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Founded in 2004, the magazine began with a mandate to “inform, educate and motivate” immigrants to Canada and assist them in their new found journey. Since then, the magazine has grown to be the only national multi-platform brand for all immigrants to Canada, on topics from careers to education to settlement.

Canadian Immigrant not only connects newcomers in Canada, but also aspiring immigrants from more than 150 countries.

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Executive Director, Capgemini
City: Mississauga
Country of Origin: India

A technology savvy business consulting leader and scholar, Sreekumar Menon, PhD, is always seeking new challenges and opportunities. Originally from India, Menon immigrated to Canada with his family in 2007. During his career in management and technology consulting, Menon had served several prominent energy, mining, retail, chemicals, utilities, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing clients during their SAP implementation journey.  As Executive Director for Capgemini (global leader in technology, consulting & outsourcing services), Menon now heads the SAP practice in the East that provides innovative services for clients to enable business transformation and help digitalize operations.

Menon’s eclectic educational background has contributed to his professional success. He holds four master’s degrees in subjects such as English literature, history and politics, MBA and also a Ph.D. for his path-breaking research Critical Challenges in ERP Implementation: A Qualitative Case Study in the Canadian Oil and Gas Industry. His research study has been widely recognized as one of the first case studies in ERP projects in the Canadian energy sector. Menon’s acclaimed research works in ERP, provides guidelines to organizations on ERP benefits, strategies to be adopted to make projects a success, and highlighting the need to manage critical challenges during ERP implementations. He also frequently writes about theoretical aspects in ERP including complexity theory, project management, and critical success factors.

Menon understands the struggles that immigrants face in re-establishing their professional careers in Canada. He volunteers with employment councils and immigrant serving agencies where he coaches and mentors newcomers guiding them to career success.

Menon is actively involved in several community development initiatives. He has served as a board member for Medical Mercy Canada, which provides support to impoverished international communities. He was a finalist in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation category for the Immigrants of Distinction Award in 2019. He has published widely cited research articles and also serves on several editorial boards of leading journals.

Menon says, “Giving back and investing in the community where one lives and works is what sets the best professionals apart from others. It is one thing to find the time to invest in one’s career and education, but to focus on giving back to one’s community and improving it for the betterment of others requires commitment, dedication and drive.”

CEO and president, Fraser Health Authority
City: Surrey, B.C.
Country of Origin: South Korea

Serving as the CEO and president of the second largest and the fastest-growing health system in Canada, Dr. Victoria Lee is responsible for overall strategic direction and operations of Fraser Health Authority. The authority provides a wide range of integrated health services from acute care hospitals to long term care, home health, mental health to public health in 20 municipalities, 32 First Nations communities and five Métis Chartered Nations. She joined Fraser Health over a decade ago to practise global health in a local setting serving nearly 1.9 million people.

The health region was one of the hardest hit areas during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Lee led the region-wide response with optimism, transparency and humility to successfully prepare and respond to the pandemic. She is proud of the 40,000 Fraser Health team members that established effective partnerships, public health and infection control measures and rapidly adopted innovative solutions to minimize health service disruption, reduce morbidity and mortality, and to deliver a world-leading COVID-19 immunization program.

Lee is driven by her values of equity and justice and her desire to make significant positive societal impacts. Prior to joining Fraser Health, she worked in collaboration with national and international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank in the areas of comparative health systems, health policy and financing and ecohealth. Throughout her career, she has pursued opportunities to work with disadvantaged and vulnerable populations including Indigenous  communities in Mexico, Chile and Brazil. She has engaged in numerous research activities to affect change in the areas of health equity, community-based primary health system and clinical prevention.

Lee has contributed to numerous boards including Canada Health Infoway, CARE Canada, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and International Federation of Medical Students’ Association.

Raised in Ontario with her two younger siblings, she now resides in B.C. with her husband and has called Canada home for more than 30 years. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario, her Royal College fellowship in community medicine from the University of Toronto and postgraduate degrees in public health, business administration from Johns Hopkins University.

CEO, Toyin Crandell Coaching
City: Victoria Harbour, O.N.
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Recognized as one of the top 300 emerging leaders across Canada at the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference (2017), Toyin Crandell is a certified neuroscience coach, Ramsey Solutions Master Financial coach, international speaker, and author of Money Mindset SHIFT. She has a bachelor of science (Biology) from York University and is a tireless community volunteer and advocate.

She was recognized as one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada, by Canada International Black Women Event; was honoured with the Rotary Individual Service Award for her service in more than 50 community organizations from the Rotary Club of Toronto West; and the Leadership Excellence Award from the Nigerian Canadian Association.

Crandell immigrated from Nigeria to Canada on a cold, snowy day in December 1999 at the age of 11 with her parents and four sisters. By 16, she had completed her first year at York University and launched her first business — a home painting company that employed 40+ Canadians. This was followed by a window washing business that supported young adults in earning their university tuition.

An active community volunteer devoted to working with youth, women, immigrants and the homeless, Crandell has contributed her time and energy to numerous organizations including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, the Rotary Club, Continental African Family Outreach Services, among others. She has been a worship leader, children’s co-ordinator and youth pastor during 15 years of service at her church. She worked for a total of 13 years at a women’s shelter, a boarding home for the mentally ill and a camp for underprivileged children.

She has spoken and sung at more than 300 events and is a recording artist with 4 full-length albums. She is the first Nigerian-Canadian to run with a major federal party (2015). She is married to Joshua Crandell and homeschools her two hilarious children in Victoria Harbour, Ontario.

Executive vice president and practice lead, Centre for Diversity and Inclusion at Corporate Class Inc.
City: Mississauga
Country of Origin: Israel

Dr. Georgette Zinaty, MBA, MSc, DBA, PhD, was named an Immigrant Woman of Inspiration (2018) and is a TEDx speaker (2017) on being an immigrant and dealing with the impossible. A frequent keynote speaker, panelist, activist, mentor and leader in diversity, equity and inclusion, Zinaty is the executive vice president and practice lead for the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion at Corporate Class Inc.  She has been appointed as assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario (Huron).

She serves on the board of advisors for the Entrepreneurship and Leadership Learning Alliance (ELLA at York University) and is the co-chair of the inaugural Canadian Chapter of ChIPs, a global organization supporting women in intellectual property and technology. In addition to being a board member of the Creative Hub 1352, a multi-disciplinary community organization and a regular Forbes contributor, Zinaty founded a non-profit focused on building capacity in women called WHEW! (Women Helping Empower Women). She is also the co-chair of Women Innovators Network (WIN), a non-profit supporting women through coaching and microfinancing. She founded and spearheaded an annual Leader-2-Leader conference to foster discussion on topics impacting the workforce, was the only woman and international representative on the University of Liverpool Advisory Board, and was an active member of the Business Excellence Awards Committee (BEA) of the Toronto Region Board of Trade helping to expand the impact on SMEs through the BEA.

Zinaty has the distinction of receiving a Stepping Up Award by the University of Toronto for innovation and her outstanding contributions and is the recipient of the Canadian University Productivity Awards. She was recognized by the former Premier of Ontario, the current federal Minister of Transportation, the CMA Australia Hong Kong branch, and Al Faisal University for her many contributions to communities, local and international.

Born in Jaffa, raised in Oshawa, Zinaty is the middle child born to Palestinian parents and calls Canada home. She holds a bachelor of arts in English and political science, an MBA in strategic marketing and human resources, an MSc in business and management research, a doctorate in business focusing on women, diversity and inclusion, and a certificate in Leading Change. She is currently publishing a book on women, inclusion and intersectionality entitled Why not YOU? Challenging Inclusion Assumptions!

Writer and director
City: Montreal
Country of Origin: Togo

Writer and director Gentille M. Assih received university training in communications and human resources before studying writing and documentary filmmaking. She earned her master’s in film from Université du Québec à Montréal in 2013.

In 2009, she directed her first documentary, Itchombi, produced by Ardèche Images Production. That same year, she produced and directed the short drama Bidenam, l’espoir d’un village with the support of the Goethe Institute of Johannesburg; the film won the Jury Prize at the Vues d’Afrique International Film Festival in Montreal.

In 2010, she made the documentary Akpéma, which laid the groundwork for Le rite, la folle et moi (The Rite, the Madwoman and Me). This film tells the story of a family secret that’s passed on, exploring the weight of tradition and the complexity of African cultures. Released in 2012, Le rite, la folle et moi won numerous awards, including the audience choice award for best documentary film at the Festival Cinémas d’Afrique d’Angers in France.

This Togo-born director’s latest documentary, Into the Light features the liberating life stories and powerful words of inspiring Quebec women of African origin who’ve regained control over their lives after suffering from domestic violence. The film transcends prejudice and breaks the silence, pulling back the curtain on a poorly understood, hidden world, while testifying to the tremendous power that comes from overcoming isolation and accepting one’s self. It’s a luminous dive into the quest for personal healing and universal humanity. Most recently, this film, which is produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), has been selected as a finalist for the 35e Prix de Gémeaux.

In her work, Assih turns an intimate lens on her subjects and fearlessly shines a light on taboo topics. While her camera remains unflinchingly focused on social issues and injustices, her sensitive writing conveys a distinctly positive vision of humanity.

LGBTI+ advocate
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Albania

Kristi Pinderi is a tireless campaigner for gay rights and co-founder of both ProLGBT and the Alliance Against Discrimination, the two major LGBTI organizations in Albania. In 2013, together with his fellow activist Xheni Karaj, he designed a series of consultations with the Albanian political parties, pushing them to have, for the first time a public stance on LGBT issues, a process that led to the adoption of Albania’s first National Action Plan on LGBT issues. He co-launched with his partner, Erjon Tela, an online news portal dedicated to human rights that remains the main source for human feminism and LGBT issues in Albania.

On September 2014, he co-founded STREHA, a residential shelter for homeless LGBTI young people, the first service of its kind in southeastern Europe. He is the author of a documentary on the history of the LGBT movement in Albania, while he has published a memoir called 1997, detailing violence endured while coming of age. Pinderi has been featured, interviewed or referred in several international media like: Le Monde, NBC, Vice News, Reuters, ARTE (Germany), Amnesty International Press and so on.

Pinderi has a bachelor’s degree in history and archaeology (University of Tirana), an associate degree in family studies from Langara College where he has made twice on dean’s honour roll, and he is starting a bachelor’s of social work at UBC this coming September. Since 2001 he has worked for a variety of national media outlets in Albania, being among others an editor-at-large for Shekulli, the largest newspaper in Albania that developed an open attitude towards LGBT issues, thanks to his influence.

In 2017, he was forced to leave his country, together with his partner. He now leads Together Now, a peer support group for LGBTQ+ newcomers in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland and offers one-on-one support services to LGBTQ+ newcomers, as part of a unique service launched by DIVERSEcity and supported by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. He sits on various boards, steering committees and working groups on LGBTQ+ issues in British Columbia, and is an outspoken defender of the rights of refugees in Canada. He is often invited to speak as an advocate for refugees. In a recent event organized by University of British Columbia and other organizations he spoke about borders and how they can be reimagined in a more human-centered way. He was also recently featured in the documentary film, After Arrival, which showcases the incredible journey of three LGBTQIA+ refugee claimants who have become leaders in our community.

CEO, Construction HAB; vice-president, Eagle-Horse; Co-founder, AtmosC Air purification, Coco Frutti Restaurants

City: Laval, Quebec
Country of Origin:Afghanistan

Habib Akbari is the CEO of Construction HAB company, Co-founder of AtmosC Air purification and vice-president of Eagle-Horse Group. Eagle-Horse is a real state financing company that also manages more than 25 restaurants under the Coco Frutti brand name and Rougezilla. Before being named VP of Eagle-Horse, Akbari was chief operating officer of Coco Frutti restaurants and was responsible for the sales and operations of all the restaurants including end-to-end management of all the supplier contracts and new developments. He also headed Construction HAB to build all the restaurants with overseeing the budget and cost of materials and equipment in the restaurant.

Prior to starting Coco Frutti with his brother Noor Akbari, habib migrated to the beautiful city of Sherbrook, Quebec, in August 2006 along side his mother, brother and 2 sisters. With very little resources and financial constraints, Akbari started working in a restaurant as helper and dishwasher while being enrolled in school full time. With the help of his brother, together they managed to start their first breakfast restaurant in 2009 in Montreal.

While building on his restaurant experience, Akbari earned his civil engineering bachelor’s degree with distinction from Concordia University in May 2016. During the same year, he began operating a construction company named Construction HAB with his brother. His oversight of all the executive management roles has led to substantial growth in his work and personal achievements.

Throughout all his business projects and work experience, he has always maintained the vision of encouraging diversity, pluralism and gender equality. This vision is rooted in all his staff development

initiatives and management of more than 1,000 employees fostering greater employee satisfaction and better work completion. He believes his greatest assets are his mother and sisters’ prayer, his wife support, his employees and his management group including his brother who has long been his role model and source of encouragement.

Habib lives in a small town close to Montreal, where he enjoys simple things in life such hiking and skiing with his wife and two boys. His long-term goal in life is to give back to the community and the younger generation to help others pave their way and build their dreams.

Founder and CEO, Inca Gold Organics
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Peru

Juana Garcia, born in Peru, is a business leader who was driven from an early age to become an entrepreneur with a strong passion for international business.

Losing her mother at four years old, Garcia overcame challenges that fueled her passion to succeed. Graduating from the National University of Engineering in Lima, Peru, as an industrial engineer and a member of the Association of Peruvian Engineers, she navigated her way through a male-dominated field, being assertive and continuously advancing in her career.

In 1987, Garcia landed in Toronto. She endured difficult situations as well as becoming a single mom. She accepted an internship with Maple Leaf International to fulfil her goal to become a leader in international business; it was then, Juana’s son was diagnosed with autism. She accepted a position with the federal government to provide her son with better childcare, therapy and support for his disability while working, in a 9 to 5 stable and less stressful environment.

It was Juana’s son’s gluten-intolerance that led her to launch Inca Gold Organics in 2011, as an importer and distributor of organic, kosher, non-GMO, gluten-free  superfoods including quinoa, chia seeds and maca products.

She created the INCA’S GOLD brand to illustrate her respect for these ancient superfoods that were valued as gold by the Incan civilization for their unique nutritional and health benefits. Garcia once again bridged the gap in a male-dominated environment to build meaningful relationships that support Inca Gold Organics’ reputation as a reliable supplier of gluten-free organic food from South America.

Committed to a global community, Garcia’s background and unconventional upbringing is what brought success to INCA’S GOLD and Inca Gold Organics today. Growing up around her homeland superfoods helped her tap into an unmet market and build connections with suppliers, turning her dream into a reality.

Today her passion remains with her business and local community. In addition to her relationship with Autism Canada to donate five cents per product sold, this commitment is exemplified by her collaboration with Second Harvest, women shelter and community kitchens. To date, INCA’S GOLD, has fed more than 100,000 people through donations.

Actress and filmmaker
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: India

Model turned filmmaker, actress and mental health advocate, Shreya Patel was born in India, raised in Qatar and Canada. She is an honouree of the Women’s Achiever Award 2020 for Youth Leadership and CSPN’s Emerging Leader Award Under 35. She is also nominated for Forbes 30 under 30.

Her directorial debut, the documentary Girl Up, about domestic human trafficking, has been partnered with Toronto International Film Festival and showcased the film at the Civic Action Summit, where hundreds of civic leaders come together to combat these issues. Patel has since focused on holding many successful community viewings across Canada to spread awareness of human trafficking to young girls and women at risk.

During this pandemic, she has gathered 66 countries and made a documentary called Unity – #LOVESPREADS Faster Than a Virus, showcasing the plight of the human spirit during COVID-19. It also explores the disparity that exists between industrialized and developing nations.

Following the documentary, Patel co-directed a viral music video called Freedom Dance, which has gathered more than 12 million views on YouTube. The music video features models, influencers and celebrities showcasing what their inner freedom looks like during the lockdown from countries like U.K., South Africa, Canada, U.S.A., Dubai and India.

Rolling Stones India has reported about Freedom Dance, too.

Patel has appeared in lead roles in numerous films, theatre productions and most recently in Robert Misovic’s The Intersection, Netflix’s Grand Army and FX’s Mrs. America. She’s a graduate of the Second City Conservatory. Her first film role in Vivid helped garner the film multiple award nominations.

Patel has walked the runways of Asia, the Middle East and North America for top designers and has been featured in Vogue India and Grazia India. Her print ads and commercial credits include McDonald’s, Much Music Canada, Rogers Cup, Vodaphone India, Yorkdale Mall to name a few.

Since 2018 to the present, she has appeared in the Canadian Screen Award-winning national mental health awareness campaign “Bell Let’s Talk,” raising visibility and breaking the silence around mental illness and support.

She has been recognized by Global Affairs Canada for her mental health activism. Currently, she is shooting a feature called Strangers In A Room and a web series called Layla Is Relevant, both as a lead.

Entrepreneur; home care industry leader; seniors advocate
City: Richmond, B.C.
Country of Origin: El Salvador

Patricia Cruz left El Salvador during the civil war. She was newly married and pregnant when she arrived in Canada in 1981. She left her career in medicine and her loving grandparents.

While raising her two children in the 80s, she went to college and gained a marketing and business diploma. She started her career as a senior Outreach Coordinator in the 90s and  created the first video and manual How to Reach Isolated Seniors in Dense Apartment Buildings , funded by the federal government.

In the middle of adversity, getting a divorce and losing her home, she started Angels There for You Home and Health Care Services Inc., dedicated to supporting the elderly in 1999. Over her 22 years in business, Cruz hired, trained and encouraged thousands of women to pursue their dreams. Many of them graduated from nursing, doctors while working.  This made her win the Latin American Inspirational award in 2014.

In 2000, she founded a non-profit society called Senior Link Independent Living Society dedicated to helping lonely and vulnerable seniors who were isolated due to physical and mental health issues. Seniors who participate in the society’s annual events make connections and feel less isolated.

Her passion for seniors and immigrant women has led her to join many boards in the community. She served as a board member of the Richmond Hospital Advisory board, CMWA of Canada, Vancouver CEAN.

Cruz has become an icon in the health care industry. She leads programs to serve the health authorities.  Her courage, faith and kindness has been appreciated by many and recently her own staff entered her in a contest as the kindest person in Canada, gaining more than 1,200 votes in the community. There is no doubt Cruz has made a difference in many people’s lives.

Consultant, speaker and author
City: Windsor, Ontario
Country of Origin: Jamaica

A passionate changemaker, Candies Kotchapaw researched The Case for Greater Inclusion of Racialized Social Workers in Public Policy Development during her master of social work program at York University in Toronto and has presented her work at international academic conferences in the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea.

She is focused on developing her theory of practice from a social work perspective, which considers how lived experience impacts and influences public policy development and implementation, possibly impacting changes to Canadian foreign policy, domestic employment and affordable housing policies.

Kotchapaw has also developed a program specifically for Black youth who share her aspirations of being public leaders, but who also faced similar challenges to exposure and learning opportunities. 2019 marked the successful pilot, where she sent four young women to the UN headquarters in New York to be professionally trained in word politics and negotiations.

In March 2021, Kotchapaw officially launched the Black Diplomats Academy, the first of its kind in Canada focusing on Black aspiring diplomats and the concept of Black diplomacy. In this experiential learning program, 25 fellows engage directly with diplomats and non-diplomatic representatives from Global Affairs Canada and other foreign affairs leaders, to discuss a wide range of global policy topics including human rights and advocacy for Black diplomacy through the UN Decade for People of African Descent. This program took on a truly global focus with fellows from Germany, Jamaica, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa.

Beyond the immediate impact of how this program is positively changing the career outlook and trajectory for these young people, this program is also a broader structural solution for advancing social justice, equity and access to leadership development opportunities for Black communities in Canada and globally.

Hailing from a small community in Westmoreland, Jamaica, Kotchapaw’s tropical island heritage has contributed immensely to her relationship building and collaborative approach to changemaking at the systemic level here in Canada, where she is able to reflect on existing service gaps in order to establish allyship to help develop solutions for and with underrepresented communities.

For her work, in 2020, she was a recipient of the Top 25 Women of Influence Award, Top 100 Accomplished Black Women, Top 21 New Founders to Watch. Most recently, in June 2021, Kotchapaw was recommended for the prestigious U.S. State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Program for her work as a Black leader in Canada as well as a 2021 Canadian G20 Young Entrepreneur Alliance delegate.

Kotchapaw is a highly sought-after panelist and consultant. She addresses topics of intentional program design for structural change, navigating entry into hidden and emerging job markets and avoiding mission drift!

Executive director, Malton Women Council
City: Brampton, Ontario
Country of Origin: Pakistan

Uzma Irfan’s yearning for knowledge and thirst to discover herself make her life versatile. She is a TESL Ontario certified teacher, executive director of Malton Women Council (MWC), settlement counsellor at Punjabi Community Services, and volunteers at various places locally and globally.

Before migrating to Canada, she completed her master’s in English literature, worked as a Montessori teacher, served Pakistan International Airlines as a flight attendant, and was involved actively with Camera Club International.

Her mother conceived her in Canada; she was born in Pakistan and migrated to her soul country, Canada in 1999, with her husband and two children. Little did she know that her “Canadian dreams” would soon be lost amidst the unrealistic definitions and restrictions imposed on her as part of her married relationship.

The journey of losing her self-esteem and self-identity continued until she was introduced to MWC, where she started volunteering as an outreach co-ordinator and photojournalist in 2012.

Today, she serves as the executive director of MWC. Under her leadership and guidance, the organization has done tremendous work to achieve its vision and has served hundreds of women across regions. In addition, her excellent networking and outreach skills helped the council to collaborate with more than 200 organizations, groups, clubs and networks.

She served as a project co-ordinator for Malton Community Building Project, from 2013 to 2015. She promoted civic awareness, community engagement and social justice amongst diverse communities. Under her leadership, the project was able to create some legacies. In 2016, she worked as community engagement co-ordinator for Toronto West Local Immigration.

Summing up her work in words is like capturing an ocean in a bowl. She is a community developer by heart, she is there for anyone and everyone. Whether it’s about finding ways to empower a woman or means to support a family in need, or addressing a community crisis, or ways to engage youth, mobilize volunteers or bring community together. She is a mother, leader, fighter, artist, inspiration and a role model for many.

President, Vancouver Community College
City: Burnaby, B.C.
Country of Origin: Fiji

Born in Fiji, Ajay Patel and his family made Canada their home in 1975 and grew up in East Vancouver. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in human kinetics from UBC, Patel began a distinguished and award-winning career in B.C.’s sports community as the chief executive officer of Badminton BC then Gymnastics BC, and as Chef de Mission of Team BC for the Canada Winter and Summer Games. On the boards of Sport BC and BC Recreation and Parks, and from the leadership tables of Vancouver Sport Strategy and Coaching Association of BC, Patel advanced key initiatives that shaped B.C.’s sports industry and inspired healthy living.

From 2001, Patel rose through increasingly influential positions in the post-secondary education sector — from kinesiology instructor at Langara College to its division chair in health sciences, dean then associate vice president of international education, and vice president external development — to his recent appointment as president and CEO of Vancouver Community College (VCC).

Leading the oldest public post-secondary institution in B.C. with more than 16,000 students and 1,200 employees across three campuses offering more than 150 programs, Patel is now trailblazing comprehensive educational innovation that empower students from all walks of life; transform the culture of teaching and learning centred on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion through reconciliation and decolonization; respond to a fast-changing labour market; and continue the legacy of community development.

Patel is an exemplary Indo-Fijian Canadian who through his leadership and public service, inspires and touches the lives of many.

Founder, Liberty for Youth
City: Hamilton
Country of Origin: Jamaica

Frederick Dryden was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He migrated to Collingwood Ontario, when he was 11 years old. After experiencing abuse as a teen, he was inspired to start Liberty For Youth in 2004.

For his work in Liberty For Youth, Dryden has received the following awards:
• Free the Children – “Me to We” Award 2008
• The Paul Harris Fellow Award 2011
• John C. Holland Award 2011
• Canada’s 2011 Top 40 Under 40
• Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal 2012

Between October 14 and November 5 of 2016, Dryden completed his three-week/21-day Run For Youth marathon between Ottawa to Hamilton, Ontario, with a goal to raise awareness and funding for youth. Dryden ran more than 700 kilometres and conducted more than 72 speaking engagements along the route.

All proceeds from the Run For Youth and book sales were directed to the purchase of Liberty For Youth’s new 7R’s Ranch (purchased in November 2020, during the pandemic.) The rural-based programming will allow for multiple program spaces, outdoor use year-round and farm experiences beyond the inner-city lifestyle. A large focus of the program will be on improving mental and physical health through restorative experiential learning.

Dryden and his wife, Tanya, live in Hamilton with their four children.

Watch this video of Dryden to learn more.

Founder and CEO of LNG Studios
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Hong Kong

Leon Ng immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1993 when he was 13 years old, a time when there was much uncertainty regarding the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. Ng holds a bachelor of arts and two diplomas in film studies.

Ng is the founder and CEO of LNG Studios, a creative visualization company specializing in property technology services. From its onset in 2009, he found opportunities for technological innovation within the industry. He was an early adopter of industry drone services, brought Matterport (a 3D scanning technology) to Canada in 2014, and was the first to implement 3D printing for architectural purposes. LNG Studios has since grown into a fully integrated, tech-first real estate supporter, offering architectural rendering, animation, 3D floorplan, VR/AR, interactive, drone, video, 3D printing and 3D scanning services.

With a credo of innovation for good, Ng redirected LNG’s 3D printers to produce reusable face shields for frontline workers during the 2020 pandemic. Partnering with more than 400 3D printing professionals and enthusiasts, they produced more than 157,000 pieces of PPE to date.

Ng is a board advisor for the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, celebrating diversity and minority representation in film.

He has been awarded Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 under 40 in 2015, BC’s 500 Most Prominent Business Leaders in 2021, and the Vancouver Economic Commission’s Top 24 People of Asian Descent to Watch in 2021.

Water and wastewater professional
City: Brampton
Country of Origin: Nepal

Named as Water’s Next Award winner in the category of government leader in 2021, Indra Maharjan has dedicated his energy and passion in fostering innovative solutions in the Canadian water and wastewater sector. He was also awarded with the Amethyst Award, the highest order of recognition for excellence in Ontario Public Service. for collaborating to lead innovative projects with Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks team in 2019.

Various industry associations have profiled Maharjan for his continued mentorship to young and internationally trained professionals for past seven years along with mentees’ success stories and accomplished career in areas of energy, climate change and resource recovery. He is avid volunteer in areas of water, wastewater, energy and environment and is actively involved with local school board parent council, Professional Engineers Ontario and its chapters, centre for community energy transformation with City of Brampton, engineers in residence program, Ryerson University, WEAO, OWWA, CWWA, ONEIA, OSPE,  TRIEC and other local settlement agencies. Maharjan has been a true advocate to promote diversity and inclusion in these sectors and leads by example in promoting internationally trained professionals. His municipal and institutional clients and colleagues consider Maharjan as trusted advisor in his professional field.

He has appeared as a guest speaker in various courses designed for newcomers and internationally trained engineers with Humber College, ACCES Employment and Ryerson’s Green Economy program. He spreads positivity, planning and patience as a recipe to a successful career in Canada with all aspiring newcomers.

Raised in Nepal, Maharjan is the eldest of two siblings and has called Canada home for almost 11 years with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. He holds a master’s in engineering and business studies with a designation of professional engineer. He believes in continuing education and looks for learning opportunities with every interaction every day.

Lawyer; CEO of YLaw
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Iran

Within six months of immigrating to Canada and at the age of 14, Leena (Ronak) Yousefi began washing dishes at Taco Time and worked various labour jobs to pay for her education.

Today, she is a multi-award-winning lawyer, accredited mediator and the founder of YLaw, the fastest growing female-led law firm in Western Canada.

Yousefi has been chosen as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada, one of Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 under 40, and has won more than 90 percent of her cases from the time she became a lawyer until present.

In 2020, she was named by Lexpert as the only family lawyer in Canada to become one of Rising Stars of the legal profession. A week in her life was featured on BBC.

Yousefi has been successful on numerous precedent-setting cases including those on cultural and matrimonial issues for Canadian immigrants, child abduction, child alienation and more.

She is the only lawyer in the history of Western Canada to have her law firm ranked in the Fastest Growing Companies by the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Business. 

Yousefi obtained her undergraduate degree with distinction from the University of Victoria and went on to obtain her Juris Doctor from the same university in 2010.

She currently manages two law firms with two more opening in 2022, all while raising an infant and practicing as a lawyer.

At the age of 20, Yousefi found herself suffering from chronic depression and anxiety due to the trauma of living through war in her childhood and the cultural shock experienced as a teenager when she immigrated to Canada from Iran. She was then expelled from university.

Then one day she decided to turn her pain into a lethal force that jolted her back to university, straight As, acceptance to almost all law schools in Canada, and her eventual career in law as a leading lawyer and entrepreneur.

She is the first female lawyer in Canada to implement four-day work weeks for a law firm of her size and has been at the forefront of advocating for mental health.

City: Toronto
Country of Origin: India

After treatments spanning six years and travelling to medical teams in three countries, Gupta’s parents lost their 9-year-old son to cancer. With four young daughters in tow, they arrived in Canada. Watching them face systemic challenges, Gupta wanted to make Canada a better place. She excelled in academics thanks to the support of her Canadian teachers in the International Baccalaureate program. It was her teachers and mother who sparked her desire to pursue a career in law.

With no ties to the legal world, Gupta relied on her parents’ lessons to thrive in several prestigious Bay Street jobs at global law firms as an intellectual property and technology lawyer. She is a graduate of University of Toronto – St. George and earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Osgoode Hall Law School.  Gupta works as Legal Counsel at TD Bank.

Early on, Gupta saw that a lot of things were broken in the way professionals talked about self-care and mental health. It did not take her long to realize her lifelong goal: help people reach their potential through meditation, yoga and community empowerment. She was nominated as Canada’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers by Canadian Lawyer magazine and named as Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Changemakers of 2021 by York University.

The honour is just one of many accolades Gupta has received as the founder of Mindful Lawyer Canada, a health technology startup. With Mindful Lawyer, Gupta travels across Canada to shine a new light on inclusive mental health and wellness.

Today, Gupta lives her life by the words of Roy Black, “By showing me injustice he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy. Through these hardships I learned hard lessons … never be discouraged by hard times and hard people. Embrace those who are placed last, to whom even bottom looks like up.”

Reminded of her parents’ struggle, she has thrown herself into every possible opportunity to give back and enrich others’ lives. She mentors foreign-trained lawyers and law students, helping to advance their legal careers in Canada.

She has devoted herself to advocating for diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace and serves as a board director with the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and South Asian Bar Association of Toronto. Gupta is a Council Member with the Ontario Bar Association, an organization serving 16,000 lawyers, judges and members. She is also a public speaker having given lectures across Ontario and presented at the Law Society of Ontario and Toronto Region Board of Trade.

ESG leader, social responsibility executive
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Brazil

A pioneer and expert in ESG (environment, social and governance), sustainability and social responsibility in mining, Silvana Costa has contributed significantly to sustainable practices in the mining industry – one of the most important economic sectors and employers in Canada. For almost 18 years Silvana has been an agent of positive change, an inspiring role model and a mentor for other women in a heavily male-dominated sector.

As a dedicated volunteer, Costa has made substantial contributions to several Canadian organizations, including chairing the Association for Mineral Exploration of BC’s Social Responsibility Committee. Her long-standing commitment to the Oficina Curumim Parents Society in the Lower Mainland (BC), whose mission is to ensure children of Brazilian immigrants learn Portuguese as a heritage language and celebrate Brazilian culture, has supported many Brazilian immigrant families to embrace their new lives in Canada while retaining cultural ties to Brazil.

A mother of two children, Costa was one of the founding members of the Oficina Curumim Parents Society and has served as the President and a Board Director since 2019. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic she provided the courageous leadership that helped the organization to operate without incident while increasing the number of programs offered to new families.

Born in Bahia, Brazil, Costa came to Canada in 1997 for post-secondary education in environmental design and community planning. Her studies led to a PhD in sustainable mining at the University of British Columbia. Since completing her PhD, reconciliation, Indigenous inclusion, and sustainable development have been at the core of her commitment to the betterment of Canadian society. She has facilitated the active participation of First Nations in mining projects and directly contributed to improved social responsibility and Indigenous engagement practices of mining companies working in Canada and abroad.

As Director Social Responsibility for Equinox Gold in Vancouver, Costa continues to advocate for meaningful Indigenous and community engagement, inclusion and equity, and sustainable development. She is a regular panelist and speaker, and, beyond her work, volunteering and active family life, Costa is a dynamic contributor to collaborative initiatives focused on improving the mining sector’s ESG performance around the world.

Poet and author
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Laos

Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four acclaimed poetry books, and the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife, winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller prize and Trillium Book Award. Out now with McClelland & Stewart (Canada), Little, Brown (U.S.), and Bloomsbury (U.K.), it was also finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/America Open Book Award. It is also available in French, with foreign rights sold in China, Korea and Turkey.

Thammavongsa’s stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta and NOON.

She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and was raised and educated in Toronto.

Thammavongsa has written four poetry books, Cluster (2019) Light (2013), winner of the Trillium Poetry Prize, Found (2007), and Small Arguments (2003), winner of the ReLit prize. Her second book was made into a short film by Paramita Nath, available here.

Thammavongsa was a judge for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize, and is editor of its anthology this year.

Watch this video of Souvankham Thammavongsa speaking on “What is a writer?” a Carol Shields Distinguished Writer Lecture at the University of Winnipeg.

President, Futurevic Global Sourcing Inc.
City: Richmond Hill, Ontario
Country of Origin: China

With more than 20 years of experience in international business and 16 years of volunteer in serving Canadian communities, Jaclyn (Jie) Zhang has devoted her career to entrepreneurship, innovation and growth.

Zhang is the president of Futurevic Global Sourcing Inc., a leader in knowledge and expertise in importing, exporting, promoting and connecting Canadian health care services and products. It promotes “Made in Canada” products, services and technology to overseas.

Zhang also leads the Canada China Trade Innovation Alliance (CCTIA), a non-profit organization to facilitate the advancement of innovative bilateral trade as well as to promote cultural and technology exchange between businesses in Canada and China. In the past five years, CCTIA has promoted more than 90 projects overseas from 390 potential projects. CCTIA has hosted five consecutive Innovation Forums in the sectors of agri-food, clean technology, healthcare and commerce with more than 900 participants. With unremitting efforts, the organization led by Zhang has contributed to the signing of MOU and cooperation agreements between Canadian and Chinese health institutions. CCTIA is proud to be the recipient of the Richmond Hill Board of Trade Business Achievement Awards 2021 People’s Choice Award!

Zhang has lived in Ontario since 2002. Through her efforts, she has contributed to the creation of employment opportunities, support of multiculturalism and the promotion of trade. She has demonstrated the spirit of immigration with perseverance and hard work. She holds a master’s certificate in healthcare management at Schulich School of Business York University.

She was awarded the Leading Women Building Communities in 2018.The province of Ontario recognized her for her exceptional community leadership to improve the lives of girls and women in Ontario.

Zhang believes the company grows with the community development and needs contribute to the community. During COVID-19, she led and donated PPE to several hospitals in Canada to support the front line staff,  for which, she has received appreciation letters from a member of Parliament, the Premier of Ontario, Minister of Health, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, to recognize her demonstrated the true Ontario spirit.

Founder, Flip & Floss
City: Brampton, Ontario
Country of Origin: Jamaica

In June 2011, Andre Smith relocated to Canada from Jamaica. He currently operates within the capacity of a design strategist at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and is working toward his chartered professional accounting designation with CPA Ontario.

The first two years of resettlement posed challenges as he struggled to adjust to life in Canada — from three months of living on his friend’s couch to having to leave the first job he received just after five months, at a factory making mattresses, due to its physical demands and commute time. Following his resignation, he decided to return to university.

In 2012, he secured a position at CAMH and was accepted into York University. He worked full-time from 9am to 5pm and attended classes from 7pm to 10pm. He then graduated in 2015 with an honours degree in accounting.

In 2016, his challenges grew as he lost his apartment while facing an enormous amount of debt. With nowhere to go and no savings, he resided at a partially uninhabited home owned by his in-law. Smith sought to use this opportunity to clear his debts and did so successfully. While volunteering at the Jamaica Canadian Association, he learned of the challenges being faced by BIPOC youth regarding career and wealth creation.

He was eager to bring about meaningful change in his community and as such, founded a financial literacy program called Flip & Floss that aims to mentor people around effective money management, investment and credit scores. Flip & Floss is an acronym for Financial Literacy and Investor Program and Future Leaders Obtaining Sufficient Skills. In this, Smith found his passion and would volunteer his time in different communities to teach people about financial literacy. To date, more than 3,000 people have benefited from this initiative.

Smith is now a mentor to several in Toronto and Jamaica. He founded a voluntary scholarship program, which awards a male and female that demonstrate strong leadership and community development skills each year. He authored and published his first book entitled, Living Purposefully Beyond the Walls of the Ghetto as he continues to inspire youth.

CEO and founder, Semper8
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Russia

By day, Boris Tsimerinov leads Semper8 Capital, a growing firm focused on mergers and acquisitions and investments; works on building healthcare start-ups at Semper8 Health; and, is launching Semper8 Media, with a proprietary library of 70+ film/TV concepts, some of which have generated interest in Hollywood. A digital platform for psychological wellbeing is also being explored.

In his free time, Tsimerinov is currently the president of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Club of Toronto and was the global co-chair of the HBS PLD Summit pre-pandemic; he speaks or guest lectures at universities in Canada, U.S.A., Europe and Asia; and interviewed global thought-leaders for Switzerland’s 200,000+ visitor digital initiative and national TV.

“I practise work-life synergy,” says Tsimerinov, who believes it’s crucial to know one’s strengths and live life authentically with focus, perseverance and no regrets.

Arriving in Canada, Tsimerinov encountered many obstacles. Undeterred, he persisted, graduating from Rotman Commerce and receiving the George J. Leonidas Graduation Award in Commerce and Finance. Later he became a CFA Charterholder, an alumnus of HBS and attained Global Professional Master of Laws from University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

Tsimerinov is now an accomplished M&A advisor, investor and entrepreneur with 18 years of experience. Three branches of Semper8 hold incredible promise with a global outreach, spearheaded by Boris’ determination, wealth of knowledge and by his gratitude to the profound lessons learned in Canada.

Tsimerinov brings top-level global executives and Canadian leaders of various backgrounds together to create dynamic impact. He is honoured to contribute a Canadian perspective at global summits, and as a speaker at conferences from New York to New Delhi.

He has spoken or guest lectured to students at HBS, IE Business School, DeGroote, Schulich, Rotman, San Jose State University and Bangkok University. Boris helped create two case studies, one based on situations he encountered and taught at several of these schools. Tsimerinov also co-authored articles featured in the Canadian Business Journal, International Policy Digest and Robb Report Australia & New Zealand.

Tsimerinov has actively contributed to the Canadian cultural scene in non-profit-organizations’ board or committee roles. Additionally, he received the University of Toronto Arbor Award for outstanding volunteer service.

Scientist entrepreneur
City: Burnaby, B.C.
Country of Origin: Mexico

Viridiana Perez was born and raised in Mexico City. She immigrated to Canada in 2011. Her track record of research and scientific publications led to her direct admission into a PhD program in chemistry at Université Laval where she pursued studies in both French and English.

Later on, while carrying out postdoctoral research at Simon Fraser University, she earned a graduate certificate in science and technology commercialization from the Beedie School of Business and a Certificate in University Teaching and Learning.

Growing up in a large place such as Mexico City, Perez’s focus in life has always been one of community engagement and service. As a woman in STEM, her contributions extend beyond her academic achievements. Perez actively engages the community through science outreach events focused on empowering young women to unlock and reach their full potential in STEM fields.

In 2018, she participated at STEM4 Girls hosted by IBM at local schools in the Burnaby area. Additionally, Perez participated as a speaker at a girls-only camp at SFU’s Science! Alive program as well as other science outreach events with local K-12 schools.

Establishing herself as a trailblazer in the areas of nanotechnology and entrepreneurship, Perez was the recipient of the Female Founder Award by SFU’s incubator Coast Capital Venture Connection in 2019.

Perez is also the CEO and co-founder of NANOSentinel, a Canadian-based, women-owned science and technology startup.

In a radio interview with Global News 980 CKNW, she raised awareness about the dangers and benefits of nanomaterials, as well as the urgent need for regulatory guidelines around safety of such materials. Her research was featured in WorkSafe BC’s magazine, video/podcast interviews and publications on the topic.

Perez’s startup has been recognized at the national scale as one of the top three technology solutions at Coopérathon 2020 Open Innovation Challenge. The company was also awarded first place for its business plan at the Apex competition hosted by the University of New Brunswick in 2021. Her startup focuses on commercializing portable instrumentation to protect workers from exposure to toxic metal nanomaterials, a risk often overlooked in various industries.

Canada Research Chair and a computer science professor, Dalhousie University
City: Halifax
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Named among the Top 150 Canadian Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Professor Rita Orji is a Canada Research Chair and a Computer Science Professor at Dalhousie University, where she founded and directs the Persuasive Computing Lab. Her research focuses on designing interactive technologies that empower people, improve lives, and contribute to solving many societal problems. She applies her work to tackle real-life problems in various domains including improving a wide range of health and wellness objectives such as mental health. She has won millions of dollars from competitive grant funding to support her work.

With more than 180 scientific papers, Orji has won more than 60 prestigious awards and recognitions for her outstanding achievements both in academia and in society at large. Recently, she was recognized as one of the Top 150 Canadian Women STEM, Outstanding Young Computer Science Researcher Award in Canada, Top 100 Leading Nigerian Women, one of the Top 60 African Women in STEM, Top 50 Young Most Influential Best Brains in Nigeria, and admitted into the Royal Society of Canada College. She also won many research excellence awards and a digital leadership award as a Women Leader in Digital Economy for her work in advancing technology.

Orji is a renowned speaker who has delivered more than 100 speeches including speaking at a United Nations panel and at Canadian Parliaments. She has attracted more than 100 instances of media coverage by major news organizations including CBC, BBC, NTA and StarPhoenix on account of her work and empowerment programs.

Above all, Orji is a champion of diversity and inclusion in STEM through her numerous activities and using herself as a practical example. She founded the Education for Women and the Less Privileged Foundation. She is passionate about inspiring the next generation of youth and female tech leaders, promoting research excellence, equity, diversity and inclusion in STEM.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Orji came to Canada in 2010 to pursue her PhD. She is a positive influencer and mentor who broke the barriers of growing up in a disadvantaged background and making a great impact on the global stage. She graduated as a top student with first-class honours standing in all her studies and was recognized by various governments.

Founder and executive director, ComIT
City: Winnipeg
Country of Origin: Argentina

Nominated CBC Manitoba Future 40 in 2020, Pablo Listingart is the founder and executive director at ComIT, a Canadian charity that helps people overcome employment barriers. Since 2017, ComIT has been working with those less fortunate who are in need of a no-cost training strategy.

ComIT has expanded its program nationwide, helping more than 500 people per year, offering them full access to a tailored IT education so they can take their rightful role in the Canadian economy.

In 2019, Listingart was featured by the federal government of Canada on their #ImmigrationMatters campaign where his story and work was shared to portray the importance of immigrants in the future of the country.

In 2021, ComIT launched along with Google Canada and the support of organizations such as Indspire, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and many others, its Recoding Futures program for Indigenous learners, reaching people across the country with an interest in pursuing a career in IT. More than 350 people already participated in the trainings, from coast to coast.

Raised in Buenos Aires, Listingart is the youngest child of a low-mid class family and has called Canada home for six years. He holds a master’s degree in computer science and an MBA, and has worked in the past for IT corporations such as Microsoft and IBM.

CEO and founder, Xenex Consulting Inc.
City: Victoria, B.C.
Country of Origin: Pakistan

Zen Tharani’s life is guided by his passion to give back and help those around him grow and reach their potential. Through his lived experiences of being a person of colour and an immigrant, he understands what it takes to create a space that encourages belonging. Since moving to Canada, volunteerism has been a pivotal thread guiding Tharani’s identity and belonging as a Canadian. As a volunteer, he has led numerous organizations where he has played a significant role in transforming organizations and engaging the community. Currently, he is serving as the national chair for Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s annual World Partnership Walk campaign, which engages 40,000 Canadians yearly to raise funds to fight global poverty by mobilizing Canadian values.

Tharani is a digital health professional with 22 years of experience in the social services sector across Canada and internationally. He has worked nationally and internationally in both public and private sectors. Throughout his career, he has continued to support many professionals through coaching, mentorships, co-op placements and employment opportunities. He is the founder and CEO of a boutique digital health consulting company providing bespoke management consulting services to clients in Canada and abroad. Tharani was recently elected to the board of Digital Health Canada, where he will contribute to and influence the development and advancement of the Canadian digital health industry.

Tharani arrived in Canada in 1992 as the youngest of four siblings, all of whom were born in Pakistan. His parents made Pakistan home for more than two decades before making the life altering decision to move their family to Canada. Arriving in Canada as a teenager, Tharani looked to his siblings as role models for navigating his new identity as a Canadian. This transition at such a pivotal age, was the beginning of his journey in articulating his personal values of authenticity, trust and empowerment.

He currently resides in Victoria, B.C. with his wife and son. Tharani holds a bachelor of science (University of Victoria) and a master’s of science (University of Central Lancashire, UK) in health informatics.

Director, global supply chain logistics, Apotex Inc.
City: Stouffville, Ontario
Country of Origin: Mexico

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Alma Arzate relocated with her family to Canada in 2007, where they had no family or friends. Back then, she had to make the decision to take a step back in her career as part of the move. Arzate is now a director, global supply chain logistics for Apotex Inc, where she leads a diverse team of 140 supply professionals.

As a leader in the workplace, Arzate embraces inclusion and constantly provides opportunities to leverage the skills, education and experience of many immigrants. Arzate has been a people leader for 15+ years, focusing her time and energy to lift others up. Over the last few years, she has been involved in facilitating developmental moves or promotions for more than 30 of her team members. She has made a positive impact on their self-confidence and career advancement.

Many organizations reach out to Arzate to seek her advice and participation. Despite her hectic schedule, she constantly volunteers to assist. Her hope is that her audience will connect with her, learn from her journey and the many obstacles she has had to overcome to find her voice and be recognized as a leader in male-dominated industries and professions, and will get inspired to find ways to achieve their dreams and become the best version of themselves.

Due to Arzate’s business achievements and altruism, she has been recognized by many organizations. In 2019, Arzate was selected by Supply Chain Canada as part of their Top 100 Most Influential Women in Canadian Supply Chain. Arzate was one of the winners of the 2020 Woman of Inspiration Awards by the Universal Women’s Network under the category of Authentic Leader, and in 2021, she was named as one of the Top 100 Women in Supply Chain globally by IBM and Supply Chain Digital.

In her own words, “It is hard for me to believe that a woman, a mom of three, an immigrant, the first in her family to achieve a university degree, and someone who did not find her voice until her 30s, could receive this kind of recognition. Honestly, if this helps to prove something, is that if I could do it, anyone can! It does require hard work, personal sacrifices, and perseverance, but it is definitively within anyone’s reach.”

Researcher and partnerships co-ordinator with International Association of Political Science
City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: Romania (Congolese background)

Named one of Canada’s Most Accomplished Black Woman and Woman of Influence, Patricia Kumbakisaka was born in Bucharest, Romania, grew up in Athens, Greece, and Immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba with her family at the age of 10. Her family is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and they were working in the diplomatic field which is the main reason they moved around. However, Kumbakisaka has never been or lived in the DRC but is proud of her Congolese roots. She is also fluent in French, English, Greek, Romanian, Swahili and some Lingala.

Kumbakisaka studied international relations at the University of Manitoba, in addition to that she completed a course in peace building and conflict resolution at the University of Ottawa and recently completed a research work (remotely) with the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Germany.

Kumbakisaka was the Canadian delegate at the UN where she elevated her voice in international dialogue, empowered youth to advocate for future generations and mobilized youth as agents of impact change.

She was a successful nominee as chair of Human Rights Council for the UN Youth Association of Romania. The success of this nomination was due to her dedicated drive and passion for international politics, human rights and foreign policy, which is why her nomination to be the Canadian representative in Romania’s UN Youth Association was accepted.

Now residing in Ottawa, Kumbakisaka is a foreign policy researcher and strategic communications and partnerships co-ordinator in the international cooperation sector with International Association of Political Science. She also got appointed as the 2021 Global Ambassador of Canada for Youth Opportunities which is a large international youth organization for young professionals doing extraordinary things in both local and the international community. Her second job is with a union for federal government employees in Ottawa.

Receiver of multiple Canadian and international awards, she conducted a project called Canada’s Diversity advantage, designed to engage youth, in an interactive sharing of multi-generational lived experiences that cultivated a deeper understanding of the historic journey of importance of migration, diversity and inclusion.

Kumbakisaka continues to be a global advocate for Canada through various different international development/human rights organizations and is aiming to become a diplomat or ambassador and represent Canada within the Foreign Service.

Student; president of Refugee Support Association; co-executive director of Passionate Minds
City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: Turkey

Being fascinated by sciences from a young age, Zeynep Cildir always found herself wanting to study medicine. Before she can start high school, her family had to immigrate to New Jersey Within the same year, her family had to move to Texas which then followed moving to Calgary within 3 months. Being discouraged by her grades dropping whenever they moved, Zeynep was hesitant to study sciences, and even was told by one of her teachers that she should not be thinking of going into medicine due to her grades.

Despite the discouragements, when her family moved to Ottawa, she started studying to get accepted into Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ottawa. Following her acceptance, her first semester did not go as planned as she had limited resources. With her willingness to learn and strong passion, she ended up getting 4.0 gpa Currently, she is studying Translational & Molecular Medicine where only 40 excelling students are accepted.

Just so other students do not go through the hardships and lack of resources she encountered, she co-founded Passionate Minds which is a non-profit helping students transitioning into university. She is also the founder and president of Refugee Support Association which is a non-profit helping refugees’ transition into their new country by fundraising as she knows the hardships of settling in. They received 2 prestigious awards by the university: “The Covid Award” and “The Best New Club Award”. Additionally, she is a competing athlete and an undergraduate researcher. Along with helping immigrants and students who might be struggling, she continues to volunteer at other organizations such as Shepherds of Good Hope where she received “the Youth Award” for her commitment, 5-star WizePrep academic tutor, Let’s Talk Science volunteer to encourage youth in science, and an English Second Language tutor. Additionally, she is working part-time as a Medical Office Assistant at CareMedics while maintaining her academic excellence.

Board of Governors, University of Manitoba; manager, application services, Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba (WCB); Educator, University of Winnipeg & Red River College
City: Winnipeg
Country of Origin: Ghana

Juanita DeSouza-Huletey is a trailblazer. Since her arrival in Canada 30+ years ago,
she has touched the lives of many. She wears many hats: an industry and community leader, educator, mentor, life coach and patron.

She came to Canada as an intern with IBM Canada Ltd., after graduating with double honours in computer science & economics from the University of Ghana. DeSouza-Huletey was the first woman divisional commander (head) of IT at the Winnipeg Police Service.

DeSouza-Huletey dedicates her time as a knowledge philanthropist on a number of boards at the executive/advisory levels including chair of WCB United Way, founding member of Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) Western Canada, patron of Ghana Mission Queen Girls Up (UN Foundation), St. Paul High School Board, and Red River College industry adviser for the IT Strategic Council.

DeSouza-Huletey has been a phenomenal pillar of the African community contributing enormously to its success and growth for several decades. She was instrumental in leading a number of initiatives including Folklorama, Africa Fest Business Networking, African Community of Manitoba Inc. (ACOMI) website and fundraising activities.

Advocating for immigrants, she works with prominent community and industry leaders to provide sustainable platforms, resources and support for successful integration in Canada.

A champion for women in STEM careers, she has successfully transformed the lives of many by breaking barriers in the workplace, providing career mentorship and creating platforms for women to own and launch their success stories.

An eloquent public speaker, DeSouza-Huletey leaves people roaring with laughter yet also sometimes they are moved to tears. She doesn’t just show up, she lives with great purpose and everyone around her can feel that. As a result, she is held in high esteem by her students, colleagues and community members. Her life’s goal is to influence all those around her to succeed and be the best version of themselves.

Her advice on integrating in Canada: stay positive, speak up, have courage even if you are the only one standing in the room representing your community.

Associate professor, nursing, University of Alberta
City: Edmonton
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Bukola Salami is an associate professor at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. She is an internationally recognized researcher on immigrant health. In 2016, she was a collaborating researcher at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and presented her work to international policy makers across UN organizations in Geneva.
Salami is the founder of the African Child and Youth Migration Network. The African Child and Youth Migration Network is a network of around 35 researchers located worldwide.

Her most recent endeavour is the creation of a Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program at the University of Alberta. The program seeks to socially and economically empower Black youths to contribute meaningfully to society. It is the first interdisciplinary, university-based mentorship program for Black youths in Western Canada. Several social service agencies have used her work to inform the design and development of their programs. For example, her work on the mental health of Black youth has informed the development of interventions and the creation of a mental health clinic for Black people in Alberta. She is on the Public Health Agency of Canada National Working Group on the Mental Health of Black Canadians. She is currently a board member of Black Opportunity Fund and was previously a board member of Africa Centre and Edmonton Local Immigrant Partnership. She is also currently associate editor for the Canadian Medical Association Journal. She has received the highest national award in nursing, Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Nursing, and the highest nursing research award globally, the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame Award. She has also been named among Edmonton’s Top 40 under 40 in 2017 and 100 Accomplished Black Women in Canada.

Bukola Salami migrated from Nigeria to Canada in 1997. She holds a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Windsor as well as a master’s in nursing and a PhD in nursing from the University of Toronto.

President, Ni-Met Metals Inc.
City: Oakville, Ontario
Country of Origin: India

An immigrant does not have too many choices. Failure is not an option, and success is not easy. Within a limited timeframe and with limited career choices, the immigrant must embark upon their new life in a new land and then furiously work to achieve goals. The challenges multiply multifariously when the immigrant chooses to become an entrepreneur. Anil Shah, the founder and CEO of Ni-Met Metals Inc. Group, chose the hard path of turning into an entrepreneur when he immigrated to Canada in 1990. Three decades later, by any measurable standards, Shah is immensely successful — despite the humble beginning and limited resources.

The reason for his success is simple. It is said that behind the success of every man is a woman. Shah explains in his case there are six women: his mother, his wife, his sister, his daughter, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter.

As a philanthropist, Shah is involved with community-based organizations. He never refuses any request for philanthropic assistance, and he has made a substantive difference to the Trillium Health Partners Foundation, the Canada India Foundation and the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. Trillium recognized Shah’s contributions by putting a 12 x 22 feet mosaic life mural of his in the foyer of Queensway site of the Trillium Hospital.

As a public policy enthusiast, Shah has advocated for a better understanding and co-operation between Canada and India — two countries that share many commonalities. He dedicates his time and resources to promote bilateral trade, investment and runs a golf tournament, the proceeds of which are divided between families of fallen soldiers in Canada and India.
Learn more at

Founder, Rabba Fine Foods
City: Mississauga
Country of Origin: Middle East

Jack Rabba was born into abject poverty. During adolescence, his father was bedridden and at 13, Rabba had to take any job he could find in restaurants and hotels to support his parents and siblings. These jobs afforded him an opportunity to serve visitors from many nations, but it was the compassion and kindness of Canadians that sparked in him an undying love for our land.

Rabba immigrated in 1966 with only the promise of a clerical job at a hotel, the clothes on his back and his Canadian aspirations. Unwilling to take his opportunity for granted, he spent every moment focused on building a better life. He and his wife, Ingrid, were married at Old City Hall while they were both on their lunch break! Soon afterward, he got work as a convenience store manager. Working long hours, Rabba was able to put a down-payment on a small convenience store in the heart of Toronto. He helped his parents and young siblings to immigrate a few years later and continued to carry his immigrant family on his shoulders while building a successful neighbourhood business.

Before long he realized Torontonians were looking for more variety, so he expanded the store. Customers liked the new selection and so one small store became multiple neighbourhood markets. In 1985, Rabba renamed the chain and launched Rabba Fine Foods. Today, there are 36 locations across Ontario!

Rabba has created thousands of jobs and he continues to give opportunity to, mentor and support new Canadians. His companies have also been proud contributors to countless charitable and community organizations. Examples include Rabba’s regular donations to Trillium Health Partners, most recently supporting Trillium’s ICUs. Rabba also provides hundreds of thousands of dollars of food and financial donations annually to the Mississauga Food Bank to help support the goal of ending food insecurity.

Throughout it all, Rabba remains a fiercely proud Canadian who still helps immigrants establish themselves in the great nation he idolized as a youth. By making the most of his opportunities he has managed to help improve the lives of innumerable fellow Canadians.

CEO & co-founder, Fable
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: India

Alwar Pillai is the co-founder and CEO of Fable, an accessibility testing platform powered by people with disabilities. Fable’s platform enables Fortune 500 companies, leading organizations and governments to improve their digital products by connecting directly with people with disabilities to conduct user research and accessibility testing. With Pillai leading the charge, Fable is helping world-renowned companies like Walmart, Shopify and Slack build products that work for everyone, and unlocking access to the digital world for millions of users.

Pillai grew up in India and attended an alternative school that focused on holistic learning and abstained from academic learning. At a young age, Pillai was made aware of her privilege and the role she can play in providing equal opportunity. In 2015, Pillai immigrated to Canada to complete a master’s of inclusive design at OCAD University, where she focused her research on designing technology for seniors. Pillai also holds a degree in UX Design from the Symbiosis Institute of Design. Pillai has been celebrated as one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs and one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 50 Changemakers.

Pillai is passionate about sharing the importance of accessibility and inclusive design with people all around the world. She has spoken on numerous global panels and at conferences including: the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, MaRS Discovery District, the DMZ incubator, Sight Tech Global, TechTO and the Zero Project.

Real estate agent; board member, Canadian Iranian Foundation
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Iran

Amir Miri is an experienced realtor with a focus on the Vancouver real estate market. He holds a dual bachelor of arts with honours in hotel management and tourism from Manchester Metropolitan University and IMI University in Switzerland.

A visionary individual who is always on the lookout for the best way to approach a problem and find lasting solutions, Miri has experience working in management in the world’s most exclusive luxury hotels.

Miri comes from a family of real estate investors, architects and interior designers, giving him the ultimate real estate understanding. He prides himself in upholding his family’s reputation in real estate.

Miri brings constant and needed change to the real estate sector in Vancouver. With his wealth of experience and education, he has utilized strategies that have contributed to the growth of exclusive luxury hotels such as Four Seasons hotels and resorts, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Kempinski hotel groups, and Starwood hotel group.

When Miri is not helping clients get the best deals in real estate or talking at conferences, Miri sits on the board of directors at the Canadian Iranian Foundation, a charitable organization that facilitates the social and cultural integration of newly arrived immigrants in Canada.

His involvement in the Canadian Iranian Foundation, which is a non-profit organization has allowed him to help families in need and provide scholarships to students.

The organization also educates and advises new immigrants about education, charitable work and social reform in Canada. Having been an immigrant himself, Miri uses his wealth of experience to train new immigrants on what they can expect in Canada.

Humanitarian writer; public servant
City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: India

Born with a natural interest in people and foreign communities, Ankur Mahajan stumbled upon a globe at the age of six, and could not stop wondering what happens in other parts of the world. “I was enthralled by other communities and colours, and curious to know how they spend their lives and problems they faced,” he says. Following this passion, Mahajan has lived in 14 countries globally.

When he got here in 2011, starting life alone in Canada was tough for him. No one was willing to hire him without Canadian experience. So, he decided to contribute to the Canadian International Development Programs in war-torn countries. “It was extremely risky, but it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and humanity.”

Mahajan served for years in war-torn areas of rural Afghanistan and African nations until 2016, while receiving recognition for numerous development initiatives related to gender equality, food security and more.

Following his passion for documenting the culture of war zones and a desire to assist struggling charities, Mahajan authored his bestselling memoir Life Beyond Bullets, about humanity in diversity. All royalties from this memoir are donated to Canadian NGOs.
Upon returning to Canada, Mahajan joined the Public Service in Ottawa as a senior finance officer. He continued to volunteer with humanitarian groups like the Ottawa Mission, Canadian University Service Overseas, among others. He received an Assistant Deputy Minister award for providing outstanding service as a public servant for the tumultuous year 2020.
As a competitive judo athlete, Mahajan achieved successful results at the provincial and national levels, and also represented Canada internationally.

Despite exploring more than a dozen countries, Mahajan sees Canada as the home of actualization. He believes Canada afforded him the opportunity to live all his dreams, and now it’s his responsibility to help others. He holds a master’s of education studies from Memorial University, a master’s of science in financial economics from Cardiff University, and a bachelor’s of science in economics and management from Purdue University.

Indian classical vocalist
City: Oakville, Ontario
Country of Origin: India

An internationally acclaimed Indian classical vocalist, Ramneek Singh is a highly coveted musician who performs in Canada and all around the world. She is the torchbearer of the legendary Ustad Amir Khan’s Indore Gharana, a distinctively meditative and serene style of Khayal presentation. Over her career, she has trained with many maestros, including Vidushee Amarjeet Kaur (disciple of Ustad Amir Khan) and Pt. Rajan Mishra. The influence of many
masters and decades of vocal training has given Singh the freedom to refine her own style and impart expressive feelings to technically sound renditions; her wide repertoire includes Khayal, Thumri, Bhajan, Gurbani Shabad and Sufiana.

Singh’s mesmerizing and emotive voice spans three octaves and leaves a lasting effect on listeners. Along with many albums to her credit, two of her recent CDs, Saanjh and Bandishein, were recorded at a state-of-the-art studio in Canada, and have been critically acclaimed for musical tonal quality, poetry and sound engineering. Singh has also composed music for several popular OMNI TV shows including Chardi Kala and Rabbi Noor.

The artistic vision of Singh’s school, Sur Rang Music Academy is to make South Asian classical music an integral part of Canada’s art scene, while promoting harmony and mutual respect among the South Asian diaspora and within the general Canadian population. Her elaborate explanations of Raag and lyrics in English are integral to her successful shows, allowing her to connect with a wide range of audiences. A guest lecturer at many universities including University of Victoria, University of Buffalo and MIT, her explanations of the art, science and emotion in her music bridge the gap between North American and Indian culture.

Singh yearns to help others through the power of music. During the pandemic, she performed more than 25 online concerts t o bring solace to her listeners all over the world. These were so well received that she was sponsored by Canada’s National Arts Centre to perform an online show under their banner.

Singh is the recipient of many awards, including the Women’s Hero Award and Ambassador of Indian Classical Music Abroad, and, last but not least, the song she sang in Deepa Mehta’smovie The Midnight’s Children is highly celebrated.

Certified executive coach
City: Mississauga
Country of Origin: India

Her unique skill set, diverse background and expertise has allowed Shiyen Shu to impact the world in many different ways.
As an executive coach, Shiyen Shu helps ambitious leaders and high achievers become more successful at work and in life quickly, and be able to sustain those positive changes. She has trained with the top executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith who has coached many Fortune 100 CEOs.

Although she currently works with top leaders, she started her journey serving the most vulnerable and sick individuals in the health care industry in Toronto. She is the host and curator of the podcast Lessons in Leadership and Life that features candid conversations with top health care leaders, and has been praised for her ability to allow leaders to comfortably talk about the most sensitive issues.

She holds a master’s of science degree from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor of science degree from McMaster University. She is certified project management professional (PMP), and a certified yoga teacher. She blends her diverse training in executive coaching, occupational therapy, yoga, meditation and neuroscience to create a truly holistic and empowering approach for leaders and organizations. She previously co-founded Beyond Intellect, an organization committed to holistic health and wellness.

She is a lifelong learner and volunteers much of her time to mentor and coach new professional immigrants in Canada and professional students at the University of Toronto. As a passionate advocate for women, she also sits on the Erin Mills Women’s Council. She is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto and serves as director on the board of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists.

Shu is a proud mother of two young girls who teach her the most important life lessons everyday. She was born and raised in the bustling city of Mumbai, India, where she was exposed early on to the diversity of life among people and the unlimited human potential to grow.

City: Stratford, P.E.I.
Country of Origin: China

Robert Chang is a true entrepreneur who lives by a personal life motto “to be the best you can be and to give back to society.” Chang and his family immigrated from Anhui Province in China to Prince Edward Island in 2014.

In 2016, Chang established the Flourish Development Group of which he is president. The group is engaged in real estate development projects, construction and property leasing.

Under Chang’s direction, one of the Group’s first projects is a 70-acre development within the Town of Stratford. The Foxwoods Project is a commitment to the town to build a sustainable community that involves, in part, providing 30 per cent of the area as green space and building high-end energy-efficient single-family homes. The completed development will see the construction of 200 units. Phase 1, which is underway, involves the construction of 28 of the eventual 200 units. To date, three different construction companies using different energy-efficiency techniques have completed 14 units, five are under construction and three more will start this year. The completed units have been independently certified as being an average of 40 per cent more energy efficient than required by the Canada building code. Phase 1 is planned to be completed by the end of 2022.

P.E.I. has had a shortage of affordable housing for a considerable amount of time. To help resolve this situation, Chang began the Tower Road Affordable Project. This project is an agreement with the Government of P.E.I. to build an 88-unit building in Charlottetown, which will provide affordable housing for low-income families. Once completed, it will be P.E.I.’s largest single affordable building.

As well, under Chang’s direction, the Flourish Development Group operates and manages more than 150 residential and commercial properties in Charlottetown, Montague, P.E.I., and Moncton, New Brunswick. Many energy-saving modifications have been done to these properties to provide quality service to its tenants.

Bhangra dancer and instructor
City: Whitehorse, Yukon
Country of Origin: India

Gurdeep Pandher is a Yukon-based, Bhangra instructor. He creates performance pieces that bring together artists from all backgrounds while promoting inclusivity and diversity. Currently, he is best known for bringing happiness and positivity during the pandemic through his online dance classes and videos. The dance performances and videos are watched by millions of viewers throughout the world.

Pandher’s works have been published by many international art and media organizations including BBC News, CBC National and the Globe and Mail. Although he is presently a dance instructor at Yukon University, Pandher has experience teaching Bhangra workshops at many venues in the Yukon, Canada and throughout the world. Along with this, his sessions are a considerable workout and a fun way to introduce physical activity. For more information, please visit

Hispanic/Latin community champion
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Colombia

Mauricio Ospina immigrated to Canada with nothing and elevated not only himself but also the profile of an entire community across the country — an achievement recognized by prime ministers, universities and media.

He came to Canada in 1990 with only a high school diploma and zero English. He cleaned floors the first four years in Canada — and seemed destined to continue doing so forever. Today, he is a respected international market consultant with the government in charge of helping Ontario technology companies export into the world’s toughest market: the United States.

Despite his professional success, he never forgot his Hispanic/Latin community. For the past 20 years and on his free time, he’s been a reference point and changemaker for his community across the country. Starting in 2001, he founded four professional and business associations in Canada, all still operational. In 2001, he started the Canadian Colombian Professional Associations’ two chapters, followed by Hispanotech in 2008 as co-founder, and more recently, in 2009, the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance as founder and current director.

His non-stop community work has been profiled in Canada’s mainstream media and personally recognized by two prime ministers and by the Canadian Parliament. He is a Fellow at York University, inaugural awardee of Ryerson University’s Outstanding Volunteer Awards, named one of the 10 most successful Colombians in Canada, and past chair of the Hispanic Philanthropy Conference from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Foundation for Philanthropy.

Ospina is an inductee in the Canadian Who is Who, the standard reference listing the top 10,000 Canadians.

Founder and CEO, hEr VOLUTION
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Romania

Doina Oncel is the founder and CEO of hEr VOLUTION, an award-winning non-profit organization assisting young women from diverse backgrounds with access to STEM-based education and employment opportunities in Canada.

Like most Canadians, Oncel immigrated to Canada with big dreams hoping for a better future for herself and her family. She immigrated from Romania at a young age of 19 years old. She arrived in Canada on June 21, 1994, and she still commemorates that day as her own personal holiday and each year she reflects on how far she’s come and how long she still has to go.

Oncel was recently awarded the NCWIT Educator Award for the outstanding commitment to diversity in computer science education, awarded the International Women’s Day Award by Dancing Damsels for working toward achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

Additionally, Oncel has been nominated for the Premier’s Award by George Brown College and named a role model for Canadians by Barbie’s “You can be anything campaign” to help celebrate today’s career woman and to inspire young women everywhere to pursue careers of their choice.

Furthermore, Oncel was named a Trailblazer by Women in IP of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada for the work done so far to create opportunities for the next generation to enter STEM fields.
Because of her leadership, hEr VOLUTION is now known as an award-winning organization recognized for the Advancement of Young Women in STEM by ImpactAI.

Oncel measures her biggest achievements by the impact she makes in many young women’s lives that attend programs at hEr VOLUTION because this is her way of giving back and supporting the next generations of women, many of them who are immigrants like herself. As such, Oncel is a devoted mentor to women in various industries and always ready to answer any questions for women transitioning from education to the workforce.

Learn more on hEr VOLUTION here:

City: Calgary
Country of Origin: Kenya

Born in Nairobi Kenya, Winjoy Nyariaki Tiop is the eldest of five siblings born to South-Sudanese and Kenyan parents. At five years of age, the Tiop family immigrated to Canada as a result of the second Sudanese Civil war and concurrent political instability within Kenya. Currently, Tiop is a senior undergraduate student, pursuing a bachelor’s in chemistry with a minor in computer science at the University of Calgary.

In University, Tiop undertook a number of projects. At the ScantelburyLab, she contributes to pediatric epilepsy research. Leveraging her background in software development and strength in mathematics, Tiop was able to automate electroencephalogram analysis through the use of time and frequency analysis by way of the Fourier transform, digital filter design and Continuous Wavelet Transform. At both the Chang-Chun Ling Lab and Paul-Arnold Lab, Tiop contributes to wet-lab research focusing on synthesis of inhibitors for tumor-associated glycosyltransferases and gene-environmental interactions in the development of psychiatric disorders respectively.

Tiop is also involved in community research, specifically, the regional five-year initiative —spearheaded by the Calgary Centre for Newcomers — aiming to standardize the co-ordination of newcomer youth settlement services. In addition to research, Tiop is actively involved in the broader technical community. With an international team of undergraduates, she successfully competed in Infosys Summer of Ideas program 2020 (an international Hackathon) under the theme of artificial intelligence. Her team was successful in using machine learning algorithms (e.g., convoluted neural networks) in developing a proof of concept application aimed at assisting visually impaired individuals, through object and distance detection.

Outside of the formal academic environment, Tiop is heavily involved in the community.

She volunteers with the Football Hockey Link (FHL) and co-founded Golden Mti. The FHL supports new Canadian youth using sports as a tool to assist in integration, develop a sense of belonging and leadership development. Simply put, Golden Mti attempts to address barriers to post-secondary education for BIPOC children by equipping youth with resources to succeed through professional tutors, workshops and mentorship.

For all her accomplishments, Tiop has received the Calgary Faces of Community Award, Persons Case Scholarship and a feature in the Calgary Journal.

Non-profit executive
City: Hamilton
Country of Origin: Liberia

Leo Nupolu Johnson spent eight years in refugee camps in Ivory Coast and Ghana, having fled from civil war in his native Liberia. In 2006, he was resettled in Canada as a government-assisted refugee. In 2007, Nupolu Johnson founded Empowerment Squared, a charitable organization committed to building a world where everyone is empowered with the tools and opportunities to thrive and contribute to society through mentorship and access to education. Under his leadership, the organization has assisted more than 10,000 newcomer youth and families with settling in Canada. The organization recently completed the groundbreaking ceremony for Liberian Learning Center which will house the only public library in the West African Nation of Liberia.

Nupolu Johnson’s work has been recognized for its impact all over the world. He has received the J.C. Holland Award for Youth Leadership and Excellence and the YMCA Peace Medal. He has also been named one of the Hamilton Spectator’s Top Forty Under 40. He also served as guest lecturer in the University of Toronto’s global health course. He was recently awarded the World Citizenship Award by the City of Hamilton, Gandhi Peace Award, McMaster University Global Community Impact Award and the Afroglobal TV 2018 Visionary Award. In 2019, Nupolu Johnson was one of 14 people selected globally as a Fellow for the International Decade for People of African Descent by the
United Nations.

CEO, Indusflow Systems Inc.
City: Markham, Ontario
Country of Origin: Pakistan

Rafi Mustafa earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of British Columbia in 1969. In subsequent years, he was engaged in research and teaching at various universities, including the University of Leicester in England, the Universities of Toronto and Windsor in Canada, the University of Sindh in Pakistan and the University of Khartoum in Sudan.

In 1978, he joined CN Communications and provided IT services to CN-owned companies in Newfoundland, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

In 1989, he co-founded Calmar Orthopaedics, which offers custom-built prosthetic devices for amputees.
He set up a private college in 1991, accredited by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, and produced more than 5,000 Network Engineers, Database Administrator and Software Engineers.

He is currently the CEO of Indusflow Systems Inc., an IT company headquartered in Markham and a Trinidad satellite office, which serves a worldwide clientele.

He has been active on the boards of several non-profit Canadian organizations that carry out a range of projects to help underprivileged communities. Among these is the International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF), a Canadian registered charitable organization that provides relief aid and development assistance worldwide. He has served as a member of the board of directors, was twice elected as the president, and is currently in the advisory council. He has been associated with IDRF for the last 35 years.

He was also a member of the board of directors of Reh’ma Foundation, an organization devoted to helping seniors.

In 2014, he was invited to join the advisory committee for Muslim Studies Program at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. He continues to be active with this program as a member of the fundraising committee.

Mustafa has served as a director of the Canada-Pakistan Business Council (CPBC) for well over a decade. The object of the council is to promote trade between Canada and Pakistan. He has also been part of a Canadian trade delegation to Pakistan.

Apart from his professional life, he writes fiction and has published two novels so far, while the next one is on its way.

Recording artist and touring musician
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Ukraine (former Soviet Union)

Julian Milkis was Knighted in 2019, the first artist since Nobel laureate and great poet Joseph Brodsky by the Maltese Order, St. John Grand Priory. At the Knighthood ceremony, this rare honour was bestowed upon Milkis for “healing tens of thousands of hearts across the world” with his music.

Milkis, a soloist, chamber musician, recitalist and jazz clarinetist, has appeared on the world’s principal stages across the world, such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Koerner Hall and Roy Thompson Hall, and most major concert venues across Europe, South America and the Far East.

At the moment, he is involved with a Canadian film company Ethnic Channels Group in presenting a major documentary film/live music project about a genius Georgian composer Giya Kancheli.

In the meantime, he continues to tour worldwide as soloist with different orchestras (recently with Sinfonia Toronto across South America) and in recitals and chamber music concerts. There are two major recording projects coming up in the near future: music of G. Kancheli and M. Weinberg.

He frequently gives master classes for underprivileged kids across North America and in the countries of former Soviet Union.

Arriving in Toronto at the age of 17, he went to Northview Heights Secondary School and to University of Toronto before continuing his education at the Manhattan School of Music and later at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He also graduated with a master’s degree in literature from the Norwich school in Vermont.

Video of Julian Milkis & Siberian Virtuosi

City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Panama

Ginella Massa is a Canadian Screen Award-winner best known as Canada’s first hijab-wearing television news reporter, local anchor and national host. She is currently the host of Canada Tonight with Ginella Massa, airing weeknights on CBC News Network.

Massa made history in 2015, believed to be the first television news reporter in North America to wear a hijab on-air when she was hired as a video journalist for CTV News in Kitchener, Ontario. She made international headlines again after anchoring the evening newscast at CityNews Toronto in 2016.

With more than a decade of experience in news, behind-the-scenes and on-air, Massa has worked for both local and national news outlets, in television and radio. Her on-air credits include CTV News, CityNews, Newstalk 1010 and Rogers TV. Her writing has been published by the Globe and Mail, National Post, Chatelaine and Refinery29 Canada.

Raised in Toronto, Massa arrived in Canada from Panama with her mom and older sister when she was a year old. After winning a speech competition in the third grade, her mother suggested her outgoing daughter pursue a career on television. Massa graduated with an honours bachelor’s of arts in communication studies from York University, and has a diploma in broadcast journalism from Seneca College.

Storyteller and community activist
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Philippines

Erie Maestro is passionate about early literacy and storytelling, and about community organizing and social justice work.

As a children’s librarian, Maestro pioneered the first Pilipino Parent-Child Mother Goose Program/ Programang Nanay Gansa, an oral early literacy program for Filipino parents and small children. She also introduced the Pilipino Baby Welcoming Program, which welcomed all babies to the library and organized Pilipino language storytimes inside and outside the library.
Before she retired in May 2021, “Auntie” Erie welcomed families to the children’s online storytime Kuwentuhang Pinoy of Vancouver Public Library. Maestro continues her advocacy for early literacy and storytelling in Pilipino even in her retirement.

Maestro is a founding member and active volunteer of two grassroots organizations: Migrante BC, which protects and promotes the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants and immigrants (2009) and the Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (2008). In 2012, she joined other Filipino community artists to create the grassroots PANCIT art collective. In 2019, Maestro joined the National Pilipino Canadian Cultural Centre (NPC3) as its founding member and board secretary.

A large part of her life in the Philippines was lived under the shadows of martial law as a student, human rights worker and organizer of the families of political prisoners where she saw firsthand the sacredness and fragility of human freedoms.
In 1991, Maestro arrived in Nova Scotia with her young daughter and balanced her single mother roles and graduate student tasks. There, she also found the time to help found the Immigrant Women’s Support Association in Halifax with other immigrant women friends. She has a master’s in library and information studies from Dalhousie University and a master’s in archival studies from UBC.

She writes for the Philippine Asian News Today and for the Philippine Reporter. Her story is found in, And I will paint the sky: Women speak the story of their lives (2000), a collection of autobiographies of Canadian women edited by Carole Trainer, and in Aboriginal and Visible Minority Librarians: Oral Histories from Canada (2011), a collection of personal narratives edited by Lee and Kumaran.

City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: Kenya

Justice Mahmud Jamal was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on July 1, 2021. From June 2019 until his appointment to the Supreme Court, he was a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Before his appointment to the bench, Justice Jamal practised with the law firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP for more than 23 years in the fields of appellate litigation, constitutional and public law, class actions and commercial litigation. He appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in a wide range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory cases, before various provincial courts across Canada, the Federal Court, Federal Court of Appeal, and Tax Court of Canada, and before federal and provincial administrative tribunals.

As a lawyer, Justice Jamal was a director of the Advocates’ Society, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. He was also an advocacy advisor to the Supreme Court Advocacy Institute and a trustee of the Canadian Business Law Journal. His extensive pro bono work as a lawyer included representing immigrant foreign-trained medical doctors seeking to requalify in Canada, volunteering with the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) as a mentor for recent immigrants seeking employment in Canada, serving as a member of the Ontario government’s Anti-Racism Consultation Group, and litigation involving freedom of religion, among other areas.

Justice Jamal was born in Kenya, immigrated to England as a young child, and then immigrated to Canada at the age of 14. He completed high school in Edmonton, Alberta. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto, bachelor of laws and bachelor of civil law degrees from the Faculty of Law, McGill University, and a master of laws from Yale Law School, which he attended on a Fulbright Scholarship. He served as a law clerk to Justice Melvin L. Rothman of the Quebec Court of Appeal and Justice Charles D. Gonthier of the Supreme Court of Canada.

He and his wife, Goleta, who was born in Iran, have two children.

Artist, writer, curator
City: Fort St. John, B.C.
Country of Origin: Philippines

An established artist and writer from the Philippines, Ovvian Castrillo-Hill came to Canada in 2009 and married Bryan Hill of Fort St. John, in the Peace Region of Northeast B.C.

When she left her successful art profession in Manila (she created multiple public art monuments, most notable of which is the signature sculpture of the Philippine Stock Exchange), she adjusted to life in Canada by volunteering with the North Peace Filipino Canadian Association (she’s been a cultural director and officer for many years), while being a stay-at-home mom to her young son, Brendan.

In 2019, she established/curated the first EX-SITU Filipino-Canadian Art Exhibit held at the North Peace Cultural Centre — a first for any immigrant community in the region. Castrillo-Hill expanded EX SITU 2020 to include a B.C.-wide online art exhibit. With its success, EX SITU was featured in various media (Omni Channel, CBC Radio, Alaska Highway News, Bell Media-Moose FM, Philippine Asian News Today) as a positive example of cultural celebration and opportunity for Filipino immigrants. Because of this, Castrillo-Hill was invited as one of the speakers at the second National Asian Symposium (Montreal), where she spoke about EX SITU and how this model can be replicated by immigrant communities everywhere in Canada.

In 2019, Castrillo-Hill was a finalist for the City of Fort St. John’s Community Awards (Art and Culture). In 2020, her design was selected in the Festival Plaza Art Competition held by the City of Fort St. John; and her bas-relief was a winner at the 2020 Incheon (Korea) Metropolitan City International Art Exhibit (Sole Canadian Entry). In 2021, her painting was among those awarded at the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council Juried Art Competition.
Castrillo-Hill is a settlement practitioner for SUCCESS, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help immigrants’ settlement journeys. Her awareness of the unique challenges of immigrants allows her to personally assist newcomers in her city.

Castrillo-Hill also authored Goddess in the Mirror: A Book of Self-Discovery for Filipino Women the World Over.

Castrillo-Hill continues to curate EX SITU. She also dreams that her art-concept for a Filipino-Canadian Friendship Monument will someday become a reality.

City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: Mexico

Karla Briones arrived in Canada in a U-Haul truck with her family when she was 18, after a long five-day drive from her native country of Mexico.

She and her family lived the struggles most immigrants experience: cultural, language, environmental and job security barriers.

She is now proudly a Mexican Canadian serial entrepreneur with retail, food and online businesses she’s had for more than a decade.She is the founder of KB Consulting, a business consulting and strategy agency for BIPOC and underrepresented entrepreneurs where she and her team help clients launch, grow and scale businesses.

Briones is a Nation’s Capital Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year award recipient and a TEDx Speaker (August 2021) on the topic of immigrant entrepreneurship. She is a small business columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and serves on the board of directors for the Ottawa Markets and the Ottawa Board of Trade, as well as volunteering as a business mentor for Futurpreneur Canada, the Centre for Social Enterprise Development and other local entrepreneurship community groups.

Guest speaker, lecturer and generous with her advice, Briones is passionate about growing the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Canada and giving back to the country that welcomed her with open arms.

She is the lucky mom of two amazing, strong and inspiring humans: Carmen, 9, and Nayeli, 13, who also have their own business! She lovingly instills in them her Mexican roots and encourages them to use their Canadian wings to fly after their biggest dreams. Her husband and business partner, Shawn, patiently supports, encourages and contributes to the success of it all.

President, Canadian Pioneer Estates Limited; founder, Friends United
City: Cleveland, Nova Scotia
Country of Origin: Germany

Immigrating in 1988 from Europe as a mechanic and farmer, Rolf Bouman began work in Nova Scotia as a labourer/welder and in silviculture. Working in multiple jobs helped him finance his education as an English–German translator. Bouman wanted to earn the respect of Canadians not only through hard work, but also by increasing his proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages, enabling him to contribute to the Canadian fabric economically and culturally. This led him to work for government, law firms and real estate brokers.

For the work with Friends United, Bouman was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship Award by the Rotary Club, shortly before he became a Rotarian. He was also awarded the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce Cultural Award of Merit.

Bouman built a corporate group of Canadian companies from the ground up, bringing prosperity to Canada and recognition for its Indigenous people. More information is available at, including interviews with former premier Rodney MacDonald and Hereditary Chief Stephen Augustine.

Social impact entrepreneur
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Mexico

In a world where many people do their banking quickly and conveniently online, Canada’s temporary farmworkers have been left behind. When Rene Blanco looked at the problem, he saw an opportunity to build a business by helping them to save time and money. The result was LABORA, a social impact FinTech that provides digital payroll remittances.

Blanco, LABORA’s founder and CEO, landed in Vancouver, BC, in 2017 to study an executive MBA program at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Previously, Blanco worked in Mexican agencies to provide infrastructure and services to rural communities.

In 2018, as an international EMBA student, he addressed a social problem within the underserved temporary foreign workers. They have to pay high fees and receive low exchange rates to remit their money back home. As a landed immigrant in Canada, he did in-depth due diligence regarding the payment process for the 50-year-old Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), and LABORA was born.

LABORA’s mission is to enhance the Canadian agriculture sector by helping farm owners securely and efficiently pay their farmworkers and benefit from the streamlined money transfer process from Canada back home. Further simplifying the administrative process, the LABORA platform assists farmworkers by filling their tax returns and provides online services to keep their information secured (pay stubs, TD1, T4, Certifications, NOA and ROE) up to date.

This year, the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC selected LABORA’s project for funding. Also, the company is accelerated by Venture Connection, SFU’s flagship entrepreneurship program. LABORA positively impacts the worker’s financial conditions based on the UN SDG’s metrics.

LABORA has won numerous recognitions, including the 2019 Idea Prize at the SFU-Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize competition, the 2019 Vancouver Winner at the Startup World Championships in Montreal. In 2020, Blanco received the SFU Alumni Founder Award, and Future of Good recognized LABORA as one of Canada’s Top 100 Recovery Projects. The company has also made the Ready to Rocket program’s Emerging Rocket Agri-Food List in 2020 and 2021. This year, LABORA won the 2021 Top Venture Prize at the SFU-Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize Competition.

Human resource leader; career coach
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Jamaica

From the Vere plain in Clarendon, Jamaica, Nadisha Berry migrated at the end of 2017 to start a new life in Canada. Immigrating was integral to her personal journey of transformation after battling life-altering health issues, divorce and other challenges. She is known for her resilience, transparency, connectedness and relational strengths.

Berry has a heart of service and is committed to changing and affecting lives through her work, business and community involvement. This Black immigrant woman is determined to shatter glass ceilings, bridge career gaps and aid other immigrants make their mark and experience positive transformation.

She currently leads the human resource department at Skills for Change and has more than a decade of strategic and operational experience in multiple human resource capacities across various industries. Her passion is most evident in the areas of talent management, learning and development, recruitment, coaching, DEI and employee engagement. She holds the senior professional human resource international (SPHRi) and certified human resources professional (CHRP) designations.

She was an integral contributor to the concept development of Skills for Change’s Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change, which is a leadership development program for members of the Black community who wish to acquire or develop leadership skills.

She volunteers with several community agencies, professional and equity seeking groups including the Black HR Professionals of Canada, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and the Jamaican Canadian Association. She also provides voluntary support to associations and groups in Jamaica to help prepare students and professionals for a career in Canada.

Berry wears many hats (heels) including that of an entrepreneur. She is a regulated canadian immigration consultant (RCIC) and certified career management (CCMC) and strength coach (ACSC).

Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more about how she’s serving the immigrant community!

Artist and arts administrator
City: Edmonton
Country of Origin: Philippines

Ida Beltran-Lucila was an accomplished dance artist and arts administrator in the Philippines, bringing a breadth of arts experience and knowledge with her when her family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, in 2005. She was a principal dancer with Ballet Philippines and director for several dance companies, and a graduate of the University of the Philippines, with a bachelor’s in theatre arts, cum laude, and master’s studies in special education.

As a dance artist in Edmonton, she was artistic director for Chameleon Dance Edmonton and Edmonton Festival Ballet, and guest ballet teacher with Ukrainian Shumka Dance. She has also delivered workshops on classical and modern ballet, and Philippine dance, in ballet schools, elementary and high schools, and with senior groups in the effort to promote dance as a recreational, therapeutic and educational tool.

Beltran-Lucila is a driving force in the promotion and development of Philippine art and culture, spearheading a multitude of collaborative projects like the Philippine Arts Festival, Edmonton Filipino Fiesta, Kalinangan and the Learning Table. She is the director and writer of the documentary Paglalayag: the Philippines to Canada Journey, which chronicles the stories of migration of Filipinos in Edmonton. She is also a regular writer with the Alberta Filipino Journal and was a contributor to other publications in Alberta previously, focusing on arts and culture.

Beltran-Lucila has provided a vision on how arts is a vital force in the development of a person and a community. She has been a recipient of several awards: the Hiyas (Gem) Award by the Karilagan Dance Society (2017); the Edmonton Artist Trust Fund in 2017; the Golden Balangay Gluckstein Award for Excellence in Art and Culture in 2019; and the City of Edmonton’s Citation Award for Culture and the Arts in 2019.

The majority of her community work is provided on a voluntary basis, as she holds a full-time job with Edmonton Public Schools where she has worked for 12 years now.

Founder, artistic and creative director, Ethnik Festivals Association
City: Calgary
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Lanre Ajayi is a Nigerian-born visual and new media creator who uses his artistic skills to build forward thinking-communities and tell stories through lived experiences. His artistic projects are a means for educating and entertaining the many shared cultures of Canada. He is responsible for creating platforms to share unique identities through art and cultural activities to promote equity and diversity. His creative leadership skills enable him to relate well with stakeholders at all levels and his enthusiastic spirit has led him to create community initiatives that have gained international recognition.

As the founder, artistic and creative director of Ethnik Festivals Association, he dedicates his talents to building connections and opportunities within many communities. These initiatives include working with traumatized immigrants from war-torn countries and using his arts and crafts skills as therapeutic means to heal wounds inflicted as a result of war, especially in children.

Throughout the pandemic, Ajayi collected stories from cab drivers and worked with Calgary’s Checker Transportation Group to create the 48-minute film Yellow Legacy to showcase the work needed to keep Calgarian communities moving during the pandemic lockdown. These stories have been shared internationally, and the film has been selected as a finalist entry in the Festival del Cinema Di Cefalu in Italy, as well as the SideReel Festival in the United States.

His passion for building safer communities also led him to start a new initiative during the pandemic called Operation Temporarily Adopt A Mailbox Stand. This resulted from an encounter with a mail delivery worker who was afraid to knock and deliver a parcel. Ajayi began by cleaning mailbox stands within his neighbourhood. After recording and sharing this act, it started a ripple effect as people took up the challenge of cleaning mailboxes in their communities. His acts of service, as well as the resulting ripple effect, led to a provincial government recognition and award for acts of volunteerism during a challenging time.

Ajayi holds a bachelor of arts from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria and Rozsa Art Management/Leadership Executive from Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

Member of Parliament
City: Brampton, Ontario
Country of Origin: India

Sonia Sidhu is the member of Parliament for Brampton South, elected on October 19, 2015. Sidhu differentiates herself in Parliament as someone who is focused on health care and advocating for women. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and she worked in health care for more than 18 years before entering politics.

MP Sidhu is now a proud member of the Standing Committee on Health. She is also the chair of the All-Party Caucus on Diabetes.

She currently holds the position of vice-chair of the Status of Women Committee. Sidhu is proud to be on the Status of Women Committee, advocating for women in her riding and all across Canada. She acknowledges how far we have come in regards to women’s rights.

She introduced Motion 173 in 2018 to make November of every year diabetes awareness month. Her goal was to raise national awareness of this disease and its complications. This was the first step in her fight to end diabetes and continues to be at the forefront of the #LetsDefeatDiabetes campaign in Canada. MP Sidhu’s Private Members’ Bill C-237, An Act to Establish a National Framework for Diabetes, passed unanimously in the House of Commons and is headed to the Senate.

Sidhu has been an advocate for Canadians living with pre-diabetes or diabetes since becoming MP. Her private members’ bill will help the 11 million Canadians living with diabetes through research, awareness and funding.

“The rate of diabetes has increased over the years, affecting South Asian Canadians predominantly. Being a South Asian Canadian, I saw the need for better care and support among my friends and neighbours in Brampton,” she says.

Sidhu was born in India and immigrated to Canada in 1992. She lives in her riding of Brampton South with her husband Gurjit, twin daughters, Arshia and Amrit, and her son, Akash.

Executive director, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House
City: Vancouver
Country of Origin: Colombia

Tulia Castellanos became the executive director at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House in early 2020, after having worked in the non-profit sector for 30 years. She came to Canada in the early 1990s hoping to find a safe place to rebuild her life. She restarted her career in Canada as a recipient of a federal training initiative aimed to retrain social workers with diverse cultural backgrounds to support the increasing number of refugees coming to Canada.

She has worked in multiple areas in social services but most of her work has been focused on the management, development and implementation of a broad range of community-based programs aimed to increase individual and community capacity.

She has led several concurrent teams both national and in Metro Vancouver while building many unique strategic relationships to engage the community at large in “common-good” initiatives ensuring their long-term sustainability. She has worked at all levels from front-line to senior leadership always aiming at creating sustainable initiatives that will increase individual’s social inclusion and strengthen community.

Castellanos worked at Family Services of Greater Vancouver for 24 years in multiple capacities. Her last role was director of strategic community engagement, which allowed her to participate in more than 15 collaborative cross-sectorial tables all aimed to improve social conditions in their communities. Then she moved to the Terry Fox Foundation as their national director of operations.

Castellanos is passionate about newcomer families and their struggles in starting a new life. Throughout her time in Canada, she has always been involved in supporting new Canadians in multiple ways with many organizations. She has served on several boards, including Inland Refugee, AIDS Vancouver and Vantage Point, a member-based provincial organization dedicated to strengthening capacity in the non-profit sector. Currently, she is currently on the board of Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association.

Writer, literary and cultural activist
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Bangladesh

Subrata Kumar Das, a celebrated author and erudite scholar, well-known organizer and spirited initiator, made history in Bangladesh in the past, is making history at present in Canada. He has earned respect for his strong voice against discrimination and injustice.

Das has not only written some outstanding books, but also encouraged many Bengalis to write books themselves. Since his arrival in Canada in 2013, he has organized and joined a huge number of cultural, literary, social and religious activities. Since 2017, Das has been anchoring for a community television named NRB. During the COVID-19 lockdown year, Das has encouraged and entertained the whole Bengali community across Canada to keep up their spirit through virtual shows. Now he is a household name among the Bengali diaspora.

Two years after his arrival in Canada, Das started reading the large quantum of Canadian literature, churning the sea of it, and grasped the essence of Canadianness that enabled him to write a superb book on CanLit, the first Bengali-language one on the genre.

A dedicated volunteer of Bengali Literary Resource Centre (BLRC) since its inception in 2015, Das is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and Literary Translators’ Association of Canada.

In 2006-2007, UNESCO acclaimed Das for his astounding role as a teacher of intercultural dialogue. In 2018, America has recognized the merit of Subrata with the prestigious Gayatri Memorial Literary Award. Toronto International Festival of Authors have, for the first time, included Bengali language and literature in their list in 2020 and selected Das to represent Bengali literature in that international forum. Das not only participated himself, but also included 10 more Bengali writers to take part in that gala ceremony.

Das, the fifth child of late Baidyanath Das and Geeta Rani Das, lives in Toronto with his wife, Nilima Datta, and only daughter, Brotee Das Datta.

Owner, Palette Foods; director, strategy, Manulife
City: Brampton, Ontario
Country of Origin: Thailand

Salima Neek Gilani was born and raised in Thailand and immigrated to Canada in 2007. After graduating from the University of Waterloo, she embarked on a career in Canadian banking. She was selected for a two-year leadership development program at one of Canada’s top banks. During her tenure she represented the organization as part of the Canadian delegation at the One Young World Summit, a non-profit organization that gathers young leaders to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing issues

When she realized that the ethnic food market is underserved, she set on a mission to make the authentic taste of her home country Thailand more readily available to Canadians. Gilani launched her small business, Palette Foods in 2018. “Canada encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, and this gave me the boost to merge my passion for food to start a company that brings together my two cultural identities Thailand and Canada — one bite at a time.” Palette Foods started out at a local community farmers’ market and has expanded to a strong e-commerce presence and successful partnerships with 50+ retailers across Canada. The company received the Most Innovative New Ethnic Product Award at the Canadian Grocery Expo in 2019.

Gilani is committed to contributing to causes she resonates with in Canada. She has volunteered with Wired Women’s network, a registered non-profit society with a mission to encourage women to explore opportunities, build successful careers and become a driving force in science/technology. She’s volunteered with the Aga Khan Foundation World Partnership Walk, which raises funds toward alleviating global poverty. She has also served on the board of directors for Peel Seniors Link whose mission is to advance care excellence in the community by helping seniors age at home with dignity. Gilani mentors numerous colleagues and students keen to learn from her success.

Gilani is a firm believer that with the right drive you can accomplish great heights: “I am a mom of two, work as strategy director at Manulife — a job I love — I am an entrepreneur and am grateful for being able to call Canada my home.”

CEO, Mirrai and MyLatinStore; executive director, Latincouver
City: Burnaby, B.C.
Country of Origin: Colombia

Originally from Colombia, Paola Murillo went to the University of Kentucky in the U.S.A. for her bachelor’s degree in marketing and business and proceeded to study at the prestigious Grenoble Management School in France.

Murillo immigrated to Canada in 2005 with a dream in mind: to merge her entrepreneurial background, her MBA training, and her passion to help her community. She has been working with the Latin American world in Canada, understanding its needs and bringing the community together with a beautiful project called Latincouver, a non-profit organization that has organized more than 500 events in culture and business.

She also created Mirrai, a boutique agency that provides a full spectrum of marketing, consulting and communications services.

Her contributions earned her an award as one of the 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians in the country in 2011 and the 2014 New Canadian Entrepreneur Award by the Ethno Business Council of BC. She received the Mary Ozolins Award by the BC Women’s Liberal Commission in 2015.

She was invited to speak to the international seminar Women’s Higher Education for Leadership and Social Innovation at the Banasthali University in India in 2017, and, in the same year, the City of Bogota invited her to speak as an influencer expatriate in Canada.

In Latincouver, her achievements include organizing the recognized cultural festival, Carnaval del Sol, which attracts more than 80,000 people; the Inspirational Latin Awards, a celebration for recognizing influential Latinos in BC; and ExpoPlaza Latina seminars that address business relationships between Canada and Latin America. Latincouver supports entrepreneurs through the Latin-Canadian Business Network.

During the pandemic, Murillo innovated and changed her way of working to hold 65 events for the Carnaval del Sol. It included the new online series “Across the Americas” showcasing Latin culture through music, cooking demos and much more. Organizers formed a partnership with more than a dozen local restaurants and artists to support them during these challenging times.

Also, in March 2021, she co-launched her new venture called MyLatinStore, the first online marketplace aimed to support Latino entrepreneurs to sell their products and/or experiences. MyLatinStore is a place where entrepreneurs can feel inspired and motivated. Murillo’s main objective is to continue supporting her community to grow and integrate in Canada.

Retired percussionist; founder, Muhtadi International Drumming Festival
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Trinidad and Tobago

Muhtadi Thomas immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in 1974. As one of Canada’s premier percussionists, Thomas plays djembe, bongos, congas, timbales, steel pan and a wide assortment of other percussion instruments. He has performed extensively, both nationally and internationally.

However, much of his career has been devoted to teaching the art of drumming in community arts programs, schools and community centres. When he arrived in Toronto, Thomas began teaching percussion with the Black Education Project and Harriet Tubman Centre and Black Theatre Canada. He taught drumming to at-risk children and in June 2004, received commendations from the 12th Division Community Police Liaison Committee for his work with young people from Ontario’s York region.

Thomas has also received awards from Music Africa and the Town of Markham for his contribution to the artistic music community. In March 2011 he won the prestigious Black Business and Professional Association (BPPA) Harry Jerome Award in the entertainment category for his work with at-risk youth in the black community. The annual Harry Jerome Award celebrates the world-class excellence achieved by outstanding Black Canadians, not only for their talents and achievements, but also for their community-minded spirit.

In 2015, Thomas received three awards of recognition: Abedorc Productions Canada: Award of Excellence: African art traditions with youth; Legends of Rhythms 2015: Tribute, Rhythmfest, Barrie, Ontario; Planet Africa Marcus Garvey Memorial Award.

Thomas has also been a music judge for Caribana and other events. In addition, he has the distinguished honour of being the only artist to work with Art Starts Neighbourhood Cultural Centre from their inception in 1992. His performances have included the Queen’s Jubilee, the Lion Dance Festival, Winterfest, the Yonge Street Festival and numerous jazz festivals.

Thomas is well known as the founder and artistic director of the highly successful Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, which celebrated the drum, its universality as an art form and its presence in all cultures. The festival ran for 20 years and featured drumming groups of all ages and skills that display the diverse cultural traditions and drumming styles from all over the world.
Thomas is now a retired musician enjoying life with his family.

Mental health & immigration Lawyer
City: London, Ontario
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Dual-qualified lawyer, Moyosore Sadiq-Soneye is licensed to practise law in Nigeria and Ontario, Canada. Sadiq-Soneye is the principal counsel at Mo’s Law Office. She has produced multiple Nigerian Indigenous movies, which have currently garnered hundred of thousands of views on YouTube.

Sadiq-Soneye is a mentor to many foreign-trained lawyers, who have migrated from their countries of origin to start the licensing process in Canada as immigrants. She has worked as a civil servant in Nigeria and also worked with Ontario Public Service since she landed in Canada.

She is a huge believer in continuous self development and that is why despite earning a master’s degree in law at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, she went ahead to get a diploma in paralegal studies, which she finished with distinction, and a diploma in immigration consultancy in Ontario. She graduated from both diplomas while writing the lawyer licensing exams — NCA and Ontario bar exams.

Sadiq-Soneye is the first born and has two younger siblings who also migrated to Canada with their families. She is married to a very supportive IT professional and has three daughters. Her father is a lawyer with his firm in Nigeria; it was easy following in his footsteps.
Sadiq-Soneye’s 11-year-old daughter just authored a book this year as a new immigrant kid, and the book has been n Amazon best seller.

Banker; founder,
City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Mexico

CEO of the most famous and oldest coffee company in Mexico, Miguel Abascal travelled around the world representing Mexican coffee until he decided to follow his dream to immigrate to Canada. He never thought his first five years were going to be a nightmare.

Abascal landed in Toronto in 2010 and his first job was as a coffee server in Tim Hortons. After his confidence crashed, he secured several survival jobs over the years trying to figure out why his success formula that worked before was not working in Canada.

His luck started to change in 2013 when he discovered the power of mentoring and was able to land a bank teller role at TD. Within a short period of time, he got promoted several times, and finally, in 2015 he got a role within his expertise and skill level.

In 2015, Abascal also founded a volunteer-based organization called to help people transform their potential into fulfillment, focusing on eliminating underemployment as it is a real issue that impacts Canadian newcomers, our communities and economy. The name UnstoppableMe came after listening to countless stories of newcomers who were facing similar challenges after arriving in Canada and never giving up. Abascal and the amazing group of unstoppable volunteers have helped more than 500 newcomers.

Abascal has received the Volunteer Toronto 2016 Legacy Award and the 2017 TD Vision in Action award for his outstanding contributions to the bank and to society. He also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 to bring awareness to the impact of underemployment in our society.

Today, Abascal is living his Canadian dream working for Scotiabank helping Canadians to achieve their savings goals. He is an avid mentor, speaker and beekeeper who enjoys hiking with his wife and son and, strangely enough, he loves the Canadian winters.

Communications advisor
City: Edmonton
Country of Origin: Mexico

Luis Carlos Flores Aguilar (he/him) is an award-winning communications advisor with the Government of Alberta. A queer, Mexican, immigrant, he is passionate about advocating for LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC communities.

Flores Aguilar’s story exemplifies the power of the Canadian dream. Born and raised in rural Mexico, he came to Canada alone at just 22 with the hope of finding fulfilment as his true self in a tolerant and accepting society. Adapting to his new life in Edmonton, he tackled linguistic and professional disadvantages common to adult immigrants.

Through his experiences, Flores Aguilar learned the value of perseverance and the supportiveness of his chosen home of Canada. Unable to speak English upon his arrival in December 2014, he navigated the free resources available to him to successfully master the language, borrowing countless ESL books and studiously attending ESL classes at churches, libraries and educational facilities. After many rejections, he found that he could not rely on his Mexican credentials in engineering and project management to enter the Canadian workforce. Steadfast in his desire to find his place in Canadian society, he persevered with his English studies, applied to MacEwan University’s public relations program, and achieved a top mark in its notoriously difficult English entrance exam in 2017. The only non-Canadian-born in the program, Flores Aguilar finished on the Dean’s list and received the Torchia Award for completing communications/public relations studies in a language that was not his mother tongue.

Within the Alberta government, Flores Aguilar advocates for diversity and inclusion within the public service in his role as a communications lead and steering committee member for both the LGBTQ2S+ and multicultural employee resource groups. As part of the communications team involved in the Alberta COVID-19 response, he was recently nominated for the Premier’s Public Service Awards, the pinnacle of recognition in the provincial public service.

Flores Aguilar is proud of his Mexican roots and sees himself as a cultural ambassador in Alberta, having volunteered as a language instructor to teach his native Spanish to Edmontonians. He also volunteers with professional organizations in communications and public relations, including the Canadian Public Relations Society and the International Association of Business Communicators.

Trustee of the Peel District School Board
City: Brampton, Ontario
Country of Origin: Jamaica

Kathy McDonald was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to Canada in
1988 to attend McGill University in Montreal where she got involved in
tutoring inner city youth at Shad Academy. A longtime Brampton resident, McDonald has been actively involved within the Peel community since 1992.

She began her four-year term as trustee of Wards 3 and 4 in Brampton for the Peel District School Board (PDSB) on December 1, 2014. Trustee McDonald works tirelessly to help each child realize their full potential and works with the community to support student success for all students and dismantle systemic discrimination.

McDonald was instrumental in the implementation of the We Rise Together Action Plan, the PDSB strategy to support Black students, PDSB Poverty Action Plan, equitable distribution of resources within the PDSB, food security for vulnerable students and their families and confronting Islamophobia within education.

When McDonald is not dismantling anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism
within education, she can be seen around the Region of Peel working to
make Brampton the best place to raise a family. McDonald is a wife, mother and a dedicated volunteer.

She is a co-ordinator for a community youth steel band, a children’s storyteller of Jamaican folktales, a member of the Congress of Black Women Brampton Chapter and a member of the United Achievers’ Club and was previously chair of the Caribbean pavilion for Carabram, Brampton’s multicultural festival.

McDonald holds a bachelor of science from McGill University and a
post-graduate diploma in the theory of teaching practices from the
University of Guelph and a PhD from Mommy University as the dedicated
mother of four changemakers!

McDonald has received many awards including:
• 2021 The BBPA Harry Jerome Diversity Award
• 2020 Women Who Rock Award
• 2020 City of Brampton Mayor’s Making Black History Award
• 2019 Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators: Outstanding Service
• Award
• 2019 JunCtian JCI: Excellence in Public Education
• 2018 ResQ Youth Community Service Award
• 2017 CIBWE Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada
• 2015 Diversity Advancement Network Role Model Black Canadian Award
• 2011 City of Brampton Long Service Award

Senior manager, media and communications, Better Business Bureau Serving Mainland BC
City: Surrey
Country of Origin: Jamaica

Born and raised on the beautiful island of Jamaica, Karla Laird immigrated to Canada in the fall of 2017. Her years of study and qualifications as a lawyer were not directly transferrable, but undaunted by the uphill battle ahead, she restarted her career, landing her first job as a personal assistant.

In less than four years, she pivoted her legal background and communications experience, and built a career as an expert in consumer education and marketplace awareness in B.C. She is currently the senior manager for media and communications at the Better Business Bureau Serving Mainland BC, and is the first Black woman to operate as their brand ambassador and media spokesperson.

Laird has reported on countless marketplace investigations, authored hundreds of news releases and articles around fraud prevention, and has been interviewed by reporters and media networks across the country. She uses her platform to educate Canadians, especially new immigrants, about unethical businesses, scams, fraudulent schemes and also provides tips and best practices for both businesses and consumers. An accomplished speaker and presenter, Laird also connects with several immigrant, community and business groups across B.C. at conferences, fraud prevention seminars and workshops. In just over two years at BBB, she has received 10 awards, which include recognition for her leadership, team impact and success as the organization’s brand ambassador.

An advocate in every sense of the word, Laird is also the president of the Jamaican Canadian Cultural Association of B.C., the youngest person ever to be appointed to the role. She leads a board of five directors, focused on promoting Jamaican culture, supporting the Jamaican immigrant community in the province and establishing collaborative linkages with other groups across the country.

Laird was handpicked as one of 20 mentors across B.C. for the 2020 YesX Mentors event, and currently serves as a Locelle Mentor, where she actively inspires, challenges, motivates and supports women at various levels in their careers.

She holds a bachelor of laws degree with honours and a graduate diploma with distinction in public relations from the University of the West Indies and is currently pursuing her masters in intercultural and international communication at Royal Roads University.

Professional speaker; fitness professional; entrepreneur
City: Mississauga
Country of Origin: Saudi Arabia

Hassan Wadi, born in Saudi Arabia came to Canada at the age of eight. His parents sacrificed their careers, families and friends for the sake of a better future for their kids. Wadi’s father went from working from the biggest bank in Saudi Arabia to working the night shift at a convenience store for 25+ years in Canada. It was a big sacrifice and change that he was willing to make for his kids.

This fueled Wadi to work hard and become successful, to give back to his family and make them proud. Since then, Wadi has become a professional speaker, fitness expert, entrepreneur and a philanthropist.

As a speaker he has emceed events with up to 60,000 people in attendance, has spoken at schools, events and conferences, and is a speech competition award-winning speaker. He is the official spokesperson of Human Concern International, Canada’s first and oldest Muslim charity. He is the former president of the City of Mississauga employees’ Toastmasters Club and is the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Division Speech Contest Champion.

As a fitness expert, he has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Fitness professionals in Canada from Canfitpro and is currently a fitness supervisor for the City of Mississauga.

Wadi always steps up when his community is need and, in 2021, he was awarded the COVID Hero award by Mayor and Council.

Founder, Equal Chance Foundation
City: Ottawa
Country of Origin: Gabon

Founder of the Equal Chance Foundation and recipient of the prestigious Order of Ottawa, Gwen Madiba is a human rights advocate and international award-winning speaker who has dedicated her life to empowering women, young girls, youth around the world and advocating for homeless individuals and families in Canada.

Madiba transformed the adversity that she faced as an immigrant in Canada into advocacy, to not only support vulnerable members of the community, but to also equip them with powerful tools and resources to break barriers that they face in society. In 2019, she officially launched Equal Chance.

Through Equal Chance she developed essential programs for the most vulnerable people in the community. She successfully launched a culturally relevant food security program (hampers and meals); successful mental health and employment programs; the “It takes a village” program to support homeless and low-income Black pregnant women, mothers and their children, as well as the Afro World (anti-racism) program.

Through her “It takes a village” program at Equal Chance, she was able to launch a very successful “Call for Headphones,” which provided 1,467 headphones to homeless children and children from low-income households for their online school during the pandemic.

A former international student, during the pandemic, she launched the International Students Support Network and formed a group that successfully advocated for the inclusion of international students in Canada’s recovery response to COVID-19 alongside other organizations. The successful advocacy led to the inclusion of international students to the CERB program.

In 2017, she made history at the international pageant, Mrs. Universe, becoming the first Black woman to pass the top five and land in the top 2. She was able to bring her crown in her native country, Gabon and her adoptive country, Canada. Through the Embassy of Gabon in Canada, she launched the Women Who Work initiative to empower women and raise funds to officially launch the Education Fund for Orphans in Africa. Through this fund, they have been able to enroll more than 80 children in school over the past year.

In 2019, she travelled to the G7 Women7 in Paris, France, where she delivered a speech at the UNESCO on Indigenous women, peace and security. That same year, she travelled to Windhoek, Namibia, to actively participate in discussions on the United Nations’ resolution 1325 on women, peace and security at the Focal Point meeting on UNSCR1325.

In 2018, she received the Young Alumnus Award from her Alma Mater, the University of Ottawa where she obtained a bachelor’s in communication and sociology and a master’s degree in sociology. On November 21, 2019, she received the Order of Ottawa from the City of Ottawa and was included for a second time in nine years in the Women’s Executive Network of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the Mercedes Benz Canada emerging leader category. In 2020, she received the United Way of Eastern Ontario’s Community Builder Award — COVID-19 heroes edition for her dedication and work to assist the most vulnerable people during this pandemic.

She is currently using her voice to powerfully advocate for homeless families, children and individuals in the City of Ottawa. Madiba has not only helped bring awareness to the unfortunate situation of homeless people, but she is ensuring that on their journey toward finding permanent housing, they have access to essential resources and services, and that they never feel alone.

General manager/community relations, ISSofBC
City: Surrey, B.C.
Country of Origin: Poland

Like many Pols in the 1980s, Ewa Karczewska left the country governed by communist administration to look for better opportunities and, in 1990, landed in Montreal. While learning French, upon her teacher’s recommendation, Karczewska applied for and landed a job as an early childhood educator (ECE) teacher in a daycare adjacent to school.

Three years later, soon after moving to the Lower Mainland, Karczewska secured a temporary position at ISSofBC. Who would have thought that almost 27 years later, she would still be working for the organization? But this is where she is today. Over the years, her skills and work ethic have been noticed and recognized and now she holds the position of general manager/ community relations.

Throughout her career, Karczewska has been actively involved in the work of the BC settlement language sector by serving on the number of province-wide and regional committees and boards, including LISTN board of directors or City of Coquitlam Multiculturalism Advisory Committee. Currently, Karczewska is a member of Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) Committee as well as Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition and Surrey Delta Immigrant Integration Council.

Karczewska has been dedicated to supporting newcomers to BC with access to affordable programs and services that would assist in their settlement and integration process. Her overarching principle is to empower the clients she works with, so they can help themselves and spread goodwill to others. She is a motivated Canadian citizen and a catalyst who plays an important role in overcoming newcomers’ settlement struggles. She works with everyone around her to help foster action, positive result and social equality.

The greatest joy for Karczewska is to know that somehow, she has touched people’s lives and made a lasting impact.

Karczewska is also a devoted mother and wife. She has two adult children and lives with her husband in Surrey, BC.

City: Toronto
Country of Origin: Philippines

Edsel Mutia and his wife emigrated from the Philippines in 2007, after reading about Canadian nursing shortages, and came to Toronto expecting to continue his career as an RN. But even with 10+ years of experience, he found himself unable to practise. In fact, he was told that he needed another four-year degree just to be eligible to take his registration exam.

With a family to feed, and the cost of tuition, Mutia wondered how he’d be able to go back to school. Despite this once-desperate position, he established himself as a leader in Ontario
nursing. He works as a full-time ICU charge nurse at Toronto’s North York General
Hospital (NYGH) and part time on Scarborough General Hospital’s critical care response team.

In 2013, he received the Joan Lesmond Internationally Educated Nurse (IEN) of the Year Award from the CARE (Creating Access to Regulated Employment) Centre, an organization that supports IENs to practise in Ontario. The annual honour is named after the late RNAO president, who, an IEN herself, was active for many years on CARE’s board of directors. “I never expected (the award),” he says. “I keep telling them that a simple thank you and a simple smile are (enough) for me.”

Mutia grew up in a village on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Like thousands of Filipinos before him, nursing provided the opportunity to find financial stability working abroad. Shortly after his graduation in 1994, his grandfather fell ill, so then he decided
to stay close to home, beginning his career at a community hospital while caring for his family’s patriarch. At the understaffed and underfunded hospital, he was often responsible for up to 50
patients at a time. It forced him to be resourceful and adaptable.

“When I stepped into the hospital, I had to expect it was not fully equipped,” he says. “I just had to utilize whatever I could to provide (for) my patients.” His grandfather passed away a few years later, and he left the Philippines in 1999 for Saudi Arabia, where he worked for seven years, including five years at a humanitarian hospital in Riyadh, which was well funded and equipped with all the newest tools and technology. Though his job had its perks, his personal life was changing. He and his wife, Tess, decided to start their family in Canada. It can take years for IENs (international educated nurses) to obtain registration in Ontario. In 2008, the same year he applied for registration, the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) received nearly 1,700 applications from internationally educated RNs. Then he found an ad for the CARE Centre and was was thrilled to have access to financial support, advanced English classes geared toward nursing, and the promise of help once it came time to prepare for the Canadian Registered Nurse Examination (CRNE).

With CARE’s support, he appealed his CNO assessment that he required another four-year degree, and the registration requirements were reduced to a year’s worth of courses at Toronto’s George Brown College. He passed his CRNE in 2008, and was hired to the role that he holds today at North York General Hospital. Over the last 13 years, he gained his colleagues’ respect as a passionate professional, mentor and patient advocate.

He also contributes to his community, including mentoring other immigrant nurses through the Integrated Filipino Canadian Nurses Association (IFCNA) and CARE, as well as volunteering with his church.

He has won major awards, including Toronto Star Nightingale Award, Joan Lesmond Internationally Educated Nurse (IEN) of the Year Award from the CARE and Dr. Morris Siu-Chong Memorial Award.

Founder, Parvus Therapeutics
City: Calgary
Country of Origin: Spain

The journey toward scientific discovery is often long and winding. Dr. Pere Santamaria, MD, PhD, knows this well. His discovery of a new class of drugs (Navacims) for the treatment for autoimmune diseases took a giant step forward in 2019 when Parvus Therapeutics, a company which he founded in 2009, secured a major license agreement that enabled the company to develop these drugs.

Santamaria’s path toward clinical translation of a major scientific discovery began in his childhood, overcoming formidable challenges along the way. He was born in Manresa, Spain. While growing up in a small farmhouse, he developed a deep sense of wonder about mother nature. He was diagnosed with a major autoimmune disease at age 15, an event that stole his adolescence but shaped the focus of his curiosity. He studied medicine at the University of Barcelona while competing internationally in water polo. He pursued a residency in immunology and simultaneously completed a PhD, also in immunology. He developed two other autoimmune diseases in the meantime. In 1988, he left Spain to pursue post-doctoral research training at the University of Minnesota.

He was recruited to the University of Calgary as an assistant professor in 1992. He initially struggled to get funding for his ideas and his career teetered on the brink of collapse. He persevered. These ideas paved the way for the discovery of Navacims 13 years later. Navacims are nanoparticles engineered to halt autoimmune diseases without suppressing the normal functioning of the immune system. He founded Parvus as a vehicle for bench-to-bedside translation of Navacims. Parvus is now a biopharmaceutical company developing nanomedicines to halt or reverse the 100 autoimmune diseases affecting humankind.

Santamaria is the Julia McFarlane Chair in Diabetes Research and professor in immunology at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. He has authored more than 190 publications, holds 92 patents and has given more than 250 lectures. He has received many honours and awards, including the Canadian Diabetes Association Young Scientist Award, the Outstanding Leadership in Alberta Technology Award and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Gerold and Kayla Grodsky Award. In 2017, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Director, Career Mentorship Program,Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC)
City: Edmonton
Country of Origin: Nigeria

Azumme Degun has a bachelor’s degree, 14 years’ experience working across the private and public sectors, and recently completed an advanced certificate in leadership at the University of Alberta. She is the current director for the Career Mentorship Program at Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) where she leads the team that matches job-ready, foreign-trained professionals with established professionals in the Edmonton area in a mentor-mentee relationship. In her time at ERIEC, she has helped connect more than 250 mentees with mentoring, networking and career opportunities.

When Degun arrived in Edmonton with her husband and kids in the spring of 2016, she recalls having mixed emotions: excitement, hope and anxiety. Leaving her career, extended family and friends behind in Nigeria to restart her life in Canada was equal parts exciting and scary. They received amazing support from the community and immigrant settlement organizations and that helped them lay down roots and flourish very quickly.

This inspired her desire to give back and provide support to newcomer professionals as they work toward making Edmonton their new home. In her words “my work is driven by a passion to shorten the learning curve for newcomer professionals and help them settle into their careers as quickly and seamlessly as possible.” She does this by facilitating their access to networking, mentorship and career opportunities, trainings on understanding Canadian workplace culture, unconscious bias and cultural intelligence.

Not only does Degun help newcomer professionals get their careers restarted, but she is also an active community volunteer. She sits on the board of KARA Family Resource Centre, an organization providing programs and services for parents in Edmonton and surrounding areas. She is vice-chair for the school advisory council in a Catholic school in Edmonton. She has hosted webinar series and written published articles on cultural intelligence, bias in the workplace and understanding Canadian workplace for newcomer professionals. She has also been a guest panelist on several panels, including Canadian Immigrant Virtual Fair 2021 (Western Canada).

According to Degun, “Edmonton is home for me, and in my work and personal life, I am committed to making it a welcoming city for Edmonton-raised and newcomers alike.”

President, Enviroseal Engineering Products, Ltd.
City: Waverley, Nova Scotia
Country of Origin: Hungary

Aniko Dunford and her husband, Joe, founded EnviroSeal Engineering Products in 1980, a company that specializes in sealing technologies for industries like mining, pulp and paper, food processing and many more. One of Joe’s inventions, the SpiralTrac™, revolutionized the pumping industry around the world.

When her husband passed away in 1999, Aniko Dunford took the reins of the company, dedicated to continuing his legacy of innovation, which continues to guide Dunford as president of EnviroSeal today. With unique versions designed to work with both mechanical seals and packing, SpiralTrac™ has set the standard in industrial process applications worldwide for increasing equipment reliability, decreasing housekeeping cost and reducing flush requirements.

Under her dedication and leadership, EnviroSeal now reaches more than 80 countries through approximately 250 distributors worldwide. For more than 20 years now, Dunford has shown her ability to persevere and has taken this company on her own to a level far beyond anything the Dunfords had ever dreamed. In her own right, she has become a well-respected female leader in a male-dominated industry.

Dunford has created a global company with a small-town family feel. She has built an amazing team of adoring, loyal and hardworking employees, just like their boss! The company has not had any turnover in almost 10 years, which speaks volumes to the type of leader she is.
Dunford is also an enthusiastic supporter of youth sports and has spent countless hours volunteering at all levels for minor hockey teams and canoe and kayak clubs in Canada and in her native country of Hungary. She has always been an avid supporter of the Cheema Aquatic Club, the Canoe Kayak Club of Canada and the MVM Szeged Kayak/Canoe Club in Hungary (Szegedi Vízisport Egyesület). In 2010, the government of Hungary recognized Dunford’s contributions by awarding her with the Gold Degree of the Medallion for Hungarian Sport. In 2019, Joe and Aniko Dunford were inducted into the Cheema Hall of Fame under the “Builder-Athlete Sport Development” category.

Dunford enjoys spending time with her grandchildren when not travelling around the world representing EnviroSeal.

Student; activist
City: Winnipeg
Country of Origin: Philippines

Loizza Aquino is an 18-year-old social justice activist. She has been involved with social activism since the age of nine, but, in 2015, she started to focus on mental health advocacy in 10th grade after she lost one of her best friends to suicide. He was one of four high school students in Winnipeg that died by suicide within the timespan of one month.

After a countless number of hours spent on trying to find answers as to why this was happening, Aquino realized that she needed to stop searching for answers, but instead, create solutions to ensure this would never happen again. This inspired Aquino to create her own youth-led non-profit organization at the age of 15 called Peace of Mind. Her organization holds events called Youth Against Metal Health and Illness Stigma (YAMHIS), which provides a safe space and platform for students across the province to share their stories and experiences in regards to mental health.

A handful of high schools across Manitoba have created Peace of Mind groups within their school to sustain mental health conversations throughout the school year. Since 2015, they have reached more than 2,000 students, and have expanded from Manitoba to Ontario. These events have inspired students to get help and have even saved students’ lives.

Aquino has worked alongside a branch of the Government of Manitoba on several projects. She is a public speaker who has received many different accolades for her work in the topic of mental health, online safety and media literacy, youth empowerment and human rights. Her past awards include the Young Humanitarian Award of Manitoba, Global Bayaning Filipino Award, TD Scholarships for Community Leadership and the Youth Premier Healthy Living Award.

Aquino also recently created her own scholarship fund to empower other youth mental health activists and support across Canada and the Philippines. Aquino is a student at the University of Toronto, pursuing a double major in mental health studies and international development studies, with a minor in public policy and governance. She hopes to work for the United Nations one day to create policies for mental health across the world.

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