Sunday, 25 February 2018 16:20

Women Entrepreneurs Step Up

By: Margaret P. Bonikowska in Toronto

Women from virtually every continent arrive in Canada every day, but few go on to set up their own businesses or other enterprises. As part of our ongoing Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario’s Immigration Story series, we profile the entrepreneurial journeys of three women from different continents – Asia, Europe and AfricaSandra Awuku, Maggie Habieda and Shirley Wu share their stories and keys to success. 

Overcoming Barriers

Shirley Wu is Chinese, of Hakka descent, and lived in Pakistan until the age of 24. She came to Canada in 1991 with extensive experience in the beauty industry. Multilingual (in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Chinese, and English) and familiar with the Indian and Pakistani communities, she became a sought-after makeup expert. Now her booming Beauty Concept Salon in Mississauga employs twelve, including several freelance makeup artists and hairstylists. They work on weddings, cultural events and film shoots. Shirley also collaborates with accomplished photographers and popular magazines. “There are some who schedule weddings based on my availability”, laughs Shirley. She also gives back to the community by organizing workshops for aspiring makeup artists, teaching beauty skills and how to start a successful business.

Shirley cannot overemphasize the importance of asking questions, talking to those who are experienced, being positive, and ensuring high quality of one’s work. “Be grateful, work from your heart, keep healthy to have the necessary energy, invest in yourself to give to others, and stay positive and happy.”

Immigrant women are more likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to have completed a college degree, though some must first overcome a language barrier and deal with re-certification regulations. Then they face a difficult choice: find a job or create one. Even though the vast majority (90 percent among those 15 and older) are wage earners, some choose the riskier but also potentially more rewarding path of self-employment. In fact, this option is becoming increasingly attractive to immigrant women.

You’re not alone- there is a wealth of resources available from government agencies, libraries, business organizations. Many associations, some aimed specifically at immigrant women, welcome new members, offer networking opportunities and resources. It is in our society’s interest for immigrants to be well integrated, successful, and professionally active. Canadians are open and ready to share their experience.

Building a Reputation

Sandra Awuku immigrated from Ghana at age 19, went back to high school, graduated from Queen’s University and entered the corporate world. She developed her business, management and leadership skills and was quickly promoted in her jobs. She took a risk and gave up her safe salary, wanting to make a difference in her community. Driven by a unique idea for her company, House of Teams. Aimed at promoting team-building, she designs customized events outside the work environment. House of Teams also supports those in need: on March 10th it is sponsoring the Artists Expression for Autism show in Collingwood.

For Sandra it is all about the impact you make on the community. “Know your market, keep working on your brand and your reputation, understand your goals and your clients”, she advises. Build a network and take advantage of all available sources of support. Having a mentor is invaluable. Be prepared for long hours, but when all goes well, one’s sense of satisfaction is enormous and well worth the effort.

Canada’s unique cultural mosaic comprises over 200 ethnic groups, with over one-fifth of Canadians born abroad. The immigrant share of the country’s labour force, currently at nearly one-quarter of the population—and one-half in Toronto—continues to grow.

None of these women reported any direct experiences with prejudice and discrimination. Being from elsewhere may indeed be an asset. Immigrant women bring ideas and experiences that may be less known here but are willingly embraced. And Canada offers opportunities unavailable “back home”.

Fulfilling a dream

Maggie Habieda immigrated from Poland when she was 16. She was accepted into an art high school, graduated with flying colours and pursued studies at Toronto’s prestigious OCAD University. In addition to illustration and design, she learned photography, which became her passion. She began photographing weddings, primarily for Indian customers and soon became a highly regarded photographer in that community. Four years later she opened a high-end studio “Fotografia Boutique” in Oakville. She now photographs celebrities and makes “timeless portraits” of individuals and families, creating exquisite albums. Her former college professor has become her studio manager, part of a large support team. Maggie’s work has earned numerous awards. She is also dedicated to community involvement by organizing seminars and multicultural concerts.

For Maggie, it was always about fulfilling her dream to be an artist and capture beauty. “Don’t believe when they say you won’t succeed. Persevere,” she advises. When one bank turned her down, she went elsewhere to get her business loan. “Then I hit the library,” devouring materials about business. And she asked questions to pick other people’s brains. Her way has always been to maintain a wide range of contacts – she attends events, meets people, forms friendships and partnerships. “I started from scratch. When you don’t have money, you need to be smart.” One way to find support is to join business groups, like the Oakville Chamber of Commerce.

Women’s labour force participation is also increasing, having risen from 41 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 2016. In Canada’s major urban centers, nearly 50 percent of the female population are immigrants. 57 percent of them are employed (77 percent among those between 25 and 54 years of age).

Of course, challenges persist. Canada still has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but the government is increasingly recognizing this problem and taking active steps to address it. Considering plans to significantly increase annual immigration levels, the number of immigrant women entering the workforce will continue to grow in the coming years. Many will continue to be at the vanguard of innovation and business development, leading the way for other entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. It is essential that our society continues to encourage their initiative and creativity.


This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. 

Published in Economy
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 00:48

The Loneliness of Being an Immigrant

By: Lu Xu in Halifax 

“I don’t have anything else to do,” says Keith Bi. He is cleaning pig intestines—a tedious job. In the sink of his café in downtown Halifax sit two bowls filled with cold water and floating chunks of pig intestine that he bought from Toronto. Bi’s back is arched forward. He selects one of the intestines and turns it inside out so that he can see where the fat is, and carefully cuts out the white fat with a pair of scissors. It’s delicate work. He has to make sure he takes out the fat without poking holes. His right hand skillfully guides the blades of the scissors close against the inside wall. In one quick movement, the fat slips away into to the sink.

Bi is making a traditional Chinese dish: pot-stewed pig intestines. The café business has been quiet today, as it is on most days. He had to let go his only employee because he couldn’t afford the salary; he’s often the only one inside. A few days before, he added a catering service hoping it would increase revenue. And this traditional stew is something he wants to serve as part of his catering service.

He could’ve just thrown the intestines into a pot and boiled them all together—the fat would’ve just melted into the water, which he could’ve simply thrown away. But, as Bi says, he doesn’t have anything else to do.

In 2011, Bi immigrated from the city of Xi’an, China, on a working visa after being told by one of his relatives who lives in Halifax that Canada is a good place to live. He wouldn’t have to deal with the complicated social relationships that occur in China; relationships are more straight forward in Canada, he was told. And he could even open his own business. He decided to come to Canada first, and then hopefully bring his wife and son in the future.

Bi is not happy with the status quo in modern China. People often go around the law and rules, which has turned non-elites in the country resentful. You are a fool if you just obey the rules, people think. Networks and knowing the right people matter more. For someone like Bi who wants to play by the rules and is not part of the 1 percent, building a life in Canada seemed to be a good choice.

Since Bi came to Canada, he has worked as a chef, a cleaner, and other low-paying jobs. He had one goal: permanent residency. And he worked hard for it like most immigrants do. In 2014, three years after he arrived, he received his PR. It was a long time coming. His wife was supportive and helped with his application by sending all the required documents from China. Two weeks later, he bought himself a round-trip ticket to China and two one-way tickets to Canada for his wife and son. But one week before they were about to leave China, his wife told Bi that she was not coming to Canada with him. Instead, she wanted a divorce. The next day, she packed up her belongings and left.

Bi was shocked. He hadn’t seen it coming. Everything was going as planned and then all of sudden his life was falling to pieces. He went from a happy new immigrant with a PR in hand, to a lonely, divorced man explaining to a customs officer why his wife was not with him.

It takes Bi an hour to finish the cleaning the pig intestines. After washing his hands, he takes off his hat. His hair is longer than he’d like and it gets slippery with sweat when he works. But he hates the black baseball hat. Still, he wears it. “No matter where the kitchen is you have to put it on if you work in one,” he says. Bi is firm when it comes to obeying rules.

Bi is a forty-seven-year-old Chinese immigrant and the owner of Coffee Corner, a café located in the windowless basement below the office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The café is only thirty-five metres squared and is a convenience store with a help-yourself take-out lunch service. He does all the work himself and schedules his tasks to get things done on time. He learned how to be efficient when he worked in China as a chief inspector in a five-star restaurant. He was a good manager and knows how to train people. Once, he had two hundred people working under him.

In the late ’90s, Bi was honoured to work in a restaurant of its kind. Not only because it was well-paid, but also because of the associated privileges that came with the job. Most restaurants were only open to foreign guests, which is why he was taught how to cook Western food and learn basic English. They had products that you couldn’t get even if you had the money. It was almost like they got to see a different world.

But Bi never settles. He went all the way alone from Macau, in southern China, to Halifax, in Eastern Canada.

Usually, the stories we hear about immigration are inspiring—about how a refugee family endured trauma and rebuilt their life after coming to Canada. These stories are true, but there are also others—stories of immigrants, especially people with an Asian background, who experience high levels of emotional stress. A 2012 report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada suggests that immigrants from Asia and Pacific are more likely to have emotional problems, including depression or loneliness, than those who come from the rest of North America, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe.

Opening a new chapter in life is never easy. The first time Bi tried to launch a restaurant it fell flat, he says due to a poor choice of partners. And although his second attempt is also struggling, he will never give up. He gets up at 5:30 a.m. before the sun rises and leaves after 6 p.m. on most nights. He doesn’t sit down until noon. Since the café is in a basement, the only time he gets to see the sun on a winter weekday is when he goes outside to have a smoke. He throws on his ten-year-old leather jacket and strolls down the hallway, joking that smoking for him is like an injection, to motivate himself.

He tries his best to strike up a conversation with his customers when they walk through the café door. He smiles—he’s always cheerful around his customers—and asks how they are. He often tells them to leave their money at the counter or pay him later if he is away in the bathroom or smoking. He trusts them. He thinks everyone who works in the building has a decent heart. To his customers, he is an attentive Chinese immigrant who runs a convenient café but they don’t see that when he’s on his own, he gets lonely now and then. When the café is empty, Bi is quiet.

Loneliness is a terrifying thing. It’s like a black hole that sucks you in. Bi’s thoughts go wild when he slows down. He thinks about how rough it has been starting a business, how rebellious his son is, and, above all, how he doesn’t have the family he wanted at his age.

In Chinese culture, a family is one of the most important parts of a man’s life. The pressure from parents to get married and have children is relentless. Divorce and being childless are still new concepts for the community, and like many other divorced men in China, they think it’s somehow a failure or a mistake that they are responsible for.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When friends visit, he always cheers up. It just doesn’t happen very often.[/quote]

The combination of living overseas, divorced, with a struggling business has made this restless man depressed—but Bi says he will always keep trying to make a better future. In April 2016, he boarded a plane to China to meet a woman he had been talking to online for six months. He didn’t know how things would turn out, but he hoped that they would like each other—that she would eventually join him in Canada. Nevertheless, he hopped on the plane.

When he arrived in China, he took a bus to meet her but missed the stop while helping blind person dial a number on their cell phone. Bi apologized to the woman when he met her and explained what happened, but she lashed out. “Why did you help a blind person?” she said. “It’s none of your business.”

In that moment, Bi knew she wasn’t the one.

Three months later, he flew back to Halifax, alone.

On a wednesday in January, at around 1:40 p.m., Bi is sitting at a small table outside his café eating lunch. It is his first break in five hours of work. His bowl is filled with a few spoons of some dishes from his buffet, all mixed together. Like many other Chinese people, he doesn’t separate his food. Although he’s a chef, he doesn’t seem to have a high standard for his own meals. He eats whatever is left over.

Bi adjusts his hat, places his cell phone on the round table in front of him, and starts eating. He is focused on his food with his face close to the bowl. There are no customers around, so he plays his cell phone out loud. It’s a video clip from a Chinese media outlet called Today’s Headline—how he keeps track of what’s happening back home. Most influential media outlets in China are controlled by the government, but Bi believes that Today’s Headline is trustworthy enough. Throughout the day, he has a surprising guest: his brother He and the man’s wife. He calls him “brother He” not because they are related but in the traditional Chinese way of addressing a man older than him with respect.

“What brought you here?” Bi asks, just happy that his friends have come. Bi pours two cups of coffee for them and mentions his new plan for a small change in the store: he stretches his arms wide and gestures to demonstrate what the changes are going to be as if he is sharing exciting news he has kept for a long time. His smile is broad and his eyes alight. At one point, he even squats on the floor trying to outline where his new counter will go.

When friends visit, he always cheers up. It just doesn’t happen very often.

One morning, a Thursday, I tell Bi that tomorrow is the Chinese Lunar New Year. He acts surprised—as if he forgot. For Chinese, it is a day of family reunion, when people who work far from home brave the traffic to see their parents.

“Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve?” Bi says. “Well then, I need to call my parents first thing in the morning.” He says he stopped celebrating festivals or his birthday a long time ago. Later that day, a lady walks into the store. She is one of the regular customers who works in the building. The card machine isn’t working very well, and she doesn’t have cash.

“You can pay me next year,” Bi says.

“Next year?”

“January 28 is the Chinese New Year.”

Oh yes, Bi remembers. He remembers clearly.

He doesn’t have anything planned for the holiday, and still hasn’t talked with his son. They haven’t spoken in nearly two months.

Friday is usually the least busy day for him, and today, quiet is not what he needs. He seems distant and tries to keep busy. Brother He calls and invites him to dinner, which seems to lift his spirits. Bi takes out a pizza and adds it to the daily menu—the first time in weeks he has added something new.

The following day, Bi arrives at the store at the normal time, 6 a.m., pours cold water into the coffee pot, carefully places the pot in the coffee machine, and turns it on. He takes out his iPhone, dials a number, and puts it on speaker phone. The iPhone screen is broken. His parents are both over eighty and don’t have a computer at their home. Phoning is the only way he can reach them.

Bi seems peaceful when he talks to them; he has a flicker of a smile on his face. As he talks, he takes out bread and puts it into the toaster, cooks bacon, and fries eggs for the morning sandwiches. He moves around his small kitchen placing his cellphone here and there. During the phone call, he doesn’t stop working for a second.

After about thirty minutes, Bi tells his parents that he needs to get back to work, and hangs up. He didn’t want to call in the first place. Why would he? He knew what his parents would ask about: work and family. And he knew he had to lie. Like many Chinese immigrants, he never tells his parents back in China any bad news. He would rather lie than tell them the real story—the story about how difficult it is to build a life in a foreign land.

“It’s called white lies,” Bi says with a grin. But when he talked to them he felt pained.

Their questions only reminded him of his reality: the rebellious son that he hasn’t talked to for almost two months, his cafe that is barely getting by, and, above all, his loneliness.

But he couldn’t tell them the truth. He had to lie. He had to lie well so that his aged parents so far away wouldn’t worry.


Lu Xu, who hails from China, is studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. This article was republished under arrangement with the Walrus Foundation.

Published in Arts & Culture

In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.

Komal Minhas, Owner of Ko-Media and Co-Founder of Dream, Girl

“Entrepreneurship builds a huge amount of resilience, capacity, emotional intelligence, and growth. My advice to young entrepreneurs is to take your time and build a strong group of people around you who can help you down your path- and remember to keep an intentionality to the hustle.”

As a successful young female entrepreneur who is the co-founder of widely viewed documentary Dream, Girl and the owner of her own media company, KoMedia, you may be surprised to learn that Komal Minhas got her start in Grand Prairie, Alberta. This rural city played an integral role in Komal’s story, as she was raised there by parents who immigrated from India. She grew up watching her parents face the many trials and triumphs of new immigrants and was inspired by their entrepreneurial spirit as they created a home for themselves. She also grew up witnessing the effects that patriarchal culture can have on women, and particularly young women and women of colour. She was always taught to dream big and she took this belief with her across the country as she started on a new path in Ottawa to pursue her dream of empowering women and girls.

After completing a degree in Journalism from Carleton University and graduate studies in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo, Komal fell in love with telling stories through video and documentary and gained an understanding of how business can have a positive impact when led by intentional and thoughtful leaders. Thus came the creation of KoMedia, which aims to create systemic change in how females are treated and does by undertaking projects that tell the complex and empowering stories of women and girls from around the world. Soon after, she connected with fellow entrepreneur Erin Bagwell, who had the innovative idea of creating a documentary that showcases the stories of female entrepreneurs, giving a voice to this underrepresented segment. Komal became a co-founder of the project, helping to create the documentary from pre-production, to production stages in New York City, to premiering across the world. The film has had many successes, from a sold-out public premiere at the Paris Theatre in NYC to a premiere hosted by Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in Ottawa. Komal is currently working out of Ottawa, a city that she continues to call her home-base despite having worked in many thriving cities around the world. 

Christo Bilukidi, Entrepreneur, OCH Ambassador, and Former NFL Player

“I just want to show youth that you are not limited to anything in this world because of your upbringing, your circumstances, or your environment. You can do anything you set your mind to. A lot of people might tell you this, but I believe this because I have lived it, and that’s why I am an OCH Ambassador”.

Growing up in Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) and coming from a single-parent immigrant household, Christo Bilukidi was taught the values of hard work and perseverance. These came in handy when he found himself playing football for the first time in the twelfth grade and having a natural affinity for the sport, beginning a journey that he never imagined himself undertaking. By pushing himself through trainings, try-outs, and SAT tests, Christo earned a full-ride scholarship to play football at Georgia State University. Soon after, he was drafted into the NFL and played for the Oakland Raiders, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Baltimore Ravens. 

After five seasons in the NFL, Christo decided to take his retirement and follow a different passion: entrepreneurship. He is now a co-owner of a successful tailored suit business, Idlewood, and uses his free time for volunteerism. Christo decided to return to Ottawa, where he felt a strong sense of community in his home city and wanted the chance to give back. He is an OCH Ambassador, using his experiences growing up and in the sporting community to be a positive role model to youth. He cites that he will take part in as many community outreach opportunities as he can get his hands on, and is often engaging in public speaking at high schools or community centres in OCH neighbourhoods. On top of this, Christo is working on organizing a football camp for youth that he hopes will feature current NFL players and local Ottawa players to help empower young people through athleticism. He believes that sports are a great tool for youth empowerment, as they teach discipline, hard work, and motivation.


The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!

Published in Arts & Culture

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Skilled immigrants are more likely than Canadian-born citizens to be their own boss, according to the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

By the late 2000s, 19 per cent of Canada’s immigrants were self-employed. The report from the Metcalf Foundation and Maytree examines the challenges and opportunities immigrants face with regards to self-employment and entrepreneurship

While in the past Canada has used immigration to fill its labour market needs — Chinese migrants who helped build the railway, temporary foreign workers to supplement the agricultural industry — creating their own businesses also allowed many immigrants to bring family over from their homeland.

Riding the wave of Italian immigration

Ever since Ralph Chiodo was young, he has loved cars. His dream was to open his own autobody shop. He now has 72 franchise locations in Ontario.

When Chiodo was 12, he worked in a blacksmith shop in Italy. He shoed horses, repaired wagons and plows for farmers. But what he really wanted to do was fix cars. 

At 14, he landed at Pier 21. In 1959, he started working at a gas station in Toronto — getting the job was the easy part. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“He shoed horses, repaired wagons and plows for farmers.”[/quote]

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, thousands of Italians immigrated to Canada annually. Many were sponsored by family members already in Canada, including Chiodo.

Once he got his mechanic’s license in 1965, he opened his own garage and auto repair centre. By 1972, he opened an autobody shop, followed by a Chrysler Dodge dealership in 1980.

His advice for new immigrant entrepreneurs: “Treat people fairly. This includes not only the customers, but the suppliers, landlords and everybody [else]. There’s no substitution for treating everyone fairly.” 

Iranian engineer starts own business

Mahboob Bolandi, who came to Canada from Iran in 2008 on a student visa, keeps himself motivated by not losing the big picture about the future of his business, Texers Inc.: “I always think of the objective and the success I will face and I will achieve through hard work. It has helped me to do and go forward.” 

He started his ceramic materials business after he took the Entrepreneurship Connections program ACCES Employment in June 2014. Texers specializes in technical ceramics used in high technology, engineering or medical applications.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I was doing everything by myself… doing accounting, doing a website, doing social media.”[/quote]

Starting his own business meant a lot of work because he was the only person running it: “I was doing everything by myself [. . .] doing accounting, doing a website, doing social media [. . .] Now I have enough time to focus on real business and growing the business.” 

Bolandi gained valuable insight into contributing to Canadian society by serving as a board member on non-profit organizations, particularly those that were serving newcomers.

“But I’m thinking out of box now […] that being useful to your society, to your community, to serve your country does not necessarily mean doing something related to what you studied,” he notes.

Hire yourself if no one hires you

When Rene C. Berrospi first came to Canada from Lima, Peru in July 2011, he had more than a decade of international experience in immigration law, but he couldn’t find an entry-level position.

His solution was to start his own consulting firm: A&R Global Consulting.

There weren’t any programs to help immigrants with starting their own business, Berrospi says. 

Luckily, he was able to get a business plan in place: “Because I have a legal background, I did my research … people without a legal background … have no idea … what kind of legal structure they need,” Berrospi says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is the advice I also give my clients: If no one wants to hire, hire yourself."[/quote]

Another challenge is adapting to marketing in North America: “The marketing is different in North America than other countries so you have to adapt to that too and what kind of market you will have.” 

“I [started] with two clients from two different countries. Now I’m helping a lot of different people from different backgrounds and nationalities. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council chose me because part of the business I’m running [is] an internship program for young Canadians,” he says.

In addition to securing clients from all over the world — Korea, Ireland, Indian, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Argentina — four of his interns have found work in legal or consulting firms.

Berrospi warns that entrepreneurship is not a nine-to-five job: “I’m very busy. I cannot complain.” 

He advises new immigrants looking to become entrepreneurs not to be scared. As history has shown, he thinks there are a lot of opportunities to do business in Canada: “This is the advice I also give my clients: If no one wants to hire, hire yourself.”  

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Published in History
Wednesday, 09 December 2015 05:41

Syrian Finds New Life, Success in Canada

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Over the next six years, the cost of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada will reach $1.2 billion. The federal government has earmarked $275 million in support for the immediate processing of the refugees as well as financial support and health care for one year. 

While some Canadians have expressed concerns over this, others see it as a long-term investment.

A report issued by financial co-operative Vancity suggests that Syrian refugees are expected to boost British Columbia’s economy by more than half a billion dollars over the next 20 years.

According to Naveed Chaudhry, executive director of Peel Multicultural Council, this could be because Syrians coming to Canada are not from an under-developed country; they are educated and entrepreneurial in nature.

“Yes there is an upfront cost of bringing them into Canada, but I think the benefits far outweigh these costs,” says Chaudhry.

Oppression and entrepreneurship 

One immigrant who is currently living the Canadian dream is Nabil Orfali, an IT project manager from Syria, who now owns a consulting firm in Canada. 

Orfali graduated in 1998 from a university in Damascus. Shortly after, he developed and launched the first online payment portal in Syria. At 20, he was one of the first people in the country to specialize in web development and worked for a newly established IT company, Syriancom.

While working full-time, he started an internet cafe as a side business with a group of friends but like many other shops, it fell prey to the corruption and oppression of local security forces and the government.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think the benefits far outweigh these costs.”[/quote]

“There was no security in Damascus as they just wanted money and kept the shops closed for hours in the name of security. Incomes were very low,” remembers Orfali.

Things for Orfali and his peers deteriorated when they were conscripted into the army by the ruling government.

“I [would’ve had] to stay three years minimum in military service, which [meant being] out of touch with technology, so I just ran away to Saudi Arabia,” he shares.

He applied for immigration to Canada in 2001 and finally arrived in a the country six years later with his wife and two-year-old daughter. 

Adaptation in a new country 

Orfali’s story is not much different from those of other newcomers to Canada. Like many immigrants, he experienced difficulties initially landing a job.

But after he experimented with his resume, he got a job as a project manager in one of the larger IT companies, Navantis, in Toronto. 

The recession of 2008 hit him hard though, and he was laid off after three months. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]He applied for immigration to Canada in 2001 and finally arrived in a the country six years later.[/quote]

“I was shocked and took it personally that I was probably not qualified,” Orfali remembers. “I did not [think] that it was the recession. This was tough and difficult to deal with, but again I didn’t give up and [I] kept my spirits high."

A few months later he managed to get another job with the Ontario government services, but was soon laid off again. 

“[The] manager said I [was] not a ‘good fit’ for the team. I don’t know why, I was doing a great job, but they laid me off, and it was another shock and shattered my confidence.”

Entrepreneurial success in Canada

After working for several years at a company called Cyberplex, Orfali decided to tap into some of the entrepreneurial spirit in his blood.

Orfali, who always dreamt of establishing his own company growing up in Syria, started working on an online startup: reviewsgurus.com. It was eventually recognized by the Canadian Trade Commission and Orfali was sponsored to go to the Silicon Valley. 

“That was a great experience. [I] got in touch with mentors, investors, entrepreneurs,” he shares. “Although I wasn’t able to raise money [from an] investor [. . .] those were the best three months of my life.

“[I] got to the bottom of how to build a successful business.”

After returning to Canada, Orfali started a project with Canadian Tire. He worked there for another two years until he started his own consultancy firm by the name of TechGuilds in December, 2014.

“In 10 months the firm is hitting a revenue of $1.2 million per year. I hired mostly newcomers, interns and fresh graduates, including three Syrians,” explains Orfali. “So that’s my contribution to Canada, and it’s still growing.” 

Based on the experience Chaudry has had with Syrian immigrants over the last 25 years, Orfali's entrepreneurial spirit doesn't seem uncommon.

“Syrians are from a very diverse and open-minded society. I have seen them settling fast and becoming contributing members of the society.” 


 Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program

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Published in Economy

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved