Working in Nonprofits

People in Nonprofits

Shabnum Budhwani

Shabnum Budhwani
Age: 43 years
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Organization: Skills for Change
Position: Program Coordinator
Length of Service: 7 years

Shabnum Budhwani knows first hand the impact that Skills for Change can have on new Canadians who are looking for work. Before she started her career with the organization, she was a client.

Founded in 1982, Skills for Change (SfC) is a nonprofit organization that has pioneered programs for internationally trained professionals seeking employment in their field. With programs and services designed to fully integrate newcomers into the Canadian work environment, SfC helps new Canadians like Shabnum achieve their employment goals.

Shabnum is originally from Jamnagar, India, but she, her husband and two daughters immigrated to Canada from Dubai, in 1999. "We decided to move to Canada for a number of reasons," she says. "We heard that Canada was very welcoming to newcomers and that it was a safe place to raise a family. We also thought that in the long term there would be better opportunities for our daughters, who were 12 and 10 years old when we left Dubai, to pursue post-secondary education."

Like many new Canadians, Shabnum was eager to find a job. "Almost immediately after we landed I started to look for work," she recalls. "I saw a Skills for Change flier in a local employment office and after doing some research, I registered for a workshop designed to help clerical workers refine their skills. On the first day I still remember vividly, thinking that I'd love to work here and help people who were looking for work." After completing the workshop, Shabnum found a job in telemarketing because as she says, "it was the easiest type of job I could get." A month and a half later, she received a call from SfC, who had kept her resume on file from the workshop, inquiring if she would be interested in a position with a nonprofit organization. Two days later she found herself working at SfC as an administrative assistant.

Nearly seven years later, Shabnum is still working at SfC and is now the program coordinator for Teach in Ontario, providing assistance and support to internationally trained teachers to become certified and find teaching jobs in schools across the province. A few years ago, she was selected to participate in The Maytree Foundation's Leaders for Change Program. The program gives social activists and community leaders the opportunity to build on their leadership skills and to apply new knowledge and insights in small group work with community partners, with the hope of bringing about systemic change through action-based poverty reduction initiatives.

Shabnum can relate to the challenges that new Canadians face when looking for work. "The major hurdle is the lack of recognition of international credentials and experience. Employers always want to see relevant Canadian experience, but how can we get experience if no one will hire us?" She finds it ironic that employers are dealing with skills shortages when there are qualified people who want to work. "There are a lot of barriers and hoops to jump through, and that's frustrating for people who come to Canada and are willing and able to work."

Shabnum doesn't hesitate for a moment when asked what she finds most rewarding about working at SfC. "That's easy. It's the look on a client's face, a smile, or a hug, when they come to me and say that they've either started a training program or have found a job in their field. You can see the joy in their eyes, the excitement about the future and their ability to make a positive contribution to society."

In September, Shabnum's youngest daughter will begin her first year at York University, joining her older sister who is already in her third year of a Public Policy program at University of Toronto. "I look back at our time here and sometimes I can't believe how fortunate we are to have come to a country like Canada," says Shabnum. "It hasn't always been easy, but it is rewarding to have been able to find a job that I love, live in a wonderful community and see my children grow up and become active and contributing members of society."

For more information about Skills for Change, visit www.skillsforchange.org.

For more information about the Leaders for Change program, visit www.maytree.com.