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6 Black Canadians recognized in Globe & Mail’s Top 50 changemakers list

Chosen out of 50 activists, executives, entrepreneurs, and academics, the Black Canadians were honoured for their “devotion to making the world a better place for everyone.”

6 Black Canadians recognized in Globe & Mail’s Top 50 changemakers list
Lise Birikundavyi, Nathan Hall, Shukri Abdulle, Melissa Allen, Stéphanie Jules, and Boluwaji Ogunyemi were chosen as changemakers for the Globe & Mail's annual list of Top 50 innovators. UNSPLASH PHOTO 

Six Black Canadian changemakers have been announced in an annual Top 50 innovators list released by the Globe & Mail.

Chosen out of 50 activists, executives, entrepreneurs, and academics, the Black Canadians were honoured for their “devotion to making the world a better place for everyone.”

Meet the changemakers below:

Lise Birikundavyi, managing partner and co-founder, BKR Capital

Lise Birikundavyi, managing partner and co-founder at BKR Capital. LINKEDIN PHOTO

Lise Birikundavyi became interested in social entrepreneurship when Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his novel use of micro-loans to help underprivileged people start businesses and escape poverty, according to the Globe.

The Burundi-born, Montreal-raised student was just 20 back then, but it shaped her financial perspective of creating social change while also earning revenue.

Birikundavyi obtained an MBA from the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and wrote a thesis on impact investing.

Later, she worked as an impact-investment manager in the Ivory Coast to improve education in rural communities. She returned to Canada in 2020 to level the playing field for Black Canadians.

“When the George Floyd murder happened, I thought about how I could contribute to the movement to make sure the table is big enough for everyone,” Birikundavyi told the Globe and Mail.

She created the idea for BKR Capital, a $20 million venture capital fund that invests in software firms started by Black entrepreneurs, with her business partner Isaac Olowolafe.

The company has received anchor investments from Business Development Canada and RBC, which helps companies access financing to overcome roadblocks.

Calgary-based fintech mIQ is one of these companies and one of five in BKR’s portfolio. Submitting payment information to a lending circle, the company aids new Canadians in establishing their credit history.

“I’d met different VC and angel investors, and until BKR, it was always a no,” mIQ co-founder Jonah Chininga told the Globe & Mail. He is from Zimbabwe and had difficulty accessing credit after coming to Canada in 2014. “They didn’t live the problem, didn’t know the context, so they couldn’t understand the market opportunity or see the business viability.”

To date, the company has raised more than $1.4 million from six investors, according to the Globe & Mail.

Nathan Hall, founder and CEO, Culture Check

Nathan Hall, founder and CEO at Culture Check. LINKEDIN PHOTO

Since he was named Ottawa’s Forty Under 40 in 2020, Nathan Hall has dedicated himself to his company Culture Check, a consultancy that helps organizations build inclusive cultures and a resource that supports racialized communities so they can thrive in the workplace.

“Receiving an award like this is a powerful reminder that our efforts matter,” Hall said in a LinkedIn post after the win. “It's a reminder that even when we doubt ourselves, even when the path ahead seems unclear, we must keep moving forward. As Marianne Williamson once said, ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’

“We are all capable of making a difference, and we should never shrink away from that responsibility. To all of you out there who may be struggling, who may be feeling overwhelmed, who may be wondering whether your contributions matter: I want you to know that they do. We were all born to shine, and as we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same. So, let's keep striving, let's keep pushing, and let's keep making a difference. Together, we can change the world,” he added.

Shukri Abdulle, productivity manager, Bimbo Canada

Shukri Abdulle, productivity manager at Bimbo Canada. LINKEDIN PHOTO

Tasked with making Canada’s largest and oldest bakery as productive as possible, Shukri Abdulle has been leading innovation efforts to make automation a vital part of operations at Bimbo Canada. Labour shortages are the main reason for work on a new gantry system, which is 30,000 square-foot robotic machine that prompts picking and sorting functions. It could save the company $2.3 million a year, according to the Globe & Mail.

Melissa Allen, founder, Capital M Ventures

Melissa Allen, founder, Capital M Ventures. LINKEDIN PHOTO

When Melissa Allen learned that self-driving cars had difficulties recognizing people of darker skin tones, she quickly took action. She raised $1 million to start Capital M Ventures, an industry-neutral venture capital fund that focuses on BIPOC-founded enterprises, to diversify the venture capital landscape in Canada. Her charity raised $5 million this year to help the BIPOC founders, according to the Globe & Mail.

Stéphanie Jules, co-chair, Legal & Regulatory Compliance DE&I Council, BMO. LINKEDIN PHOTO

As a leader of BMO’s LRC group, Jules oversees 80 volunteers on the diversity council and has revamped the bank’s hiring process to reduce bias and eliminate subjectivity. Thanks to her work, employees now interview with a diverse group of skilled interviewers from a range of backgrounds, including gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and experience.

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, assistant professor (dermatology) Memorial University

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, assistant professor (dermatology) Memorial University. TWITTER PHOTO

A dermatologist based in St. John’s, Boluwaji Ogunyemi specializes in diseases that disproportionately affect or are commonly misdiagnosed in racialized people. He also works as a physician and assistant dean at Memorial University and serves as a keynote speaker at speaking engagements that cover health, equity, and diversity.