Rise is a micro-finance fund that is a collaboration between the Rotman School of Management and CAMH. We provide micro-financing and mentorship to entrepreneurs who've had a history of mental health or addiction challenges.
I started my studies at the University of Toronto in computer engineering, thinking I would become a programmer, but it never synched with me, so I switched to electrical to be a little bit more general. From there I wanted to do something a bit different and found the Jeffrey Skoll Program at U of T, which combines an engineering degree with an MBA that you apply for in your third year of engineering.
Engineering teaches you a really great skill set - problem solving, math, analytical skills - but I wanted to develop the "softer" skills to complement that: the networking, finance and marketing skills that would allow me to do something more innovative or unique.
A lot of people get an MBA to go into investment banking, management consulting or research in capital markets - careers like that. When I entered into my MBA, I didn't know what I wanted to do. One summer I interned at CIBC, doing a rotation between investment banking and merchant banking. I realized it wasn't a fit, so I did a 180 by going not-for-profit and later moving to Africa.
After graduation I went to Burkina Faso, Mali and Côte d'Ivoire and worked in micro-finance. I was able to apply the general skill set I'd gained from the MBA in different areas of the local organization where I was working. My big project was a migration of their information systems, and I also worked on the financial back end of the organization.
To work in micro-finance, you need a strong financial background as well as empathy. You need that piece. Micro-finance agencies and organizations focus on both the social and financial outcome, a blending, so you really need to have a balance of those two.
We have a number of challenges as an agency as well: the stigma of mental illness is huge, so to continue trying to do the work we do, we need to be able to help people feel comfortable. We have found that entrepreneurship encourages a shift to a new and empowering identity.
When I left for Africa, a lot of people were initially giving me very confused looks: "Are you sure you want to do this? Don't you want a mainstream job?" I think it was out of the norm for most graduates.
I do see that changing. A lot more students are interested in social finance, micro-finance and impact investing. Some people are saying the next generation really want careers in something that's meaningful, something that's more than 9-to-5.