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Bank of Nova Scotia will spend $500-million over the next decade on a new program that aims to break down barriers to higher education and career advancement for “disadvantaged” groups.

The Toronto-based bank announced Tuesday the ScotiaRISE program will be centred on using funding and partnerships to increase graduation rates and postsecondary enrolment, help newcomers feel at home faster and secure meaningful employment and senior opportunities for underrepresented groups.

Dan Rees, Scotiabank’s group head of Canadian banking, said his company had long been considering launching a program like ScotiaRISE, but really got serious about the idea at the start of 2020.

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Then COVID-19 swept across Canada and the bank knew it couldn’t wait any longer.

“The importance of being resilient has been doubled and ... it felt especially important to be investing in education, inclusion and employment for young people and for newcomers from marginalized groups,” Mr. Rees said.

“Now is the time to emphasize optimism and hope and inclusion.”

Research has repeatedly shown that women, immigrants and others who are Indigenous, Black or have disabilities face more challenges when getting an education, and when they make it to the work force they tend to earn less and have a harder time ascending to top positions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated their struggles because many are taking on additional child-care responsibilities now that students are completing virtual schooling and others are seeing the industries they work in be desecrated by the virus.

With unemployment high, students and new graduates are seeing job opportunities shrink and starting careers become tougher.

ScotiaRISE plans to help them overcome some of their challenges by working with charities, not-for-profits and community initiatives providing tools needed to increase their likelihood of financial success.

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While the bank won’t be setting formal targets to measure its success with the program, Mr. Rees said it will annually review its progress to ensure its actions are having the intended effect.

The program will have a domestic and international focus so everyone from an internationally trained doctor seeking work in Toronto to a high-school graduate in Chile can be supported.

The bank said it wanted a wide reach because it has a large presence abroad, especially in Latin America.

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