Pioneers for Change is the annual awards gala held by Skills For Change, celebrating the outstanding achievements of immigrants in our community. There are six award categories, including Arts, Social Impact, Leadership, Youth, and Entrepreneurship.

For over thirty five years, Skills for Change has selected exemplary members from our community, who have not only found success as newcomers, but who have also helped shape the identity of our city and continue to make it a better place.  

This year, Pioneers for Change will again celebrate the achievements of six outstanding individuals across diverse backgrounds and skill sets.

We’re proud to announce this year’s award recipients:

Lifetime Achievement Award (Arts) – Denham Jolly

Denham Jolly is a Jamaican-Canadian author, civil rights activist, publisher, broadcaster and businessman. He is the author of the acclaimed book “In The Black: My Life” and was president of Milestone Communications, a radio broadcasting in Toronto which was owned and operated by Black Canadians. Last year, Mr. Jolly was the recipient of the prestigious Toronto Book Award for “In The Black”.

Jolly is also proactive about protecting civil rights, having been an active member of different activist organizations and having served as a member of the Black Action Defence Committee.



Excellence in Arts – Paola Gomez

Paola Gomez is a renowned author, arts facilitator and trained human rights lawyer.  Gomez is involved in such causes as ending violence against women and forced migration. Her works integrate arts, community engagement, and anti-oppressive frameworks. In 2017, Gomez was selected as a Toronto Cultural Leader by the Toronto Arts Council, and this year Paola has been nominated to a TOP 25 Canadian Immigrants.

She is also the co-founder of Sick Muse Arts Projects, an initiative with a focus on community arts and arts education. Sick Muse Arts Projects also facilitate workshops, using art to promote conversations about social justice in Canada and Latin America.





Excellence in Social Impact – Dr. Kwame McKenzie

Dr. Kwame McKenzie is the CEO of Wellesley Institute, a registered non-profit charity whose purpose is to advance urban health and to reduce health inequities. Dr. McKenzie is also a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and the Director of Health Equity at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health. He is a policy advisor, clinician and academic with over two-hundred papers and five books. He works across a broad spectrum to improve population health and health services.  

Dr. McKenzie is also a past BBC Radio presenter and columnist for the Guardian and Times-online. He holds an African Canadian Achievement Award for Science, the Dominican of Distinction Award, and is a former Harkness Fellow in Health Policy and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, (UK).





Women in Leadership – Svetlana Ratnikova


Svetlana Ratnikova was born in Moscow, Russia and immigrated to Canada after earning a degree from the University of Moscow in Marketing and Economics. Svetlana began her developing her confidence in leadership during her youth and went on to be considered one of the first female entrepreneurs in Moscow.

In Canada, Svetlana’s career began with a major market research firm. As her clients began to come from some of the largest companies in the world, she soon became an established headhunter in the pharmaceutical industry.

Svetlana now supports entrepreneurs, leaders, and professionals to help them achieve their career aspirations. She enjoys working directly with young people to help them explore their dreams of entrepreneurship and help them work towards bright and rewarding futures.



Excellence in Youth Leadership – Huda Idress

Huda Idress is the Founder and CEO of Dot Health, a real-time personal health data platform.

Idress has a background in engineering from the University of Toronto and professional experience with some of Toronto’s best-known startups including Wattpad, Wave, and Wealthsimple.

Idress has also been featured in The Globe and Mail, Metro News, CNBC, and Metro Morning, has been recognized amongst the Top 5 CEOs in Toronto Life and as a Top 25 Women of Influence in 2017. Huda serves on the Business Innovation and Development committee at the Sinai Health System and on the Canadian Federal Economic Strategy Table for Health and Biosciences.

Excellence in Entrepreneurship –  Aisha Addo

Aisha Addo is a graduate in Business Administration-Accounting, but her true passion and dedication lies in ensuring girls around the world are provided with the guidance and resources that help them identify their true purpose and calling to reach their full potential.

Addo has founded the Power To Girls Foundation, a non-profit organization to offer young girls mentors and role models. Addo is also the recipient of the Young Black and Gifted Award for Community Service and was also named a Black Diversity Group Role Model and One of 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada and among the 150 Black Women making history in Toronto.

DriveHER, the ride-sharing service for women by women, is her latest initiative and the next step in her journey to continue to empower and protect women.



Pioneers for Change takes place on Wednesday, June 20th at Skills for Change! Make sure to RSVP today and purchase your Early Bird tickets, only on sale until May 15th.

Support the outstanding achievements by immigrants and Skills For Change, celebrating thirty-six years of pioneering programs that respond to shifting immigration and workplace trends and lead to employment.

Find your tickets today at:

Skills for Change

791 St. Clair Ave West, Toronto


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