Welcome to Skills for Change’s Spotlight Series: An in-depth look and discussion all around relevant issues of today, moderated by our CEO Surranna Sandy.

Check out our promo video for our Spotlight Series!

Next Event: January 2023, look out for updates!

Breaking the COVID-19 Pandemic Stigma: Addressing Anti-Asian Racism

Anti-Black Racism: A Year in Review and the Launch of the Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change

The past year was challenging, rife with incidents seen and experienced on a global scale, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest in various parts of the world, and heightened racism in many forms. It was in this social and political backdrop that the heinous murder of George Floyd was committed by a police officer and viewed worldwide on 25 May 2020. This sparked a global outrage on Anti-Black Racism and bringing it forcibly to the attention of the world. The growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Anti-Black Racism protests, and the many recorded incidents of Anti-Blackness, prompted many organizations to pledge support for the Black community. To address and combat Anti-Black Racism, Skills for Change’s Spotlight Series was introduced, creating a convening platform to examine the issues plaguing the Black community and the BIPOC community in general.

One year later, these critical discussions have come full circle, reviewing the tumultuous year since the public outrage against Anti-Black Racism, and the related actions and changes. Despite much-committed support, there has been a lack of follow-through on plans and initiatives that were committed and undertaken in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the Anti-Black Racism protests. “We have these conversations. There is a lot of talks, but the initiatives and actions that need to take place are slow to happen. We need to have more conversations that can actually move us in the direction that we need to go,” stated Kim Borden Penney, President of Penney Consulting Services Inc. and Ph. D Candidate at the University of Toronto.

In agreement, Dr. Wesley Crichlow, Critical Race Theory Intersectional Scholar and criminology professor, noted how the Black Community had been a subject of enough studies and reports, highlighting the need for action. “We have been overstudied. We don’t need any more reports. We have over 40 or 50 studies in Canada on the Black community. We need to talk about implementing these recommendations,” Dr. Crichlow said, “An audit should be undertaken of the recommendations that have been implemented from these reports done. We need to look back at them and find a constructive, strategic way to implement them.” He further noted, “Anti-Black Racism denies Black people their humanity since enslavement. The program should be an opportunity to also discuss what Historian Saidiya Hartman terms the “afterlife of slavery,” and the concepts informing dehumanization. Which continues to limit Black people’s life chances.”

Key studies have also identified how racial barriers faced by Black people have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, propelling key issues surrounding Anti-Black Racism into the limelight. While the awareness is a welcomed change with increased attention and pledges of support, these systemic barriers still exist for Black people and Black-led organizations. Access to funding for Black-led organizations, for instance, is limited, with many Black-led organizations still struggling to get access to funds even after huge commitments and pledges made to the Black community and Black-owned businesses by companies, organizations and government entities, “Even though funding is being designated, there are still barriers to Black-led organizations getting funding,” Dean Delpeache, Director, Consulting, Strasity & Director of Talent and Diversity, Fiix Software noted, “There are a lot of non-profits out there, Black organized, and they have been putting in applications for grants to receive funds based upon them having 50% Black leadership etc., and are still not able to access funding. We need to see barriers come down as it relates to who can get access to funding.”

To effect change, these discussions culminated into the launch of the Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change program, Skills for Change’s new leadership development program for the Black community, funded by the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and Accenture. Claire Barcik, Executive Director of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation stated, “A recent study showed how little funding is going to Black-led and Black serving organizations and we hope to be among those changing that by funding the Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change initiative because it felt so relevant, and it was addressing a community need and interest. This program champions Black-led community action and support for a leadership change.”

The Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change was the highlight of the Spotlight Series session, it provided a tangible pathway to support the Black community to advance and create community leaders who will eventually lead programs or initiatives that will benefit their communities. Applauding the launch, Sophia Lormeus, Business and Technology Integration, SAP Talent & HR at Accenture, noted, “I think one of the things that we need to do is invest in our communities, but not just on the surface. We really need to tackle education in various ways, for instance, we can start by changing curriculums so that there is better awareness of what is the history and what is the current situation,” Sophia Lormeus said, “It would mean investing in making sure certain pockets of our population have access to education and the tools they need to be able to learn. So, the Black community has the opportunity to thrive like everyone else.”

The engaging Spotlight Series discussion was inspirational and showed the commitment needed to create systemic change in addressing Anti-Black Racism with the launch of the Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change. It marked a renewed dawn in the fight for racial justice, and in solidarity and commitment, there was a wide consensus that a lot still needs to be done and the new initiative launched marked a start to changing the status quo. The Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change program is scheduled to start on Monday July 26th, 2021. Program info-sessions are ongoing and registrations for enrollment can be sent to bcap@skillsforchange.org.

For over 38 years, Skills for Change has supported the integration and well-being of immigrants and refugees in Canada. For more information, please visit www.skillsforchange.org, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

And for more information about the Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change, please contact Kimberly Clarke, Supervisor, Programs and Services (Black Community Access and Programming) at kclarke@skillsforchange.org.

COVID-19 & Anti-Black Racism: A Double-Edged Sword for Black Entrepreneurs

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods. It has shed a spotlight on all inequities and exacerbated the already longstanding systemic barriers through the glare of systemic racism and in particular, Anti-Black Racism and related inequities in employment, resources and wealth that have further compounded socioeconomic inequities. The extreme experiences of Anti-Black Racism have brought to the fore, the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the world calling out Anti-Black Racism, raising heightened awareness about the rights of Black people and Black communities. This February, as we honor Black History Month, reflecting on the profound traumas of Black History and honoring the remarkable contributions and struggles of Black Canadians, it is a watershed moment to acknowledge the tremendous work still needed to address Anti-Black Racism. It is also an opportunity to discuss the challenges caused by the pandemic unique to Black entrepreneurs, who, over the years, have strengthened the Canadian economy and labour market.

Research has shown that the Black Canadian population across Canada has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Canadians face higher rates of unemployment and are over-represented in the industries like food and accommodation services that are most affected by the pandemic. They are also over-represented in precarious employment in jobs that are at the greatest risk in the work of the future. Research has also shown that Black people are pursuing self-employment and entrepreneurship due to the negative experiences in the workplace caused by explicit racism, discrimination and microaggressions, and exclusion from employment.

The pandemic has been a harsh blow to Black entrepreneurs adversely affecting the scale and revenue of their businesses. Black entrepreneurs have faced financial losses and challenges, the urgent need to invest in digitization to balance their stalled offline and physically based business activities with online business, the lack of a stable customer-base exacerbated by the physical distancing norms and series of lockdowns causing many businesses to shut down. Many Black entrepreneurs have also faced financial exclusion due to biases at financial institutions making accessible financing a major hurdle for their businesses. In sum, Black entrepreneurs have been sidelined by the systemic discrimination embedded in the institutions in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, ranging from education, finance, business support, incubators and accelerators, and government funding. Moreover, there is also a lack of support in the ecosystem in the form of encouragement, mentorship, sponsorship, and access to networks and information.

With the pandemic paralyzing Black-owned businesses, this has taken a mental health toll on Black entrepreneurs. Black women entrepreneurs have been hardest hit faced with more disruptions in their businesses, picking up more of the childcare and household responsibilities. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020, it gave visibility to some Black-owned businesses through the Buy Black-owned campaigns but many continue to struggle to stay afloat. These unique struggles of Black entrepreneurs have led to the federal government extending aid to qualifying Black entrepreneurs. Questions still arise: is this enough? What policies should be put in place to deconstruct systems that help perpetuate Anti-Black Racism? Can more loans truly help businesses already experiencing financial constraints?

As Canada gears up for a reset, key discussions should be on how to build a more equitable future for Black entrepreneurs and providing for the right business ecosystems that can mitigate or negate the effects of structural obstacles to business building for Black business owners. The economic recovery policies should also take on board provisions to support Black-owned businesses and empower Black entrepreneurs to become more resilient and equipped to offset entrepreneurial challenges.

On February 23, Skills for Change’s Spotlight Series had a panel to discuss challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the existing Anti-Black Racism and its magnified impact on Black-owned businesses and the economy. The session highlighted how Black entrepreneurs are tackling the unique challenges to keep businesses afloat and explore ways to create sustainable change and a lasting legacy for Black entrepreneurs to succeed and thrive. The session brings together business leaders, innovators and changemakers to discuss solutions and policies to support Black-owned businesses and create an equitable ecosystem. It also called for concerted efforts by public-, private-, and social-sector organizations to address Anti-Black Racism and the racial inequality and social injustice it spews and how to close that gap.

Wes Hall, Executive Chairman & Founder, Kingsdale Advisors and Founder and Chairman, The Black North Initiative

Karima-Catherine Goundiam, Founder & CEO, Red Dot Digital Inc. & B2BeeMatch

Isaac Olowolafe Jr., Founder & General Partner, Dream Maker Ventures

Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo, CEO, Simply Ejibola Inc. & Founder of de Sedulous Women Leaders

Dean Delpeache, Director, Consulting, Strasity & Director of Talent and Diversity, Fiix Software

Moderator: Surranna Sandy, CEO, Skills for Change

COVID-19's Impact on Canadian Immigration, Settlement and the future of the Canadian Labour Market

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on the immigration and settlement sector in Canada, and far worse disproportionate impacts on immigrants and refugees. The pandemic has also blurred Canada’s international reputation as a world leader with respect to immigrant and refugee resettlement, especially since the last few years had witnessed an influx of immigrants from around the world who had revitalized the Canadian economy in terms of labour force, productivity and culture. With immigrants and refugees filling gaps in Canada’s labour force, the Canadian economy has significantly become dependent on their expertise, resources and experience. The pandemic has negated this progress, creating an unprecedented crisis posing critical threats to the social and economic well-being of immigrants and refugees with long-term repercussions for their settlement and the future of the Canadian labour market.

Public health measures and restrictions on international travel to combat the spread of the coronavirus resulted in a 26% decline in Canadian immigration numbers in March 2020 causing a sudden jolt to the economy and labour market. The confinement measures necessary to protect public health have also resulted in a negative shock to the Canadian labour market. OECD reports a drop in employment of over 1 million in March 2020, followed by a further decline of 2 million in April 2020.The employment loss from February to April (-15.7%) far exceeded declines observed in previous labour market downturns, and further escalated Employment Insurance claims. The hardest-hit population were racialized minorities, immigrants and refugees, who were further impacted due to systemic barriers of racism, language and gender. Previous Spotlight Series have covered in greater detail the pandemic’s impact on newcomers, immigrants and refugees.

Questions about the future of work have also been pertinent, with forecasts that automation will likely accelerate in a post-COVID-19 labour market having different spatial impacts across Canada.Undoubtably, immigrants are more negatively impacted by these changes and all the economic fallout due to the pandemic. In addition to increased unemployment and the role of international travel in the initial spread of the pandemic, there is increased risk of a backlash in public opinion against immigrants.

These social and economic implications have put a strain on Canada’s immigration and settlement sector. The 2021 – 2023 immigration plans developed by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada considers the changing scenario of COVID-19 and its consequences on immigration numbers.As we constantly gear to adapt, it is essential to address the economic, social, and cultural impact of the pandemic on immigration and the labour market to rebuild opportunities and spaces for immigrants and refugees. Efforts to revive the sector and support Canada’s economic recovery and growth includes increased immigration levels to support a stronger economy. This immigration boom will require enhanced capacity for the sector to provide comprehensive services to all immigrants and refugees to seamlessly integrate in Canada and contribute to Canada’s economic growth. This will also include concerted efforts to combat systemic racism.

On January 26, Skills for Change CEO Surranna Sandy amongst a panel of experts discussed the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian Immigrants and refugees, the impact on the immigrant and refugee settlement sector and the implications on the future of the Canadian labour market. The session highlights solutions on equipping the Canadian labour market to create equal opportunities for immigrants and refugees eliminating major obstacles from their journey in Canada. The discussion also covered concerted efforts and policies required to future proof the sector’s resilience and bring everyone together to tackle the socio—economic impacts of the pandemic in the sector.


Adwoa K. Buahene – CEO, TRIEC

Carl Cadogan – CEO, Reception House Waterloo Region

Prof. John Shields – Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Pedro Barata – Executive Director, Future Skills Centre

Francisco Rico-Martinez – Co-Director, FCJ Refugee Centre

Pathways to an Equitable Reset

Women, and in particular, racialized newcomers, immigrants and refugees have borne the catastrophic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. These racialized women communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to already longstanding systemic barriers. These include the effects of systemic racism, such as employment inequity, inequitable distribution of power, wealth, and resources resulting into high rates of poverty, and lack of access to basic needs such as health care, housing, food as well as lack of resources and tools for internet connectivity.

Women’s participation in the workforce has also regressed, with many women leaving work to shoulder the burden of unpaid care work at home, while those earning the lowest wages in the most precarious sectors continue to serve at the frontlines of the pandemic. As a result, this crisis has been described as a She-cession, uprooting the gendered progress made on gender equality and women economic empowerment. Our September Spotlight Series extensively covered these issues and much more.

We now stand at a pivotal moment to seize the opportunity and join forces to address the challenges before us, to map out and consolidate integrated intersectional policy measures that have been identified to address the disproportionate challenges faced by women, particularly in the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities, while addressing any gaps to avoid going back to “business as usual” and conversely, “building back better”.

Take a look at our Spotlight Series diving deeper into the COVID-19 Pandemic’s impact on BIPOC Women. Thank you to Surranna Sandy, CEO of Skills for Change for moderating the panel and Thank to you all our panelists:

– Dr. Jill Andrew, MPP, Toronto-St. Paul’s

– Maya Roy, CEO, YWCA Canada

– Carmina Ravanera, Research Associate, Institute for Gender & The Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman’s School of Management

– Chanel Grenaway, Principal, Chanel Grenaway & Associates

COVID-19 Pandemic's impact on BIPOC Women

Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.
Policy Brief by the UN Secretary-General
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global health crisis posing grave threats to human life, and far-reaching consequences of major economic disruptions. Notably, the crisis has negatively impacted immigrants, newcomers and refugees more disproportionately than others, with a lack of means to sustain themselves, to look for work or integrate into the society, as well as placing major obstacles in the ways of skills development. With the social distancing and eventual lockdowns, these marginalized communities have continued to be isolated, which has also taken a great toil on their mental health.
Within this group, perhaps, women bear the burden the most and are the most marginalized, carrying the heavy responsibility of child care, and yet they are also faced with systemic issues such as gender pay gaps etc., Women are also more often involved in part-time work, as well as sectors that were affected early on in the pandemic. Statistics Canada reported that 1.5 Million women lost their jobs over in March and April due to the pandemic.
Since the onset of COVID-19, there has also been an unprecedented rise in domestic violence against women and a spotlight on mental health due to the stigma, isolation and inability to interact with other people. Additionally, women have continued to suffer unduly as most of them serve as frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. These challenges have resulted in a loss in confidence. If key actions are not taken now, the gender gap will continue to widen beyond COVID-19.
On September 15, Skills for Change CEO, Surranna Sandy led the discussions on the pandemic impacts of COVID-19 on women, highlighting the key challenges faced by women especially the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The discussion covered solutions being put in place to alleviate these challenges as well as additional support being made available to women to counter these obstacles. The panel also examined the feminist approach being taken by government to bring about gender equality, social and economic recovery.
Thanks to our panelists:
Nneka MacGregor, Co-founder and Executive Director of Women’s Centre for Social Justice
Sunder Singh, Executive Director, Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women
Wendy Cukier, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy and Academic Director of the Diversity Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Management Ryerson University
Sultana Jahangir, Executive Director, South Asian Womens’ Rights Organization
Priyanka Sheth, Interim Executive Director, Sistering

Tackling Anti-Black Racism as a Public Health Crisis

This is our fourth workshop on Tackling Anti-Black Racism as a Public Health Crisis.

This session was held virtually on August 4, 2020 with 100+ participants.

Our speaker:

Liben Gebremikael, First Executive Director, TAIBU Community Health Centre

Anti-Black Racism and its impact on the LGBTQ2S+ Community

This is our third workshop on Anti-Black Racism and its impact on the LGBTQ2S+ Community.

This session was held virtually on July 14, 2020 with 100+ participants.

Our speakers:

Dr. Wesley Crichlow, first past Associate Dean of Equity, Chair of the President Equity Taskforce, Professor and Director for Engagement and Recruitment for Youth in Foster Care Pathways to University

Kim Borden Penney, President, Penney Consulting Services Inc.

Anti-Black Racism in the City of Toronto

This is our second workshop on Confronting Anti-Racism in the City of Toronto.

This session was held virtually on June 30, 2020 with 200+ participants.

Our speakers:

Anthony N. Morgan, Manager, Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit at the City of Toronto

Aina-Nia Ayo’dele Grant, Director of Community Resources at the City of Toronto

Unconscious Bias and Anti-Black Racism Workshop

Hear from our HR expert panel who will speak to their lived experiences and deep dive into the microaggressions and larger biases black individuals face in the workplace; and what the HR community and allies need to do to ensure equity and fairness to eliminate anti-black racism at work.

This session was held virtually on June 23, 2020 with over 100+ participants.

Our Speakers:

Dean Delpeache, Sr.Manager of Talent Acquisition at FIIX Software

Nicole Pitt, HR Engagement Lead at Kinross Gold Corporation

Nadisha Berry, HR Specialist at Skills for Change