The Canada Model: Encouraging diversity in entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs and business leaders who have immigrated to Canada tell a story of a country that is on its way to becoming an international leader in diversity and inclusion. And we can be proud that their story has been echoed elsewhere.

Not only is Sweden looking to the “Canada Model” for immigration best practices, but a recent survey conducted by the Association of Canadian Studies indicated that the majority of Canadians say they are satisfied both with the ethnic mix and the levels of immigration.

As the executive director of Skills for Change, a GTA-based NPO that provides bridging and employment programs, I lead the development of programs for people who are economic immigrants to Canada–motivated, educated, experienced professionals who are ready to move quickly into employment and contribute to the country and economy. In addition to government-funded services, we offer a range of free workshops and fee-based courses, and hold conferences and events that raise awareness and create opportunities for dialogue and change.

But are we doing enough to get internationally educated, experienced professionals into entrepreneurship and leadership roles in Canada?

It’s important to first understand the Canadian service framework, which starts with information and referral. A systematic review of the service framework—from this critical first point of contact, through to professional development, network building and employment—could do much to increase the number and success rate of startups and the placement of international CEOs in senior management.

  • Skills for Change has specifically identified immigrant women as the group most at risk of falling through the service gaps, and is launching a three-year project to address the systemic barriers within the settlement service infrastructure.
  • Access to affordable, accelerated courses that offer state-of-the-art business and professional development should be offered throughout the entire settlement continuum to all newcomers with a background in entrepreneurship, and private and public sector leadership. For example, two of our main bridging programs – one for international medical doctors, and one for international engineers – represent a cadre of high potential businesses owners and managers. The MaRS Entrepreneur’s Toolkit and Entrepreneurship 101 series are stellar examples of the programming available to international professionals.
  • Professional courses need to be part of an integrated offering to social services clients with entrepreneurial and business skills. We are currently developing complementary courses outside the government services realm in collaboration with business consultants, Venture Deli (which will guide entrepreneurs through the process of business modeling and execution in a Canadian context) and People Talent (which takes entrepreneurs through all aspects of starting a new business, with emphasis on the critical role of recognizing and creating business opportunities).

These are early, but important steps toward integrated service delivery and NPO diversification into social enterprise.

To enhance the professional development and career advancement of high-potential, culturally-diverse managers and executives, and internationally trained professionals and Aboriginal people, we look forward to Diversity Advantage International’s B.O.L.D. (Broadening Opportunity Through Leadership Diversity) program, which starts on January 9, 2012. An innovative, tuition-based course, it provides students with tools, strategies and action learning on real issues in real time over an eight-month period, supported with one-on-one coaching and peer group mentoring.

Citizenship Ceremony @ MaRS 2010

Franchises are often a fast-track for an international entrepreneur, which suggests a future focus for Social Capital Partners’ innovative franchise initiative. Bill Young’s notable commitment to social ventures includes a Franchise Growth Fund that provides socially-responsible franchisees subordinate debt financing.

At Skills for Change, we recognize the accomplishments of remarkable immigrants at the annual New Pioneers event, which includes an inspirational group of Entrepreneurship honorees. June 6, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary – and the launch of Pioneers for Change – a powerful new initiative that will bring together nation builders, extraordinary people who have made a major contribution to Canada and who have an immigrant story to tell.

Walk through any commercial district in Toronto and you will see that our city is a tribute to the entrepreneurship of people who have come from other countries and made Canada their home. Our neighbourhoods are places to celebrate multiculturalism by eating, drinking, walking and shopping. The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak; let’s get serious about building a future where diversity is the cornerstone of what makes Canada great.