One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, according to Health Canada. The remaining four will know someone who does. Despite statistical evidence that demonstrates the prevalence of mental illness, individuals with these challenges continue to face stigma and discrimination. Those with a mental health or addiction challenge face extremely high rates of underemployment and unemployment (Statistics Canada, 2002). Meaningful work and control over one’s productivity – what forms the core of self-identity and membership in society – is denied to a large segment of the population.
While lost taxes, labour and medical expenditures are costly to Canadian society, the denial of the right to self-determination can be detrimental to the individual. At Rise Asset Development (Rise) we are working to address the barriers that exist in acquiring and maintaining employment through entrepreneurship.
Youth face unique challenges
Youth in Canada may find themselves at an intersection of unique challenges: those aged 15-24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than other age groups (Statistics Canada, 2003), and the unemployment rate is double that of the national average, at 17.4% (Statistics Canada, 2011). Recognizing the need for well-targeted support for this population, we created a new program at Rise Asset Development through funding from the Government of Ontario. The Youth Small Business Program enables youth to become active members of their community and economy through comprehensive, hands-on, skills-based programming.
Collaboration benefits would-be entrepreneurs
Rise Asset Development, a Rotman/CAMH financial initiative, provides access to microfinancing and business support to entrepreneurs with a history of mental health or addictions challenges. In 2009, philanthropist Sandra Rotman recognized the untapped potential of this population and founded Rise. By bringing together the respective skillsets of the Rotman School of Management (at the University of Toronto) and the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH), Rise identified entrepreneurship as an appropriate strategy to overcome the challenges facing this population.Rise entrepreneur, Sally Wilkie (Rise Program Manager), John Trainor (Rise Board Member), Sandra Rotman (Rise Board Member, Donor), Rise entrepreneur, Hon. Eric Hoskins (Minister of Children and Youth Services), Narinder Dhami (Rise Executive Director), Rod Lohin (Rise Board Member), Rise entrepreneur, Rise entrepreneur. Photography credit: BABAK Inc. www.babak.ca
Rise entrepreneurs are at the intersection of the following groups: people who currently have (or have had) mental health and/or addiction challenges; people who are unable to access mainstream financing from banks due to a lack of credit history or hiccups in their financial history; and people who are interested in self-employment. A significant number within this group are on government supports, such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works (OW).
By providing access to capital, mentorship and business support, Rise empowers individuals to maximize their skills and take control of their productivity. The organization recognizes the interdependency of financial well-being to one’s quality of life, and strives to enable individuals to move beyond their mental illness or addictions challenge through meaningful work.
New opportunities on the horizon
Beginning in September 2012, Rise will deliver business training, mentorship and opportunities for microfinancing to an inaugural “class” of youth aged 16-29, as part of our new Youth Small Business Program. This program builds on the success of the microfinance and mentorship model at Rise.
Based on The Small Business Program for Regent Park & Neighbouring Communities and curated by Rotman Designworks – the Rotman School’s centre for Business Design education – the youth small business program will consist of group projects, innovative lessons and interactive learning activities. It will be delivered by Rotman alumnae, business leaders and Rise staff, and will connect young entrepreneurs with real-life experiences and diverse industry knowledge.
Narinder Dhami is the executive director of Rise Asset Development. She is responsible for overall program operations and fiscal management among other duties. Prior to joining Rise, she helped to incubate the project as an Associate within the Michael Lee-Chin Institute of Corporate Citizenship at the Rotman School of Management, where she received a Master of Business Administration. She currently co-chairs Toronto for Acumen, an official chapter of the Acumen Fund.
Narinder will also be one of the panelists at the upcoming Movie Screening and Panel discussion on microfinance on Oct 10 in Toronto.