Mayor Jim Watson and Dwania Peele, along with Ottawa Vanier MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers (right), cut the ribbon after opening ceremony of the Immigrant Women’s Small Business Expo. Zhuyin Fan, Centretown News

Expo highlights immigrant women entrepreneurs

By Zhuyin Fan

Being a woman should be viewed as an advantage rather than a barrier in the business world, according to Ottawa entrepreneur Praveeni Perera, guest speaker at the Immigrant Women’s Small Business Expo held at City Hall earlier this month.

“I’d like to look at ‘I’m a woman’ as an advantage, because I can always bring in a different perspective for the business,” said Perera, co-founder of Professional Edge Consulting and author of a fashion and lifestyle blog that focuses on affordable style.

Perera thinks women tend to be more caring than men. Women are better able to empathize with people, which makes it easier for them to build connections with clients.  “Empathy is something that people are valuing leaders. People would look for that when somebody provides service.”

Perera had a panel discussion with three immigrant entrepreneurs to express her thoughts about the changing nature of Canada’s immigrant community. She also shared her experience in business development and sales strategy.

Canadian Small Business Women organized the event for immigrant women in Ottawa. The Mississauga-based organization aims to help women create profitable businesses.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson spoke at the opening ceremony. He said Canada has a liberal immigration policy and Ottawa welcomes people from different parts of the world to start businesses here.

CSBW director Dwania Peele said she finds a lot of immigrant service centres in Canada only provide help with basic living but not information on staring a business. That’s why, she said, she created the organization and started the expo five years ago.

As an immigrant, she said, she understands challenges for newcomers to enter the Canadian job market.

“If you are born here, you have more advantages. If you are an immigrant, you are always a little bit behind,” said Peele.

Immigrants have to get used to a new society and different cultures, and some may face language barriers.

“Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, a lot of people would see immigrants as the labour force, but now I want people to see immigrants as people who can start their own business and provide job opportunities for other people,” said Peele.

She wants more people to recognize and respect immigrants’ contributions.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of self-employed Canadians increased by more than 90,000 between 2012 and 2016 — and some 58,000 of them were women.

More and more women are realizing their potential to become successful entrepreneurs, added Peele: “Time flexibility is the biggest thing that makes women start their own business. Many women start businesses when they are on maternity leave.”

A lot of women try to find a way to balance work and families, especially those who have small children, she said. If they run their own businesses, they don’t have to go to work at a certain time, making it easier for working moms to arrange their schedule.

More than 400 people attended workshops to get advice from industry representatives and hear from speakers. A number of businesses and organizations set up booths at the expo to increase their exposure and offer entrepreneurship resources to those attending.

We’re trying to bridge the gap,” said Peele, “between immigrants’ dreams and reality.”