It can be hard to be Black in Canadian tech. According to a 2019 report from the Brookfield Institute, only 2.6 per cent of tech workers in Canada were Black. There are even fewer Black founders—and those who do exist struggle to access funding, as the government of Ontario acknowledged earlier this year when it announced a partnership with Ryerson University DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs, which supports Black entrepreneurs across the country.
But these five founders aren’t just making it work, they’re also innovating to improve life for their communities—and all Canadians.
JONAH CHININGA - MICC FINANCIAL - CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI
Rotational savings, where groups pool their money into a collective pot and take turns withdrawing from it to pay for things like education, home improvements or startup seed money, are a common financial tool for people in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, but MICC
Financial founder Jonah Chininga is reimagining this concept for a cashless and data-driven society.
“We saw a need to bring these rotational savings groups online, automate the process and use the on-time payments to enhance the member’s credit history and ultimately improve access to the financial system,” he says. What’s more, the app’s long-term influence can be powerful.
“MICC can expand financial access in communities of colour to reduce the dependency on predatory lending. We need to encourage sustainable financial habits such as saving more, building good credit, and holding each other accountable to achieve our goals.”
TAMAR HUGGINS, TECH SPARK - TORONTO, ONT.
In 2012, Huggins started Canada’s first tech accelerator for BIPOC founders, but it wasn’t long before she realized that to create a deeper impact, she needed to encourage youth to see themselves as potential founders. Huggins shifted the organization’s focus from adults to young people, especially those often given up on by institutions.
“The lens in which we do our work is through anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and culturally responsive pedagogy,” Huggins says. “What that means is we take what institutions have stripped in terms of culture, and educational institutions, and we’re putting it back. As we’re training teachers on the hows and whys of teaching through a lens that is equitable, it promotes liberation, equity and engagement among our students.”
CHARLES F. MILTON, BURSITY - HALIFAX, N.S.
Bursity is a web app that connects marginalized students with scholarships and post-secondary recruitment opportunities and, in the process, helps them overcome two barriers to accessing higher education: cost and the often confusing application processes. Founder Charles F. Milton came up with the idea after he went back to school as a mature student. “We believe we can help lower hurdles to higher learning for marginalized folks and actually help change the fabric of society across North America,” he says.
ANTHONIA OGUNDELE, ETHÓS LAB - SURREY, B.C.
It all started when Anthonia Ogundele was trying to find extracurricular activities focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for her daughter. She soon realized it was extremely difficult to find options that also acknowledged her daughter as Black. So she decided to do something about it. She launched Ethós Lab, a Black-led organization that offers STEM and culture-focused programming for Black youth with the slogan: where Hogwarts meets Wakanda. “I think Ethós is important to the overall landscape of Canada because it is a Black-led organization positioning Black people as leaders in spaces of innovation,” Ogundele says.
NADIA HAMILTON, MAGNUSMODE - TORONTO, ONT.
Growing up, Nadia Hamilton used to draw step-by-step guides to everyday tasks, like brushing his teeth, for her autistic brother Troy so he could be more independent. But what began as an act of love has transformed into an accessibility movement powered by technology and dedicated to removing the barriers that affect an individual’s ability to thrive in society. Her company, Magnusmode, creates products and services for people with cognitive disabilities, including digital versions of the guides she used to draw for her brother on topics including getting a library card, taking the bus and even exploring an exhibit at the zoo.
“There’s an extreme lack of support and services to help people with autism navigate their lives, beyond the home and in the home as well,” Hamilton says. “There are millions of people impacted across Canada, and every single one of those individuals are supported by parents, siblings and caregivers. By serving one person, you’re effectively making the lives of a group of people easier and more fulfilling.”
Published one year after the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing global reckoning over anti-Black racism, the Time for Change special report is intended to amplify the voices of Black leaders, while shedding light on the work that still needs to be done to combat systemic inequalities across infrastructure, employment and other facets of daily life.