Tasnim Jaisee, a student in USask’s College of Arts and Science, pitched recommendations for supporting small- and medium-sized businesses owned by BlPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) entrepreneurs during the Thinkathon Online Challenge on Jan. 22, 2021. Her teammates included students from other universities in Canada and England, and their project placed second among more than 200 projects.
“We were excited, but also very content, that our hard work had been worth it,” said Jaisee. “We worked long hours on this project over the span of three months, simultaneously having to balance coursework and work hours, so it was a very pleasant conclusion to the competition journey.”
At the end of the month, the students will present their policy and program to European and Canadian policy-makers as part of the closing event for the thinkathon.
The Thinkathon Online Challenge was open to young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 from Canada and Europe with an interest in helping to build a modern and digitally inclusive society based on one of the following topics: racism, health, climate change, gender equality, and education.
Jaisee and her team members presented their ideas for BIPOC Capital, a non-profit start-up based on providing interest-free loans to BIPOC small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through microfinancing.
“The program will distribute these loans first through a website and later an app, whereby sponsors will be able to browse and invest in BIPOC SMEs that resonate with them. We expect sponsors will primarily be composed of corporations and financial institutions,” said Jaisee.
“According to the Canadian census, despite BIPOC making up a large percent of the Canadian population, they own only about 13 per cent of SMEs. Although BIPOC make up a large percent of the working class, they lack representation in business ownership and access to financial assistance.
“BIPOC communities are often faced with poverty. Lack of wealth makes it difficult for BIPOC to take opportunities to pursue their potential business plans,” she added.
“Allowing BIPOC an opportunity to receive an interest-free loan to build their SMEs would let BIPOC own and regulate capital within their communities and push towards a more equitable future.”
Jaisee, a political studies and women’s and gender studies student, is a former president of the Arts and Science Students Union (ASSU) and is currently serving as the coordinator of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Women’s Centre. She took part in the thinkathon due to her “passion for policy development to construct long-lasting and true societal change.”
“As an immigrant woman living in Canada, I grew up seeing many of the ongoing barriers to economic mobility within this community. I realized that it was not just my community; rather, it was a wider issue that affected a plethora of communities,” she said. “My project focused on BIPOC communities due to the historical and legislative realities these demographics face and how these realities were reflected in my team’s lived experience.”
Jaisee and her team members are now seeking stakeholders to actualize the program they developed throughout the thinkathon, and they hope to achieve this within the next year. As part of the steps to move their project forward, they have created a website and are setting up social media accounts to begin creating content and building their brand. BIPOC Capital has also been featured in the local media.
If anyone has resources or advice for the project team, Jaisee encourages them to get in touch through the BIPOC Capital website. She also encourages other USask students to get involved in the local community, both on and off campus.
“There are many ways diverse communities are struggling and it is very important that there’s a regular and consistent dialogue between the university, its students, and our city,” she said.
“It’s important that students’ voices are heard by getting involved with local policy work. Developing your political literacy is integral to understanding current events and issues affecting you and your community. Incremental changes in our community have the ability to build up to long-lasting social progress, so having the understanding to engage in this conversation is vital.”