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Business leader Rustum Southwell named the first Black chancellor at Dalhousie University

He stepped down as leader of the Black Business Initiative on May 1 after 25 years, following induction into the Order of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame.

Business leader Rustum Southwell named the first Black chancellor at Dalhousie University
Rustum Southwell has been named Dalhousie University's ninth chancellor in school history and the first Black Canadian to hold the prestigious position. DANNY ABRIEL PHOTO

Black business leader Rustum Southwell has been announced as Dalhousie University's ninth chancellor.

This fall, he will take the helm, making Southwell the first Black chancellor in school history.

“It was a total shock,” Southwell said in a statement. “To be honest, I didn’t think I’d been noticed in the way that you get to a position of this level (of chancellor). You do the work I do without expecting people to always see what’s happening. So, I was very surprised — and very honoured.”

The board approved Southwell’s appointment at its June meeting on Tuesday (June 27) on the recommendation of Dalhousie’s Governance and Human Resources Committee.

“Rustum has spent his life and career helping lift people up so they can grow, thrive and succeed,” board chair Cheryl Fraser said in a statement. “We are proud to welcome his generous spirit and inspiring leadership to the Chancellor’s role.”

Southwell, a former student at Dalhousie in the early 1970s, was an international student from the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts, studying psychology for two years on campus.

After a change of heart, he pivoted to the business world and led the Black Business Initiative — one of Canada’s most transformative and renowned business development organizations.

He retired as leader of the organization on May 1 after 25 years, following induction into the Order of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame.

Rustum Southwell recently retired from the Black Business Initiative in May. DANNY ABRIEL PHOTO

An ambassador for Atlantic Canada

The BBI owes many achievements to Southwell’s leadership, a statement reads. Southwell led the introduction of Business is Jammin’, Black Business Consulting, and Black Business Community Investment Fund Limited, programs that helped grow the organization from being a local presence to a regional initiative in Atlantic Canada and the country.

His work also led to the creation and management of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and African Canadian Business Development Centre.

Moreover, his leadership saw the organization create over 1,500 jobs, provide business training support for over 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs, and help create and expand hundreds of Black-owned and operated businesses in the region.

Over the years, he’s also helped create scholarship programs in Dal’s Faculty of Management, advised and fundraised for the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, and served on the board of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) transformative and renowned business development organizations.

“Rustum in 1972, 1973 was this precocious young man, and now he’s an elder, as some would refer to it,” Southwell said, reflecting on his journey. “Now is the chance for me to share some of my wisdom, if you want to call it that, reflecting on community and speaking to the youth who are coming up, the next generation we’re mentoring.”

In addition to NSCC, he’s been a Halifax Chamber of Commerce board member, the Waterfront Development Corporation (now Build Nova Scotia) and the Stanfield International Airport Authority.

He’s served as interim president and CEO of the United Way of Halifax. And he was the first chair of Hope Blooms Youth Ventures, the renowned non-profit social enterprise.

“At this stage of my life, it’s really about reflecting how you can impact the rest of your community,” Southwell said. “The legacy of the Black Business Initiative and what it is done for Black entrepreneurship right across the country is a role model, an example of what can be achieved. But then I see Dr. Leah Jones at Dal’s medical school (the Faculty of Medicine’s first director of Black health), or the youth who have come through the Business is Jammin’ program — it’s all a testament to how many ways you can move the needle.”