Three York students to represent Canada in South America

South America, here they come. Two York students were chosen last month to represent Canada with Global Vision’s Junior Team Canada, which is heading to Peru in August to promote trade between the two countries, while student Anand Sookdrah is heading to Colombia in February 2009. It is an experience they are looking forward to personally and professionally.

Neil Britto, a second-year administrative student, and Michael O’Neil, a third-year finance student, will head out on Aug. 6 as representatives of Ontario companies and industries, along with 21 other delegates from across Canada, and return on Aug. 22. It is part of the Junior Team Canada Program with Global Vision, a national charitable organization founded in 1991 to champion the enterprising spirit of young Canadians in the promotion of Canadian industry and culture while achieving recognition as a major force in the global marketplace.

Right: Anand Sookrah (centre) and Michael O’Neil (right) with another Canadian ambassador in Ottawa

The students will live in the small village of Puno in Peru where they will work with local potato farmers and the International Potato Institute to figure out how Canada and Peru could both benefit from doing business together. Potatoes are an important part of the Peruvian diet, and its agriculture, with over 2,000 varieties.

“Our mission will take us throughout the country, from the capital city, Lima, to the more rural areas of Peru,” said Britto. They will meet with local community groups as well as government and business leaders to help foster relations between Canada and Peru. Canada signed a Free Trade Agreement with Peru in May 2008, which comes into force on Jan. 1, 2009. Trade between the two countries has increased significantly in recent years with two-way trade reaching $2.4 billion last year. Exports to Peru were $330 million, while imports from it were $2.1 billion.

“During the trade and development mission members of Junior Team Canada will be representing the interests of Canadian industry and Canadian businesses,” said O’Neil. “Companies participate in this mission to learn more about Peru and to discover what role Peru can play in expanding their business. Youth ambassadors will gather market information, analyze trends and create a tailored report to ensure that companies have access to essential market information.”

Left: Neil Britto

In addition, Britto says, “We plan to visit the offices and work sites of major Canadian businesses operating in Peru, to meet with executives and report on their social responsibility efforts and their organization’s role in the Peruvian economy." Visits are already planned for Barrick Gold, Talisman Energy and Scotiabank.

While market research is important, it is crucial to have healthy business relationships with the appropriate people, said O’Neil. “Finding business partners abroad can be an overwhelming task.  However, Junior Team Canada will be on the ground in Peru speaking to government officials and business leaders to make certain that companies will have the proper contacts in place for success.”

Sookrah, a second-year iBBA student at York’s Schulich School of Business, will travel to Colombia and Panama next year on a similar economic trade mission with Global Vision.

The three are pumped and ready to go on their respective missions, but they each need to raise $5,000 in corporate and community sponsorships to cover their costs. It is the last piece in a gruelling process on the way to being Canadian ambassadors. The first step was to attend a day-long Global Leaders Conference where applicants were observed participating in various team activities, presentations and networking. They then had to complete a creative branding project and two essays, one on an industry that interested them and another on how they propose to gather sponsorships for the trade development mission.

Above: Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with the Junior Team Canada ambassadors, including Michael O’Neil and Neil Britto

Next, the potential ambassadors had to attend a regional conference with more team activities, presentations and networking. “It is quite intensive,” said O’Neil. They had to write yet another essay this time on community engagement discussing a project they had been involved with already or planned to be in the future.

“I previously worked on a fair trade project that involved importing hand crafts from South Africa and finding local markets for the goods to be sold in,” said O’Neil. “The beneficiaries were a women’s cooperative in King William’s Town and this is what I discussed in the final essay.”

Right: Anand Sookrah

From there the prospective applicants were invited to a week-long National Youth Caucus in Ottawa where they found out who was selected as ambassadors for the Junior Team Canada. They also got to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

O’Neil says he is hoping while in Peru to put together the initial framework for a business deal for any of his company sponsors. “The experience that comes with initiating an international business deal would be invaluable and this is a great opportunity for Canadian companies to get ahead of their competitors.”

As for Britto, he says, “Inevitably, the reason I wish to do this dissolves to experience. From acting as an ambassador of Canada, to an informal education of South America, every step of the way – preparations to post-mission operations – an opportunity will be present that will alter the trajectory of my life.”

For more information, contact Neil Britto at, Michael O’Neil at or Anand Sookrah at