New Canadian Media
Saturday, 23 June 2018 19:12

A Mongrel among Media

Commentary by: George Abraham in Ottawa, ON

ENTREPRENEURIAL journalism sounds deceptively simple to execute. Combine journalism with business acumen … and voilà you have a winner.  

Sadly, that is not the way it actually works in real life. It is a long, lonely slog, made even more difficult with the declining economics of Canadian media companies all around. One soon learns that the ability of reporters to break new ground and the ability of editors to present stories in a way that resonates with their audience derives from the financial strength of the parent media organization.

The M-word looms large: monetization. How do you keep the lights on and feed the hungry beast that is your burgeoning editorial budget?

We weren’t daft when a bunch of us embarked on this journey called New Canadian Media. The trend towards newsroom closures and downsizing was already written on the wall. The business model of legacy organizations itself was broken or breaking down before our very eyes. Sure, there were any number of naysayers who saw no point in trying to carve out a niche that portrayed the collective perspective of newcomers to Canada.  We were warned that we would be neither “ethnic” nor “mainstream” – a mongrel among media – and that advertisers will make no room for hybrid models like ours because they have niche marketing budgets.

But, it was virgin space in May, 2014, when we launched our portal … and remains so even today.

Our first goal was to demonstrate that we could indeed produce high-quality journalism using largely immigrant talent. We’ve done that in spades. It’s our calling card.

Second, we needed to find “seed capital” that would help us convincingly demonstrate the strength of NCM’s original idea. We’ve done that as well. However, as we scaled up, we found the going difficult.

The intervening years since the launch of our site demonstrated not only the endurance of the original idea to represent “the immigrant perspective”, but also to tap into a rich vein of journalism talent that remains largely unexplored in Canada. But, in addition to pioneering a new form of journalism, we went against the grain in several important respects, all in an effort to buck the trend and improve the odds.

The original idea

NCM was founded on a rather simple premise: waves of immigrants continue to reshape this country in both visible and invisible ways. For visible signs, look no further than the sushi restaurant in your neighbourhood, turbans in the RCMP, Canada’s tilt towards the Asia-Pacific driven largely by immigration from that region of the world, ethnic nannies who raise babies for rich Canadians and the entrepreneurial energy that has made this country more prosperous.

While existing media capture the mega-trends, they do a rather poor job of portraying undercurrents and speaking to a new Canada-in-the-making. Our idea was to give voice to the opinion and points-of-view of newcomers, while enabling all Canadians to better appreciate this new perspective.

Jagdeesh Mann, executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post published in English and distributed in downtown Vancouver, has a readership that is as much white as Asian. “Canadians want to know what was happening in the Asian community and Asians want to participate,” Mr. Mann says, adding “food was usually the gateway.”

We, however, went about this in unconventional ways, ensuring that we continually broadened our horizons even while staying true to our core mission of delivering the immigrant perspective. We took great care to avoid creating what media experts call a new, isolationist “silo”, but rather to work with both existing ethnic and mainstream news organizations so our limited dollars did not end up duplicating journalism that was already out there.

There was no template to follow and hence we charted our own course.

Amid a climate of great public mistrust of ‘elites’ in general, and the media in particular, we set ourselves up as a non-profit, with paid members across Canada. When we discovered that our contributors could benefit from training and mentoring, we found the funds to launch a national professional development program. Last year, we broadened this grassroots undertaking to create an NCM Collective, inviting our contributors to band together in a countrywide effort to organize and lend even more heft to their inimitable immigrant voices.

At the same time, the organization has sustained itself on the backs of volunteer directors and pro bono time from members of our editorial board.

By the numbers

We’ve taken great pains to cross language and racial divides to address issues that confront every one of the 200 ethnic communities in Canada. Our range of stories and datelines from cities and towns across the country speak for themselves. It has contributed, dare I say, to giving many an immigrant a greater sense of belonging.

In perhaps our biggest break from tradition, we have consistently fostered a bottom-up journalism that privileges the findings of on-the-ground reporters over the preconceived notions of distant editors. We very rarely dictated a story idea, relying on our formidable network to serve as listening posts in their respective communities. Retaining a reporter’s voice is very important to us. We’ve tried our best not to shoehorn a reporter’s findings into a pre-cooked, nifty headline, or come up with an elegant turn of phrase that may not do full justice to the original sentiment.

Trust me, this has made the editing process a lot more laborious, but it has been surely worth it: it has led to unfiltered, authentic voices from communities across this fabulous country. Copy editors have gone apoplectic at times, but this approach has allowed immigrant journalists to portray the everyday experiences, joys and sorrows of new Canadians, signifying perhaps NCM’s biggest accomplishment to date.

All of this pioneering work has been sustained largely through project-based public funding (roughly $275,000 so far), enabling NCM to demonstrate the calibre and depth of its journalism and showcase the work of a growing roster of new reporters in every province.  

Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but here are a few to illustrate our growth and current profile:

  • Original stories published on the NCM platform so far = 855

  • Peak web traffic: 10,840 unique monthly visitors in Nov. 2015 (22,448 page views)

  • E-newsletter distribution list: 1,433 subscribers

  • Twitter followers: 3,811

  • Facebook Likes: 1,630

  • Reporters/commentators published: 220

  • Canadian journalists who have enlisted for NCM’s professional development program: 102

  • Images available in NCM Stock Photo library: 205

  • Canada's first-ever ethnic media and diversity style guide published in Jan. 2016

  • Audience profile: evenly split between foreign-born and native-born Canadians (Ekos survey, 2016) 

Our board of directors believes we are market-ready, and primed to emerge as a media platform in our own right. Towards this end, the board is re-tooling the NCM organization, rethinking our financial and business model, while we revamp our web platform to update several of its key attributes – to ensure that we continue to present the immigrant perspective in all its colour and vibrancy.

We are surely not alone in imagining a different media scene – one that truly reflects Canada in the 21st century. As our good friend and publisher of the Walrus magazine puts it, “If NCM did not already exist, this country would be compelled to invent it.”


George Abraham is NCM’s founder and publisher.

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 15 November 2015 20:22

Saving With RESPs Not Un-Islamic

by Sukaina Jaffer in Toronto

Hussin Masaud, originally from Iraq, has resided in Canada for over 26 years. A father of three, he attests to having Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) for all of his kids, who are 14, 11 and nine. 

“It is important to have funds for their future education,” says Masaud, a supervisor for a clothing company. 

For many new immigrants, moving to Canada comes with the hope of starting a new life filled with dreams of a better future for their children. 

One of the ways parents can save for their child’s post-secondary education is by opening up an RESP, which is an education savings account that is registered with the government of Canada.

Financial institutions (banks or credit unions), certified financial planners and group plan dealers all offer RESP options to their clients.

Masaud opened accounts for his kids with Knowledge First Financial (KFF) after a friend of his told him about the organization.

According to Masaud, it was relatively easy for him to open the accounts as a KFF representative came to his home and explained the whole process to him, which enabled him to proceed forward.

Difficulties of saving

Not all parents are able to maintain an RESP for their children, however. 

Haadi Al-Jawaad (whose name has been changed for privacy reasons) moved from Iraq to Canada in 1991 and worked in the construction business for a long time before retiring. 

In 1992, he opened up RESPs for his five children with the Royal Bank of Canada and used to make monthly contributions. Unfortunately, after two years he had to close the accounts. 

“I regret it, but the circumstances didn’t allow me to continue,” he explains in an e-mail to New Canadian Media. “I needed the money for my business. However, I wish I had [strove] to keep the accounts even if I made small contributions.” 

Al-Jawaad adds that an RESP is crucial as, “It gives importance to the children’s education and makes them strive towards their education. It’s also a saving account so money is being saved for the benefit of the family as a whole.” 

“I regret it, but the circumstances didn’t allow me to continue."

His five children grew up and all of them had to take yearly Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans in order to pay for their education. 

Two of his sons ended up going to college, two daughters attended university and one son did one year of university before taking private courses. Al-Jawaad’s children all had to find part-time jobs in order to pay for their loans as well as cover their own personal expenses. 

Many families like Al-Jawaad’s may miss out on opportunities like the RESP due to financial struggles when trying to fulfill family expenses of food, shelter and clothing. 

For low-income families, however, it’s possible to get up to $2,000 via the Canada Learning Bond for a child’s education just by opening an RESP — before even contributing any money toward it. 

Misunderstandings of RESPs and Islam

There is often a lack of information or misinformation that prevents people from investing in RESPs. 

Professor Imam Syed B. Soharwardy is president of the Calgary-based Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, which has chapters across Canada and caters to over 10,000 members ranging from South Asian, Arab and African heritage.

Soharwardy mentions that many imams – religious leaders of mosques – are misinformed about RESPs and need to be educated about them. 

He mentions that many Muslims think RESPs are prohibited because of “Riba,” an Islamic term for interest charged on loans, which is not permissible in Islam. 

He says that the RESP is in fact “Halal” — meaning legal — and people should take part in them. 

“It is our right to receive benefits provided by the Canadian government as we are also paying taxes in this country,” he states. 

He adds, “We should take part in [RESPs], but we must know how to invest in them.” 

He says that the RESP is in fact “Halal.”

Atta Hussain, a trustee of Al-Hussain Foundation in Markham, Ont., which serves thousands of people from the Middle Eastern community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), as well as the India-Pakistan region, mentions that his centre does not promote RESPs only due to a lack of staff and resources. He hopes in the future to be able to spread awareness of RESPs amongst his congregation.

According to Soharwardy, RESPs must be chosen carefully when coupled with other investments in order to ensure the decision is in line with Islam. For example, a person should choose an RESP with mutual funds, but not one with Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) because these deal with interest, which is not permissible in Islam.

With more understanding of people’s religious and cultural make ups, it would be possible for even more people to take advantage of RESPs for their children including those from the Arab Canadian community. 

Anver Jaffer, a sales representative with Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan (CST) Consultants (a non-profit foundation) for over 18 years, emphasizes the importance of this.

“It is never too early to start saving for a child’s future as post-secondary education will help children to succeed.”


 Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

This is the fourth in a five-part education series (click for part onepart two and part three) on New Canadian Media looking at the experiences of different families with saving for education in Canada. November is Financial Literacy month across Canada and November 15 - 21 is Education Savings Week.  

Visit SmartSAVER.org to learn more about Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) and to start an RESP with your choice of six major banks and credit unions. RESP information is available in 16 languages. Apply online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered to win one of nine $1,000 weekly prizes! Learn more here 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education
Sunday, 01 November 2015 21:37

Pakistani Parents Find Savings in RESPs

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

For many immigrants arriving in Canada, quality education for their children is top of mind when they get here.

Although high school education is free in Canada, post-secondary education is quite expensive. 

In order to help alleviate some of the cost for parents, the Canadian government has an opportunity many newcomers may not be aware of: the Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP).

RESPs are tax-sheltered savings accounts that help you save for your children’s education. Under this program, the federal government contributes an additional 20 per cent of the annual contribution you make to an RESP up to an annual maximum of $500 for each beneficiary and a lifetime limit of $7,200.

“We can’t expect any such fund in Pakistan where not only elementary and secondary, even pre-school fees for a child, suck a major part of [our] monthly salary,” says Masood Khan. 

Although high school education is free in Canada, post-secondary education is quite expensive.

Khan migrated to Canada with his wife and toddler 15 years ago after finishing his engineering degree in information technology from Nadirshaw Eduljee Dinshaw University in Pakistan. 

“My parents spent a huge amount of their earnings on my education since childhood and I was lucky enough that they could afford boarding fees too for one of the best schools in Pakistan,” Khan recalls. “But in Canada while struggling for our own future, it is vital that we plan for our children’s education much ahead of time.”

With his eldest son about to step into post-secondary and two more children to follow suit in the next five years, Khan is grateful for the RESP. 

“No matter what, it is a saving. Even in a worst situation, if none of my children uses [an] RESP, it will be returned to me in my retirement fund,” he says. 

Education of utmost importance

For the average Pakistani family, attaining higher education is one of life’s most important goals. In fact, a person’s education is often weighed as a deciding criterion when selecting a bride or groom.

Opportunities like the RESP can help with Pakistanis' pursuit of education in Canada.

Mohammad Khalid, who moved to Canada from Pakistan just couple of years ago, was not aware of the RESP until he applied for a mortgage to buy a house. The banker tempted him with the benefits the bank provided for opening an RESP.

“I wanted to take advantage of the best I can get for my children’s education.”

“I have no experience about the mutual funds or other types of investment they do with the money, so I am happy that they will manage my fund with a minimum payment of $12 annually,” Khalid says.

Khalid’s 13-year-old daughter will be starting high school next year, so he still has four years to invest in the fund. 

Although the road to settling in Canada has just started for Khalid’s family and he’s not sure what the future holds, he knows he wants an education plan for his children.

“I paid an excessive amount to catch-up on [what] I missed,” he shares, explaining that he missed out on a number of years to contribute to the fund and had to pay more than normal now as a result. “I wanted to take advantage of the best I can get for my children’s education.”

Challenges with RESP

Research shows many low and middle income families are missing out on RESP opportunities. 

Rakhshana Sultan, who once worked at a financial institution as a salesperson and worked with RESPs, says this is because of these families having “a lack of funds with them to be deposited every month.”

Newcomer families may fall into this predicament due to a variety of reasons, including difficulty finding employment. In addition, Sultan said that most parents are confused about the available options for RESP.

Research shows many low and middle income families are missing out on RESP opportunities.

Another issue many of her past clients had with the RESP was the impact of rising tuition fees. Many clients often suggested that the government contribution should be raised to 40 per cent instead of the 20 per cent it has been for the last 15 years.

This could help alleviate pressures caused by the looming student debt crisis, Sultan concluded. 

Making the most of an RESP

Nikki Ahad, a Pakistani Canadian mother with two sons already in university, initiated RESPs early on for her children. She has several suggestions for other parents so they too can enjoy the maximum benefits of opening an RESP.

She says parents should stay active and re-evaluate the account regularly. They should assess their capability to add more money, as even an extra $5 per month is worth it. 

To ensure that they are on track to achieving their goals for their children’s post-secondary education, parents should be vigilant regarding the investment options. They should choose options that are stable, growth-oriented and less fluctuated. 

Parents should also select an RESP with no costs in the form of fees and enrolment charges.

One of the most important points, according to Ahad, is not to start saving too late. If parents are unable to afford an RESP when their child is born, then they should try to begin one when their child finishes kindergarten at the age of five or six years old. 


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

This is the second in a five-part education series on New Canadian Media looking at the experiences of different families with saving for education in Canada. November is Financial Literacy month across Canada and November 15 - 21 is Education Savings Week.

Visit SmartSAVER.org to learn more about Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) and to start an RESP with your choice of six major banks and credit unions. RESP information is available in 16 languages. Apply online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered to win one of nine $1,000 weekly prizes! Learn more here. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

 

 

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