Graduate Profile: Mohammed Shafique (BCom ’09)

May 11, 2011
Graduate Profile: Mohammed Shafique (BCom ’09)

Youth Empowering Parents (YEP) in action - providing a lesson in computer use

Mohammed Shafique (BCom’09) has been busy since graduating from Queen’s School of Business, and his story is an inspiring one! 

Upon graduation, Mohammed worked at the Xerox Innovation Group (XIG), which is the V/C type arm of Xerox Corporation “It was quite an amazing experience. My building consisted of over 60 PhDs, and there were individuals at XIG who’ve received over 100 patents under their name. I also had the chance to work on some amazing projects that are so novel to the world – such as the Erasable Paper project, which is a paper that can be reused up to 50 times!” Mohammed shares. After Xerox, he worked for a boutique Investment Bank that dealt with International Finance but shortly thereafter, he left to devote his time to the creation of a social innovation program in his Toronto neighbourhood called Youth Empowering Parents (YEP). 

Growing up in the inner-city neighbourhood in Regent Park, Toronto, Mohammed and his friends realized that most newcomer families and parents were particularly dependent on their kids, in terms of talking to their doctor, translating bills, reading and writing their email. They realized that this dynamic can be used to do something really positive for their community. And that’s when they created the grass-roots program, Youth Empowering Parents (YEP).

“I decided to start the YEP project because I was the by-product of a social innovation program” explains Mohammed. “When I was a kid, living in the Regent Park area, I got involved in an after-school program called Pathways to Education. They gave me the mentoring, support, and financial means to successfully complete high school. And at the same time, they gave me exposure to individuals from Bay Street and the Political world of Canada. During my teenage years, I had a chance to share stages and give speeches with the likes of General Colin Powell, the U.S. former Secretary of State; our Premier, Dalton McGuinty; and our former Prime Minister, Paul Martin.” 

After Queen’s Commerce, Mohammed wanted to give back to Pathways in large scale way. So he got a group of student leaders together to create a business case for an official Pathways Alumni Association. During that process, he was elected as Chair of the organization, and that was really his first exposure in creating a grass-root social organization for communities.   And sometime later, the idea for YEP was born.

YEP provides high-quality education to Parents from marginalized communities by connecting them to empowered Youths from the same cultural background.  Its mission is to Empower Youths, Educate Parents, and Transform Communities. 

“We have each parent paired up with their own children or a Youth of similar background. Our professional Computer and English Teachers instruct the Youths in English on how to best teach their parents for the day, and then the Youth takes the ownership of a Parent’s learning and provides them the private one-on-one attention they desperately need” explains Mohammed.  The dynamic and the overall YEP program is a social innovation model. “We tried the YEP method in our first semester, which was 6 months ago, and the dynamic of the model was amazing!”

Currently, Mohammed is President of the organization, which now has 16 individuals involved on a volunteer and paid basis. He oversees most of the operations, research & evaluation, fundraising and grants and the creation of new programs under the YEP umbrella.

“I find myself privileged to be working with individuals that are much smarter and more experienced than me. Through leading the YEP team, I’ve really learned the valuable lesson about Management versus Leadership, and truly understand how to motivate certain individuals. What makes this position better than my previous ones, is knowing that I’m actually working on a project that’s very unique to the world, and creating a sustainable impact on my old neighbourhood.”

Reflecting on the benefits of his participation in the Certificate in CSR program at Queen’s, Mohammed shares that through the program, he was exposed to some great debating topics that really opened his eyes about the critical perspectives of an issue. He goes on to explain that “being exposed and having a chance to mingle with like-minded students has really helped down the road.”

When asked to define what Responsible Leadership meant to him, Mohammed responded “Responsible Leadership is when someone looks beyond the economics of a project, and really assesses and takes into account the societal impact of their decisions and how their decisions will impact the overall team, the environment, and the external stakeholders”. 

“Just reflecting on this notion, our organization recently received a large grant from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation Social Investment Fund. During this budget process, I was allocating money and deciding which individuals within our organization will be paid staff. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough funds for this one individual who had tremendous loyalty to our program. In looking beyond the economics of the situation, I decided to create a special role for her where she could get paid based on her effort. And I think that’s what Responsible Leadership is all about. It’s taking the extra time, to really assess the situation, and taking that extra effort to really solve a problem in order to create a win-win situation for all parties.”

We asked Mohammed a few questions that may be of interest to current Commerce Certificate students:

Q: What specific Commerce courses have helped you in your position?

A: Reflecting back, I would say definitely one course that really stood out was the Business Strategy course: COMM 374. It was really first time that I got to see the interconnectedness of all aspects of our Queen’s Commerce course. In my final year, we also had to take a mandatory course called COMM 401: Business Policy. And in that course, one of the modules was called the CAPSIM game, which was really a good representation of how decision makers have to think and act for all aspects of the organization – from marketing, to finance, to even operations. It was a great model to see how each function of a business played into the relation of other departments.

Q: What piece of advice would you like to pass on to current students?

A:  My two-cents would be to find something you’re truly passionate about. Nowadays, I see a lot of individuals doing things just for the sake of saving the world. You have to acknowledge particularly WHY you’re doing this, and why you’re joining this particular organization; because that’s what’s going to drive you, and motivate you, especially during those challenging times.

In the future, Mohammed hopes to go into a joint graduate program in the U.S., and is currently in the process of preparing to write the GMAT. In the long run, he hopes to enter the political sphere saying “I believe politicians have the greatest capacity to really enact high-impact change on communities. But we’ll see how that goes…”