Ten new inductees join 2023 class of Most Inspiring Immigrants in Atlantic Canada
Ever wonder what leads to someone being chosen as one of our Most Inspiring Immigrants in Atlantic Canada? Below is a collection of short biographies that highlight some of the reasons our advisory committee chose these 10 individuals to receive our highest honour.
Agunbiade Seun Richards
Agunbiade Seun Richards is a social entrepreneur, researcher, and community volunteer. With his family, he arrived in Canada on July 21, 2018 from Dubai, where he worked for leading IT companies such as Acer, Toshiba, Asus, and Kaspersky, before starting his own management consulting firm.
In April 2019, he decided to return to school for his Ph.D. and was accepted into the Ph.D. Interdisciplinary (IDST) program at the University of New Brunswick to research ‘The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurship on the Economic Development and Population Growth in Atlantic Canada.’
He also started Door2Door Pickup Couriers as an academic project to gain empirical experience for his doctoral research, and to provide a solution to the need for direct-to-home delivery for newcomers and residents in New Brunswick, a pain he had experienced as a newcomer in Saint John.
Unknown to him and many across the world, COVID-19 would alter everyone’s lifestyle in the months to follow and delivery services became an essential during the lockdowns.
During the pandemic, he also volunteered for various community development agencies, including Saint John Local Immigration Partnership, Saint John Strategic Planning Committee, N.B. Multicultural Council, and the CRA Free Tax Clinic.
Seun Richards was recognized with the Top 150 Small Business Owners in Canada, The Black Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 in Canada, Emerging Innovator Award, Diversity Champion and Immigrant Entrepreneur. He was appointed as an ambassador of the Global Entrepreneur Network (www.genglobal.org), co-founded the Black Business Professionals Network, and is a founding director of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), New Brunswick chapter.
Anil Rana arrived in Nova Scotia in 2017 from India with his wife and two daughters. A number of community organizations benefited from his passion for volunteering and his efforts were recognized with an HRM Volunteer Award in 2018. Rana founded the Mentors Circle for Nova Scotia Newcomers, and is a professional mentor with multiple organizations.
Rana worked on his financial services career at RBC for two years, where he was awarded the RBC Diversity Award in 2018. He then decided to further his education, which included a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Business Administration, by graduating from the HRP Police Science Program through the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) Training School.
Rana took his passion to help others even further by becoming the first newcomer and permanent resident to be sworn in as a police officer with HRP in 2019. Since joining HRP, he has been active in promoting and managing diversity, related events, and reaching out to diverse communities to have more representation from diverse members in HRP. He also delivers presentations to help communities understand policing and the law in Canada.
Rana’s efforts to promote diversity were recently recognized when he received the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal.
Bernadette Fernandes is the founder and CEO of the Varanda Network. She is an immigrant by birth and a New Brunswicker by choice.
She immigrated as a child from Portugal, returning for middle school and later studied abroad in Spain for university. She speaks five languages and has worked in several countries in Central America, Europe, the Caribbean, and in the U.S., but always returns “home” to Saint John.
She leverages this global network in working with international governments, industry, academia, and community. Currently, she works with the University of New Brunswick as Innovation Unit Principal, and with Emergence as an advisor on Market Access and Exporting.
Ten years ago she became an entrepreneur and is now known as a global connector of people and communities. She embraces diversity and inclusion. She serves on the boards of several organizations, such as the New Brunswick Business Immigrant Association, the Federation of Portuguese-Canadian Business Professionals representing Atlantic Canada, the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce – Atlantic Chapter as co-chair, the Saint John Learning Exchange, Heart and Stroke Foundation of N.B., and the Africa Trade and Investment Global Services Group.
She is a featured speaker at ConnexionWorks’ Business Immigrant Essentials and PRUDE’s Newcomer Women’s Leadership Program. In 2022, she was named to Atlantic Canada’s Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Business.
As an advocate for immigrants, Fernandes helped settle Syrian families before launching One World, a social impact arm founded on the principles of human rights, equity, and inclusion. Last year, she and others formed ThriveNB to support newcomer retention.
Christine Eruokwu’s stamp on the Atlantic Region emerged eight years ago when she came to Saint John as an international student. She launched her own business, Kaima Designs, in 2017.
She holds an MBA from the University of New Brunswick. Her current role is Newcomer Women Leadership Program Coordinator with PRUDE Inc. Before this, she worked as a language instructor with the YMCA of Greater Saint John.
Kaima Designs is an African-inspired trendsetting clothing brand that prioritizes poverty reduction through girl-child education and women empowerment initiatives in West Africa. Through the Cheta Hoodie, she supports Key Industries Inc., a non-profit that employs people living with disabilities.
Eruokwu also co-founded United Colours of Fashion (UCOF) with her friend Rufina Ajalie. It’s a non-profit with a mission to bring diverse fashion creation and style to Saint John. It does this through collaborative efforts with immigrant women and persons of BIPOC heritage in the fashion industry seeking to pursue a career or business in fashion. It creates business opportunities that enable them to become active players in the growth of the local economy through their skills, vocation, activities, and businesses.
She mentors international students looking to settle in the region upon completion of their programs through the Atlantic Canada Study and Stay program in New Brunswick, the Saint John Newcomer Centre’s JumpStart Mentorship Program, and the University of New Brunswick’s Ten Thousand Coffees. She also volunteers as a business advisor with the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Calgary; and sits on the board of three non-profits in Saint John.
Farhan Pir Muhammad
Farhan Pir Muhammad was born and raised in Pakistan, and completed his Bachelor of Commerce and Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degrees there.
In 2002, he started his professional career with KPMG’s Karachi office. In 2005, he completed his chartered accountancy qualification (ACCA) and relocated to Oman, where he joined KPMG’s Muscat office. In 2006, Pir Muhammad moved to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and joined Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat), a leading telecom company in the middle east region. When he left Etisalat, he was working as director of internal audits, international operations.
In 2006, Pir Muhammad married Asiya and she joined him in Abu Dhabi. They now have three children, one boy and two girls.
Pir Muhammad first visited Canada in 2013 and completed his chartered professional accountant (CPA) exams. During the period between 2013 to 2017, he also completed other accounting and auditing-related certifications and prepared himself for Canadian immigration. In 2017, he imigrated to Canada and landed in Ontario.
He got his first job opportunity at CNOOC International (formerly Nexen Energy) as senior consultant, internal audits. In 2018, he accepted a job opportunity at Emera as director of audit services, leading internal audit and advisory services across Emera companies located in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Caribbean, and moved to Nova Scotia.
Pir Muhammad is a member of the Pakistani Canadian Association of Nova Scotia and currently serves as president. In 2020, he joined the Bedford Residents Association and is currently vice president. He volunteers on the board of directors for the Institute of Internal Auditors, Maritime Chapter. In 2021 he received the HRM award for outstanding volunteer services, and in 2022 the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Award.
Jubanti Dhan Toppo
Jubanti Dhan Toppo immigrated to Canada in 2012. She is a social worker, adult educator, and a human resource leadership development professional with more than 10 years of experience in the non-profit/corporate sector in Canada and internationally.
She has experience working with a diverse group of people in different settings and has helped individuals, groups, and communities access services through a wide range of activities.
Dhan Toppo currently works with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre as the program manager, Community Network Model for Sexual Violence Trauma Therapy. Previously, she worked with the Nova Scotia Barristers Society as an advisor on Equity and Access, and with various other organizations in different capacities.
In 2019, Dhan Toppo represented Canada as one of the Canadian delegates at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York. Subsequently, in 2021 she represented North America as a panelist on the High-Level Political Forum at the United Nations Commission for Social Development.
She believes an equitable society is only possible when all human beings learn to love, care, and forgive one another, are empowered, and liberated from the chains of social inequities.
Mohammad Al Masalma
Mohammad Al Masalma is the founder and owner of Mosy Photography, a professional photography and videography business.
Al Masalma says he always knew he loved photography and videography, and was drawn to storytelling from a young age. After fleeing Syria as a refugee, he had the opportunity to come to Canada in 2016 on a scholarship. He was determined to further pursue his passion for photography/videography and spent hours teaching himself the skills needed to start his own business.
His photos quickly gained attention in both the local and national community, and in 2018 Mosy Photography was born. Since Mosy’s inception, Al Masalma has steadily built his business and expanded his clientele, providing service to local clients and newcomers like himself who want their stories represented. He has tapped into multicultural markets, providing advertising and marketing services in both English and Arabic.
Al Masalma still maintains his job at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), where he helps orient newcomers to life in Nova Scotia. He often teaches courses about photography, videography, social media management, and pursuing careers of interest to immigrant and refugee youth. He also engages in many public speaking events where he shares his own story, and has been invited to be a keynote speaker and panelist countless times.
Rustum Southwell is best known as the founding CEO of the Black Business Initiative (BBI). Originally from Saint Kitts, Southwell arrived in Halifax in 1972.
Southwell began his business career as one of the province’s first Black franchise owners. After several years managing restaurants, he moved on to become executive director of the African Canadian Business Development Centre.
In 1996, Southwell became founding CEO of the BBI. His leadership has resulted in 25 years of unprecedented growth and impact. BBI has created more than 1,500 jobs and has provided business training to more than 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs.
Recently, Southwell led the organization into its next phase of growth by expanding across the Atlantic provinces.
Southwell has served as co-chair of the African Heritage Month Committee, first chair of Hope Blooms Youth Ventures Inc., is a member of the board of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Develop Nova Scotia and United Way Halifax, and is a member of the board of governors of Nova Scotia Community College, the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and the Community Consultative Committee of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport Authority.
He has received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, honorary doctorates from Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities, and an honorary diploma from NSCC.
Dr. Sulaimon Giwa is a Nigerian-born and Canadian-based educator, researcher, and scholar-activist, who works in the field of forensic social work.
He joined the faculty at Memorial University in 2017, where he is an associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate programs in the School of Social Work, with a cross-appointment to the Department of Sociology.
Giwa’s professional experience includes research and policy work at the community and federal levels, antiracist community and organizational change, and direct practice in policing and corrections.
His research interests are in the areas of critical race and anti-Black racism; race and sexuality; LGBTQ+ migration, settlement, and integration; intersectional stigma and human rights; minority stress and coping; critical social work pedagogy; and the criminal justice system.
Giwa has published extensively and presented more than 40 papers at conferences and meetings. He is an associate editor of Psychology & Sexuality, and an editorial board member for Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. He is the author and co-editor of five published books.
He is chair of the City of St. John’s Anti-Racism Working Group; co-chair of the City of St. John’s Inclusion Advisory Committee; a board member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Queer Research Initiative; and a board member of the Quadrangle Community Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Antonio Delgado got all his early musical education in the world-renowned El Sistema program (National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela) in his home town of Caracas.
Though he began his musical life on the violin, he soon discovered his love and passion for conducting. Maestro Delgado began his conducting studies with Maestro Rodolfo Saglimbeni and pursued further training at the Canford School of Music in Wimborne, England where he learned from Maestro George Hurst, among others. From 2005 to 2010 Delgado was musical director of the second largest South American theatre, Teresa Carreño, where he conducted a diverse range of music.
He has conducted every major orchestra in Venezuela, alongside performances in Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Since July 2010, Delgado has been musical director and teacher in residence of Sistema New Brunswick, and musical director and conductor of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra.
Delgado founded and conducted the Moncton Youth Orchestra, the Sistema Children Orchestra, and the professional Tutta Musica Orchestra while serving as orchestra conductor for six years during the Université de Moncton’s opera productions of Marriage of Figaro, La Clemenza de Tito, Dido and Eneas, and Les Mousquetaires au couvent.
Delgado has worked with such local and Canadian artists and bands as 1755, Chris Colepaugh, Kevin Lau, David Myles, Measha Brueggergosman, Troiselle, James Hill, and Anne Janelle. He premiered Howard Shore’s work Sea to Sea at the NAC in Ottawa.