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Jamaican couple launches project to help black graduates

Published:Saturday | November 28, 2020 | 12:06 AM
Nigela Purboo
Nigela Purboo
Wayne Purboo
Wayne Purboo

Black university and college graduates who struggle to find internship opportunities, mentors, or employment in major corporate companies across Canada will now receive support through an initiative launched last month by two entrepreneurs – Wayne and Nigela Purboo, who boast Jamaican heritage.

A release notes that the Toronto-based, non-profit Onyx Initiative is a “direct response to the ongoing realities of anti-black racism, systemic bias, and socioeconomic inequities facing young blacks in Canada”, and was crafted as an “innovative mentorship and training model’ to address that gap.


It referenced data from Statistics Canada, which summed up that “black Canadians with post-secondary degrees are under-represented in higher-paying occupational groups, compared to their white peers, with some industries showing greater disparities than others”. ‘This data, and the acknowledgement by corporations themselves that identifying candidates is a key challenge, underscored the need for intervention and support at the college, university, and internship levels, and throughout a student’s career, with a comprehensive new support programme.

“Current hiring practices adversely and disproportionately affect black students, who are often contending with a lack of family or social networks, a lack of knowledge about opportunities, and a lack of mentorships,” Nigela Purboo, founder and executive director, outlined.

“The gap is perpetuated in future years as these ambitious young people enter the job market unable to secure positions in their chosen fields or equal opportunities for advancement within companies, which is essential for their progression into executive roles. The fact that so many brilliant change-makers are excluded from premier talent pools was not something we could just continue to observe.”

Onyx’s programme features two pillars: mentorship/coaching and online training. The curriculum includes various types of personal and professional development, including interview preparation, time management, conflict resolution, anti-bias training, navigating social media, crafting résumés/cover letters, oral and written communication, and Excel and PowerPoint basics.

dual-value proposition

“What elevates our model, conceptually and tangibly, is the dual-value proposition we offer: create an expansive supply of high-potential black talent, and nurture a growing demand for more inclusive internships and full-time placements,” said Wayne Purboo, founder, Onyx Initiative.

The initiative has received support from major corporations, including Premier Partners Bell Canada, TD Bank Group, and the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), Founding PartnerPwC Canada, Corporate Partner Manulife, and Media Partner BNN Bloomberg.

Students are recruited through college fairs and may also apply directly to the website to access services.

Onyx’s educational partners, Ryerson, McMaster, and Brock universities and George Brown College, have committed to “help identify the barriers to black student success within corporate Canada and offer strategic solutions to increase representation”, and will “serve as liaisons for Onyx to engage with student career centres, black/Caribbean Student Associations, and other relevant campus grassroots organisations”, the release notes.

The initiative will also partner with community organisations such as Lifelong Leadership Institute, which works with students at the high-school level preparing them for college and university success, and BlackNorth Initiative, whose mandate is to increase the representation of black professionals in leadership and executive roles.

Jamaica-born, Wayne, is from Morant Bay, St Thomas. Nigela was born in London to a Jamaican father.

Wayne, whose family migrated when he was two years old, is a McMaster University alumni and an accomplished entrepreneur of the media and telecoms industries. In 2017, he received the University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor’s Award.


He says the initiative is focused on providing guidance and access to a raft of opportunities for black students. “Many companies are looking for black talent. We’re trying to make sure that they find them.

“As black Canadians, we know first-hand the obstacles these students face and the cycle of inequality it perpetuates. To have leading businesses and institutions immediately recognise the need for and importance of our mandate has been deeply gratifying.”

He says recruitment figures will be limited to 200 students in this, its first year, as they work with corporations to ensure sustainability.