Creating inclusive spaces: A conversation for Black History Month
Since 2008, Canada has officially recognized February as Black History Month. Initially recognized by the House of Commons in 1995, Black History Month was intended as a way to celebrate the history of Black achievement in Canada as a whole, with a special nod to Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to parliament.
Today, Black History Month is recognized across Canada as a way to reflect on the history of Black Canadians and to celebrate the achievements of Black individuals and community groups who have contributed to the richness of culture and diversity across our country.
In Canada, Black-owned businesses make up about 2.4% of all businesses in the country. Comparatively, Alberta may seem further ahead in the journey to inclusion, with Black-owned businesses accounting for 12.6% of businesses in the province, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done.
The Calgary Chamber sat down with two Black-owned and operated businesses to explore their journey as entrepreneurs in a city known for supporting a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Assistance and allyship
Road Aider, a roadside assistance mobile app, was developed after Co-Founder Temi Okesanya had a minor accident on Deerfoot Trail in the middle of winter a few years ago. He says he spent days on the phone trying to find a tow truck to retrieve his vehicle. He thought that there must be a better way and promptly began working on a solution.
“I realized how broken the system was. Most of the big companies had their wait times at 72 hours, meaning no one could come help me. The process was manual – you go online looking for tow trucks around you and you’re communicating with so many people, it leads to long wait times,” Temi recalls. “You have no idea where the person is. Pricing is astronomical because they know you are desperate. And when help comes, you don’t know what skills and experience they will bring with them.”
Rather than letting his frustration knock him down, he used it as motivation to bring an idea to life. “I realized there was a huge gap in the market.” From there, Temi began developing his idea and co-founded Road Aider.
“The pain points for the customer were simple—they need service and they need it fast,” says Temi, noting that many independent service providers struggle to compete with bigger organizations.
Offering independent service providers an avenue to connect with people who need assistance is what drives Temi and his team. “We help people in need, that’s a big motivation for me.”
Road Aider does this with limited overhead, by not owning any tow trucks of their own, but instead providing a crowd-sourced database of available, independent service providers to their members. This model has worked well for the company, and they are planning rapid expansion across the prairies with longer-term growth across Canada and beyond.
Despite his success, Temi has faced his own set of challenges. “I was able to raise funding, but we received less than five per cent investor funding in 2023. As a Black entrepreneur, we have found it more difficult to find funding.”
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion, Temi says, is a key factor in supporting the Black community. “Organizations must foster mentoring programs to support Black employees and ensure equal career opportunities,” he says, noting Black organizations exist that partner with organizations on mentoring programs.
“Black History Month is vital because it fosters awareness, celebrates diversity and promotes inclusivity. It provides an opportunity to acknowledge the historic contributions of black individuals and encourages businesses to actively engage in creating inclusive environments. It contributes to a more culturally aware and socially responsible business community.”
But Temi notes this work shouldn’t be confined to just one month. “You can offer regular check-ins and encourage advocacy and allyship. We need more people talking about our community and helping bring our issues to light, not just during February, but throughout the entire year.”
Education and engagement
The ideation of Kazir Coulibaly’s consulting firm sparked on the Ivory Coast during his tenure as a software engineer.
“A strong desire to contribute to communities emerged within me,” says Kazir. “Beyond focusing solely on the software's impact on company profits, I contemplated its potential effects on interested parties. This led me to initiate projects aimed at enhancing communities. When one seeks to give meaning to their life, the commitment to improving situations becomes a constant pursuit of doing one's best.”
In 2019, Kazir Consulting Inc. came to life here in Calgary, with service offerings including strategic planning, digital transformation and training to start-ups, small-to-medium sized organizations and non-profits.
“We stay informed on industry trends and seek client feedback which helps gauge adaptability,” explains Kazir. “Balancing problem-solving and being customer-centric is crucial, so we address client issues with innovative solutions while prioritizing the client's needs and expectations throughout the process.”
Through their customer-centric approach, Kazir Consulting Inc. has boosted their B2B client base by nearly 30 per cent, expanding their reach into Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec and Vancouver. Even with success here at home, Kazir is eager to grow his firm’s expertise across more industries, plans to grow his firm’s presence abroad through a sister-city relationship with a hands-on training program, and is eager to start opening an institute for continuing education.
Kazir recognizes the barriers in business that are unique to the Black community, but feels they can be reduced through supporting Black business leaders. He offered a list of ways people can do this – “Attend events, engage with posts on social media, ask questions and share your thoughts, share your knowledge and be a mentor.”