A Chance Encounter + A Talented Immigrant = A Better Calgary for All

YMCA employees and supporters march in United Way 2014 "Do Good" Campaign Kickoff.
YMCA employees and supporters march in United Way 2014 “Do Good” Campaign Kickoff.

Ken Lima-Coelho is the Vice-President of Communications and Financial Development for YMCA Calgary. He attended United Way of Calgary and Area’s annual campaign kickoff on September 4, 2014. While there, he met a man named Saqib. Below is Ken’s story of their meeting…and how he was able to use his social network for good. As told to Felicia Zuniga.

I work for the YMCA of Calgary. United Way is a wonderful supporter of the work that we do so we look for every opportunity to celebrate the United Way. One of those opportunities is United Way’s annual kickoff parade and rally. Dr. Lucy Miller, United Way’s President and CEO, hosted a great rally, and afterwards my team and I went outside to enjoy lunch.

A gentleman walked up to me and said he was a new immigrant and wanted to know what I did. He was from Pakistan originally and had only been in Calgary for three weeks. He made it very clear that he was looking for work; he said he was a chartered accountant with five years of oil and gas experience. I thought it was very smart for him to be out networking, especially at an event that brings together different people from the community. So, I gave him my business card and told him to keep in touch.

Within an hour he had sent me his resume, and asked if he could discuss job tips and job hunting with me. I wanted to help him because I love doing my part in building a great city for all and I love to help newcomers, which is also a big part of what we do at the YMCA. I followed up on Facebook, because I use social media to tell stories. I asked if anyone knew of anyone hiring accountants. Within 10 minutes I received a message from a friend who happens to be a Controller and VP of Finance at a big oil company in Calgary. He said he might have a couple of leads and did I have the man’s contact information? I said I have one better; I have his resume, so I fired it off to him. I let Saqib know that I had passed his resume on.

A couple of weeks went by and then my friend, the controller, contacted me to let me know they hired Saqib on a contract and that he had started on October 1st! The punchline is that I am a first-generation Calgarian, born and raised in this city, but my parents came here from East Africa. They left Uganda 45 years ago, in a rush of people who escaped so they wouldn’t be killed by Idi Amin (former dictator of Uganda). The immigrant experience is a lived experience for me. My parents came to this country and made opportunities for themselves, just like Saqib. My mom’s first job was cleaning toilets. They made their own opportunities, but people gave them a chance. It’s good on the people of our city to give newcomers a chance.  Saqib had the qualifications and my friend realized that he was smart enough to come to a community event and work the crowd. Saqib has now been employed for almost a month, only a few weeks after he arrived in Calgary.

This was a great unexpected consequence of the annual United Way parade and rally. That the YMCA, United Way and other community organizations were able to bring together a group of people and do some good. Saqib of course informed me just after my friend did that he got a job and then he invited me over for dinner to say thanks. I look forward to having the dinner with him soon. And then I hope that one day Saqib will also pay it forward; it’s what we do in this good city.

KEN’S UPDATE: Saqib has since gained his equivalent Chartered Accountant designation in Alberta. Ken also heard from his friend, who is now Saqib’s employer, that he is working out very well with the company and that they are very pleased with his work and commitment. A true happy ending!

 UNITED WAY CHALLENGE: This year United Way is challenging all Calgarians to think about how they can “do good” in their own sphere of influence. Is there any way, big or small, that you could be better supporting those around you? Is there more you can do to be #united4yyc? Tell us your story on Twitter @UnitedWayCgy or through email at media@calgaryunitedway.org.