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The important underlying theme of this year’s Celebrating Black Innovators, Founders and Leaders event was building a future with not for the Black community, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, equity, and inclusion.

Hosted at the Brookstreet Hotel, the gathering was more than a celebration; it was a call for collective action and empowerment within and beyond the Black community. The event was hosted by Invest Ottawa, Wesley Clover, the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, and Kanata North Business Association as a special Black History Month event with, and for, our ecosystem in partnership with Ottawa Tourism, OCOBIA, and the Ottawa Board of Trade.

The day kicked off with a showcase of Black-owned businesses and artists. Attendees explored booths of all kinds, from art to science and tech to culinary delights. Notable exhibitors included Cooking with Karly, offering cooking classes for individuals with special needs, Chng Mker Innovation Hub, The Badést Events, Vilsaint Design, Uma’s Sweets, and Charm’s Handmade Chocolates, known for its screen-printed chocolates with authentic African prints. This showcase wasn’t just a display of products and services but a testament to the diversity and innovation within the Black community.

Solange Tuyishime Keita, who is an international speaker as well as CEO and founder of Elevate International, and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, opened the event by highlighting the potential of increasing women’s representation in senior leadership roles, explaining that diversity at the top can lead to more equitable and inclusive organizations and societies.

The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) and the Ottawa CBCC Innovation Hub were spotlighted by Nikki Clarke, who emphasized the CBCC’s role as a national voice supporting Black business owners.

“Our intention is to be the national voice to support black business owners and help them scale and grow in a global market,” she said, underscoring the importance of community and collaboration in overcoming systemic barriers and achieving global market presence.

A panel discussion titled “Innovators at the Forefront: Pioneering Paths in Technology with Black Founders and Business Leaders” provided profound insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by Black innovators.

Moderated by Sue Odle, the panelists, who included Diane Watson of Nokia, Dominira Saul of, Emma Todd of MMH Technology Group, and Shav Hasfal-McIntosh of Wealthsimple, shared their personal journeys and the significance of diversity. Their stories highlighted the critical role of early support from parents and communities in nurturing curiosity and resilience against systemic challenges.

“It’s not just about diversity. The equity and inclusion piece is a bit harder for people to understand. It’s not just about bringing people in, it’s about ensuring the experience is equitable,” said Hasfal-McIntosh.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the day, emphasizing that true innovation and impact comes from not only inviting diversity into the room but also ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and succeed.

The day concluded with a panel discussion on “Empowering Main Street through Black Innovation, Leadership, and Creativity”, where Kevin Bourne shared his entrepreneurial journey and the opportunities he found in Ottawa.

“Ottawa is a place where you can have such an impact. It was such an important training ground for me. At the Critics Choice Awards, my colleague and I reflected – we started this at a dining table in Vanier. Diversity is everyone being at the same restaurant. Equity and inclusion means we can all afford the same meal.”

Also on the panel were Blessing Okundaye, the founder and CEO of Afrodeez Food and Education , Nikki Clarke, founder of the award-winning Nikki Clarke Show, a Global Speaker, and recipient of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women 2022. The panel reinforced the message that embracing one’s identity and leveraging community support can pave the way for groundbreaking achievements in business and beyond.

Building Our Future: Celebrating Black Innovators, Founders, and Leaders was a powerful demonstration of the talent, resilience, and entrepreneurial spirit within the Black community. It reminded attendees that building with—not for—encompasses understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by Black professionals and entrepreneurs.

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