oldest university in the English-speaking world through the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust/Chevening Scholarship Fund.
Opting to return to the twin-island republic, Yates completed a post-graduate diploma in gender & development studies at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus and worked as a program officer with the Caribbean Regional Network and the United Nations Population Fund, where she was the national program manager.
With an international relations background and set to experience the world, Yates successfully applied to come to Canada through the federal skilled workers program.
“Everyone within the UN system thought I was absolutely crazy when I made that move,” she said.
With extensive experience in gender and development and sexual and reproductive health, including HIV/AIDS, Yates was confident she could find work in her specialized field.
She was right.
Shortly after landing in Toronto, she secured a job as a program & communications manager with the Canadian Working Group on HIV & Rehabilitation (CWGHR), which brings together the traditionally separate worlds of HIV, disability and rehabilitation.
Through its leadership in research, education and cross-sector partnerships, CWGHR is working to address the rehabilitation needs of people living with HIV and changing the future of HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.
“I have family and friends here, so there was a ready-made support network,” she said. “With my HIV background and being able to speak French and Spanish made the transition into the job market fairly easy.
Two weeks ago, Yates made history by becoming the CWGHR’s first Black executive director. Founding director, Elisse Zack, passed away last July and Stephen Tattle filled the position on an interim basis.
“I am thrilled to become the new executive director and look forward to continuing to work and partner with all CWGHR stakeholders in this new capacity,” said Yates. “I have always been and will continue to be passionate about this sector and having had the privilege to worth with Elisse, I pledge to build on the work that she started in 1998 and fulfil the new vision for the organization.”
The selection was made after an extensive national search and recruitment process managed by Odgers Berndston, an executive recruitment firm.
“Tammy’s wealth of experience and demonstrated leadership in the HIV sector will help CWGHR to move forward in its mission to be a leader and catalyst for improved rehabilitation for people living with HIV and related conditions through integrated research, education, policy and practice,” said board co-chair, Glyn Townson.
Yates said the foundation for her work in the non-profit and international development sectors was laid in T & T.
“I have always been a civic and socially minded person,” she said. “As a young person in Trinidad & Tobago, I was one of those children who was involved in every social activity you could think of, including women, disability and HIV-related organizations. I have always had that sort of social justice consciousness. The HIV/AIDS sector provided me with the opportunity to use all of my skills in terms of my passion for social justice and my ability to speak a few languages.”
In her new role, Yates is responsible for creating a positive, healthy and safe work environment that promotes excellence in the work that CWGHR does and positions the organization as an employer of choice. She will also oversee the organization’s human resources management, act as the primary interface between CWGHR Board, members and other stakeholders and manage the financial resources.
The Diego Martin resident attended Diego Martin Government Secondary School and graduated from St. Francois Girls College and UWI, which she said adequately prepared her for life.
“UWI is really a melting pot of Trinidad & Tobago and the wider Caribbean society,” said Yates, who was a full-time UWI student while employed on the night shift as an international operator with the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad & Tobago. “So that in of itself equipped me with the social skills for the international work that I did and am doing as well as the rigorous research and training and the intellectual curiosity that the UWI professors brought to the table.”
Yates is not only about all work and no play.
Had she not secured a new job, she would probably have been back in her native Trinidad playing mas’ during Carnival.
“I could count on one finger the number of times I have missed Carnival,” said Yates, whose phone ring tone is Machel Montano’s “Like Ah Boss”, which is this year’s Road March winning song. “I love my culture.”