Aug. 25, 2020

Graduate students create change through social entrepreneurship

Catalyze summer 2020 cohort use their skills and passion to create an impact with local companies
Julia Imanoff
Julia Imanoff, cofounder of COLO families

Creating positive change in our ever-shifting world and supporting those willing to do the heavy lifting to make that change is the goal of the Catalyze program. Catalyze provides a financial stipend and experiential learning for graduate students to support social ventures and social-purpose organizations in achieving mission-critical milestones. 

Students are paired with social enterprises and empowered to be agents of change in a specific area of the business. Catalyze provides support through workshops, mentorship and training. Students create an impact by providing their expertise to organizations that might not normally be able to afford this specialized help.

Catalyze , as with other experiential initiatives, gives students the invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on learning, grow new passions, explore new ideas and make impactful real-world decisions. It also allows them to reflect on their learnings with their cohort peers in ways that are challenging, if not impossible, in a traditional classroom setting.  

Passion drives change

As a doctoral student in nursing, as well as being an educator, a registered nurse, a business owner, a mom and a participant in the 2020 Catalyze cohort, Julia Imanoff, pictured above, is a busy person. She manages the many hats she wears by virtue of her overwhelming passion. Inspired by her doctoral research and her own life experiences after the birth of her second child, Imanoff felt there was a lack of resources and support provided to new parents after leaving the hospital.

This realization sparked an idea to create a new business, COLO families, with business partner Aaron Li. This nurse-led enterprise helps new parents adjust to parenthood from pregnancy to kindergarten by providing education and support every step of the way.

Imanoff, whose doctoral research focuses on the family experience of perinatal mental health and birth trauma, finds that participating in an experiential learning program allows her to pursue her passion for research while supporting her community. Doing research for both her degree and her business has given her hands-on experience that has improved her academic and entrepreneurial life, making both more grounded.

Last year, Imanoff participated in the Catalyze program as a business owner. After seeing how much value the assigned graduate student brought to the business from their Catalyze learnings, she registered for the program as a graduate student participant to broaden her skill set. Although Imanoff has always felt she had strong communication and management skills, being a part of the Catalyze program has led to growth in both those areas.

I am learning so much about management styles and the critical items needed to run a sustainable business with impact.

Skills are needed to create impact

Passion will get us to the door of change, but it is through hard work, focus and an open mindset that the door breaks open.

Like Imanoff, Namista Tabassum, an MBA student, finds her passion growing stronger. Taking part in Catalyze for a second year has solidified Tabassum’s desire to bring about social change through consulting with profit and not-for-profit organizations after completing her degree.

“I want to bring a social, co-operative, innovative mindset into big corporations to improve their social and sustainability initiatives so that they can be impactful while doing their normal business,” says Tabassum.

Tabassum has gained more confidence with stakeholder management, networking, and speaking to different people effectively, so much so that she has surprised herself with her increased ability to network.

“My competencies in client and stakeholder management have improved, as I have confidence in my capabilities. I can take risks, turn abstract concepts into implementable strategies, and hone my data analytics and research skills,” she says.

Tabassum is working with Dr. Tanvir Turin Chowdhury, PhD, on The Newcomer Project, an early-stage project aiming to create a repository of research around health and wellness targeted at ethnic communities and newcomers to Canada. It collaborates with these communities to create an impact so they are the primary beneficiaries.

Tarun Arya, a master's student in sustainable energy development working with LyfeMD found value in the Catalyze experience through the breadth of workshops available, in particular those that focus on personal growth and soft skill learning. Arya is bringing these skills to LyfeMD, which provides personalized, medically proven and evidence-based nutrition and wellness advice.

To date Catalyze has partnered with 51 local ventures from various industries including health care/wellness, sustainability/energy, immigration, art, gender equality, and business. The program is made possible with contributions from the Haskayne School of Business, RBC Foundation, United Way, Mitacs, and The Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Students also have benefited from knowledge, expertise, and access to space from partners all across the province including the Social Impact Lab, Platform Calgary, the Trico Changemakers Studio, Roundhouse Edmonton, and a number of generous entrepreneurs in the community.

Graduate students and staff are encouraged to learn more about Catalyze, and how the Faculty of Graduate Studies supports graduate student skill development

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