• Justin Trudeau, Kas Guha, and Barj Dhahan

    We Should Support Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on September 11, 2014

    Kas Guha came to Canada 10 years ago from an area in India known for silk manufacturing. Over the years, she has worked in many retail and non-profit jobs but she always dreamed of connecting Canadians with the beautiful weaving by artisans in her home region. She turned her dream into a reality in 2013 and launched Ethnik Yarn, bringing hand-woven textiles, apparel, and accessories made by artisans in several Indian villages to Canada.

    Kas’s story has me wondering how many other immigrant women have similar dreams that have not yet been realized. There are many efforts under way in Canada to ensure support for women in business, as well as programs to support immigrant entrepreneurs, but is enough being done for female immigrant entrepreneurs specifically?

    The importance of women in business is well documented. It has been found that organizations with more women in top management positions achieve 35-per-cent higher return on equity than their peers. Women also tend to be better team-builders, better at assessing the resources needed to accomplish certain goals, better at combining intuitive and logical thinking, and better at managing money. Women also tend to focus more on the greater good, engaging with communities and participating more actively in social responsibility projects. Ethnik Yarn, for example, sponsors campaigns to raise awareness about cervical cancer in Bengal, India.

    Yet the barriers to women in business persist. Women have a more difficult time securing financing for their businesses, which may be due to the bias of investors or other factors such as women’s tendency to take fewer risks than men. Many women also need to balance work with a greater share of responsibilities at home than their male counterparts, and as a result many women tend to get involved in business at a later stage in life, which can also be seen as a strike against them. Today, women still only represent 35 per cent of all self-employed people in Canada.

    Comparatively, Canada is doing well in terms of the number of over-all women in business; Statistics Canada reports almost half of all small- and medium-sized businesses are entirely or partly owned by women, and contribute to the creation of almost 10,000 jobs every year. There are a number of provincial programs to support women in business such as The Women’s Enterprise Initiative, which has offices in four provinces.

    In B.C., the provincial government has created the Women’s Economic Council to advise women in business and expand opportunities for women in key business sectors in the province. However, there is no national strategy specifically aimed at supporting women in business.

    Both federally and provincially, we recognize the importance of engaging with diaspora populations to share knowledge and grow the economy. The government of Canada offers support services for all Canadians hoping to start a new business, and last year announced a Start-Up Visa program to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to the country. Similarly, the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program provides information and support for newcomers hoping to start or bring their business to the province.

    But we have not explored sufficiently the ways in which we might leverage the knowledge and networks of female immigrants interested in starting businesses in Canada. Many immigrant women have unique skills, including market intelligence, that they have learned from their home countries, and innovative ideas that could contribute to their home communities as well as to Canada. But immigrant women also face unique challenges when coming to our country: Sexism and racism intersect in ways that can hold them back from realizing their full potential.

    By overlooking the role of female immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada, and the ways in which we might support them, we are potentially missing out on important opportunities to bolster international trade and create jobs both here and abroad. I applaud the various efforts, particularly at the provincial level, to support women in business and to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship, but I would also welcome a deeper look at policy and program initiatives that focus on female immigrant entrepreneurs. How can we support the Kas Guhas of our country to ensure we are not missing out on a potentially more creative and diverse society and economy?

  • Barj Dhahan and Stewart Beck in Delhi

    Asia Pacific Foundation Looks to Expand to South Asia

    The new president of the Vancouver-based think tank is looking to expand Canadian relations with South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    Asia Pacific Foundation’s new president, Stewart Beck, was Canada’s former High Commissioner to India, and has extensive experience working in the region. Barj Dhahan met with Mr. Beck in New Delhi earlier this year during a visit to India with the Governor General.

    Business in Vancouver interviewed Beck and Barj Dhahan about the appointment and the value of expanding ties with South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    Stewart Beck and Barj Dhahan

    Brenda Beck, Vasu Chanchlani, Stewart Beck and Barj in New Delhi in 2014.

    Read an excerpt from “Stewart Beck: East-West Connector,” published in Business in Vancouver on August 25, 2014:

    Vancouver businessman and philanthropist Barj Dhahan said Beck was a leader in focusing on not only entrepreneurship between India and Canada but also education during his tenure as high commissioner. Beck’s appointment to the foundation is timely, given the growth and opportunities in South Asia, said Dhahan, who is past chair of the Canada India Foundation.

    “Stewart’s appointment is very timely because, as a country and a province, we are certainly looking at Asia, not just at China and Japan but all of Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. It’s timely that the foundation has a broader focus on all of Asia,” Dhahan said.

    Beck is eager to apply his India experience, coupled with a career-long belief in educating young people on what he calls “business ecosystems,” to shape the next chapter for the foundation.

    He wants the foundation to be well positioned to act as a catalyst to engage young entrepreneurs on both sides of the Pacific as regional Asian economies grow stronger.

    “It’s the Wayne Gretzky thing: skate to where the puck is going to be,” Beck said. “That’s part of the role I think the foundation has.”

    Beck’s hockey analogy comes from experience. Dhahan said that, along with other Canadian officials, the former high commissioner would host an ice hockey tournament in northern India to introduce young Indians to Canada’s national sport as a bridge-building exercise. He was known to bring shipments of hockey sticks, skates and pads from Canada to India.

    “A lot of people in India know about our national sport as a result,” said Dhahan.

    That kind of bridge building pays dividends for both countries, Dhahan said.

    Stewart Beck in Delhi

    Richard Bales (Canadian Consul General, Mumbai) Governor General David Johnston, a guest, and Stewart Beck.

    Read the full story at Business in Vancouver.