President presents Jane Goodall with honorary degree at special convocation ceremony 

Lenton and Goodall

The following is President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton’s address at the Honorary Degree Convocation Ceremony in April 2024: 

Dear faculty, staff, guests and to our students in the audience today, bonjour and boozhoo.

I am delighted to welcome all of you to this special celebration in honour of our exceptional honorary degree recipient, Dr. Jane Goodall.

Science paints a bleak picture of our future.

Failure to respond to the damaging effects of climate change is already evident in the loss of biodiversity, environmental degradation, increased risk to water and food security, intensifying suffering and loss of life of humans and animals, not to mention magnifying political conflicts and social inequality around the world.

The One Health approach acknowledges that humans, animals and the environment are interconnected, and that in order to advance one, we must fight for the health of all three.

We are at an inflection point: will we take individual and collective action and work together to identify and develop solutions that will ensure our planetary well-being? Or will we be complacent or even deny the evidence affecting us all?

Looking toward the people we have on stage and in the audience, we know that we have the talent, the diversity of ideas and the commitment to shape the actions that need to be taken. 

Like many of you, I have long been inspired by Dr. Goodall’s legacy.

Throughout her life, Jane Goodall has conducted groundbreaking research, advanced conservation and environmental stewardship, and inspired advocacy for our planet and all its inhabitants. 

Jane, it is an absolute honour to have you here with us today to recognize the remarkable impact you have made across the world. I know I speak on behalf of all of York when I say that your achievements are an inspiration to us all. 

Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, and congratulations on this very well-deserved recognition.

At York University, we recognize the importance of convening people and ideas for meaningful action. 

Since its inception, York has been a progressive, research-intensive University committed to enhancing the well-being of the communities we serve by supporting research excellence, interdisciplinary knowledge translation and collaborative partnerships that drive positive change, both locally and globally.

Advancing sustainability is a goal that underscores everything we do, which is why our University Academic Plan includes an institutional challenge to strengthen our contributions to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Our impact is well noted – we have been recognized as a global leader for five consecutive years in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, where we currently rank in the world’s top 40 for our impact on the SDGs.

Each of the Faculties represented here today – Science, Health and the Lassonde School of Engineering – have played a critical role in elevating our sustainability leadership with cutting-edge initiatives such as:

  • the UNITAR Global Water Academy – a joint initiative led by York in collaboration with UNITAR and various other partners to address the global water crisis, which is led by inaugural director Professor Sapna Sharma from the Faculty of Science;
  • Connected Minds – a groundbreaking, collaborative, $318.4-million research initiative led by York in partnership with Queen’s that is creating an international hub of expertise in socially responsible research and technology; 
  • numerous projects by Lassonde that promote green energy solutions and a reduction in greenhouse gases – including a dynamic project undertaken in partnership with Stronach International to develop and test a new generation of affordable, electric micro-mobility vehicles.

At the institutional level, we have announced ambitious goals to achieve net zero by 2040 or sooner. And we are well positioned to meet these aspirations through our various decarbonization initiatives. 

For example, through a recent partnership with Noventa Energy Partners, the York community will leverage leading technology to convert wastewater into thermal energy, an initiative that could see Glendon become the first net-zero campus in Canada.

We continue to move the dial on education, research and partnerships across our campuses – from Toronto to Costa Rica to India – to support the SDGs, but each and every one of us must do more to support global co-operation that translates ideas, research and partnerships into positive change. There is, perhaps, nothing more important than this endeavour. For people like Dr. Goodall, it has become a hallmark of her life’s work – and it is incumbent upon us to carry this forward.

As our talented faculty, staff, contract instructors, alumni, students, and honorary doctorates have proven time and time again, individual actions matter, and by fostering dialogue and collective action, we can build a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

Jane, congratulations once again, and I look forward to hearing more from you shortly.

Thank you all once again for joining us today and for being part of this very special occasion. 

Merci. Miigwetch.

Alumna’s acclaimed film follows Indian family’s fight for justice

Still from documentary film "To Kill a Tiger"

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

It is often said that every action, no matter how small, has the potential to shift the trajectory of one’s life.

For York University alumna Cornelia Principe (BA ’91), a decision to participate in a for-credit internship program at media organization TVO in the final year of her undergraduate studies opened her eyes to a career in film and led her on a path to becoming an award-winning documentary producer – a profession that, as a communications and psychology double major, hadn’t previously been on her radar at all.

Cornelia Principe
Cornelia Principe

“If I hadn’t gone to York and done a fourth-year internship at TVO, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now,” she admits.

And that would be a shame, since her body of work – which includes producing 11 feature-length documentary films, two documentary short films and one television series – has since graced the screens of over 100 national and international film festivals and been broadcast all over the world, earning her global acclaim and recognition.

This past January, Principe was happily surprised to learn the film she had worked on as a producer for eight years, To Kill a Tiger, had earned a Best Documentary Feature Film nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – the ultimate goal for many in the movie business.

“It’s really nice to say you’re an Oscar-nominated documentary producer,” says Principe, “but it’s not why I do what I do. It’s not what drives me.”

To Kill a Tiger follows the harrowing journey of a poor rice farmer in a small Indian village as he embarks on an unprecedented quest to demand justice after the assault of his 13-year-old daughter. It tackles themes of gender-based violence, toxic masculinity and allyship, and confronts – head-on – the culture of silence and complicity surrounding sexual assault in India, where a rape is reported every 20 minutes and conviction rates are less than 30 per cent.

“It’s giving voice to millions who have never had a voice before,” says York film Professor Manfred Becker, who served as a story editor on the project, “and that is why we make films.”

Although To Kill a Tiger did not take home the Oscar at the at the 96th Academy Awards in March, Principe believes the attention brought to the film – and its important message – through the nomination is worth much more than the award itself.

Nisha Pahuja, the film’s director, worked tirelessly after post-production wrapped to get the film into the hands of the right people who could help her expand its reach and, as a result, its impact. Hollywood A-listers Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Mindy Kaling and Dev Patel – all of Indian descent – were brought on board as executive producers after the film was completed as part of this strategic publicity approach, which resulted in much media buzz and the film’s high-profile acquisition by streaming service Netflix prior to the Academy Awards.

Principe had been friends with Pahuja for years before they began working together; they collaborated on two documentaries and then decided to raise money to make a film about masculinity and gender equality in India. The idea came about when Pahuja was touring around the country screening their previous documentary, The World Before Her, and the men’s reactions to it caught her attention.

“Many Indian men who saw it were surprised and saddened by what they realized was cultural, systemic gender discrimination,” says Principe. “It opened their eyes to something they had not really thought about before.”

After doing some research, Pahuja came across a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Centre for Health & Social Justice that works with groups of men in rural India to help them reflect on their masculinity, their choices and their role in the oppression of women in hopes of creating a more just country. Pahuja mentioned this to Principe, who was instantly intrigued.

“When she started talking about this NGO, my eyes lit up,” says Principe. “So many films about issues around women’s rights focus on women, which is great. But at a certain point, you need to focus on where the problem is, which is usually men.”

As Pahuja began filming for this new project and working with the NGO, she pursued several narrative threads that explored the subject of masculinity in India. During the process, she stumbled upon Ranjit, who would eventually become the protagonist in To Kill a Tiger, after consultation with another York community member.

Manfred Becker
Manfred Becker

After about three and a half years of filming and two long years of editing, trying to blend the many storylines together to form a cohesive narrative, Pahuja and Principe were frustrated, realizing they couldn’t make the film they originally wanted to. They enlisted the help of two story editors, including Becker, who has been an editor, writer and director for many years, and whom the filmmakers had both worked with in the past.

Becker offered his expertise and viewed a dozen or so cuts of the film over about a year’s time, provided detailed comments and took part in Zoom sessions where the team mulled over possibilities of how to tell the story. Soon, they reached the conclusion that this film needed to focus on Ranjit and his fight for justice, and that the other stories should be saved for something else.

“It took us months to come to terms with that, because we had spent six years married to this idea of making this bigger film about masculinity,” explains Principe. “And in the end, it is about masculinity, but just through one story.”

Beyond securing a place on this year’s Oscars shortlist, To Kill a Tiger has been recognized widely for its cinematic excellence, winning the Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary award at the 2023 Canadian Screen Awards; being named Best Documentary at the 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival; and winning the Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s really a triumph of the persistence of its makers, and of documentary as an art for change,” says Becker, of the eight-year-long process to get this film made.

It was worth the wait.

Alumna leads unique climate action initiative

Planet Anomaly banner copy

Bhabna Banerjee, a former Global Leader of Tomorrow Award recipient who graduated from York University in 2020, has come up with a novel way to address the climate crisis: Planet Anomaly, an organization focused on climate storytelling and data visualization.

Bhabna Banerjee

Back in April 2022, Banerjee – a Vancouver-based data journalist and illustrator – was on a return visit to her hometown of Kolkata, India. While there, she observed the profound impact of climate anomalies on the lives of people there. From worsening pollution to water stress caused by floods and the rising cost of essential produce, the effects of climate change were evident in daily life.

“These anomalies,” Banerjee recalled, “had seeped into everyday conversations about new dengue outbreaks during abnormal seasons, changing availability of fish in the nearby seas and rural farmers swarming the city in search of labour after their crops were continuously destroyed by untimely cyclones.”

She was working as a data journalist at the time and knew there were mountains of climate data available that could help people get a sense of the enormity of these occurrences, as well as their potential impact, she said.

“Yet, there were no accessible or reliable sources of news that could provide them with any information or opportunity for preventative action. The educational barriers also made it hard for most to grasp concepts and acknowledge factors that were affecting their environments.”

Enter Planet Anomaly, which aims to bridge the gap between scientific data and public understanding, using design thinking to simplify complex concepts for non-specialist audiences.

“I started Planet Anomaly to build a platform that could explain climate science concepts regardless of people’s educational backgrounds,” explained Banerjee, emphasizing the importance of a balanced approach to climate reporting, one that acknowledges the severity of the crisis while highlighting solutions and opportunities for preventative action.

Her goal, she said, is for the organization to help produce “illustrated journalistic pieces that democratize climate data to empower diverse audiences worldwide to make vital decisions and be resilient about the changing climate.”

Establishing Planet Anomaly was shaped by her interdisciplinary education and experiences at York University. As an undergraduate student, Banerjee pursued her interests in art, science and storytelling, honing her skills in media and visual journalism.

“Throughout my program,” she said, “I found my AMPD [Faculty of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design] peers to be exceptionally talented, collaborative and inspiring, and I had incredible support from the faculty, particularly my final semester adviser Carol Anna McBride, who constantly inspired us students to think we could leverage our creative skills to bring meaningful change once we stepped out into the world.”

Banerjee’s commitment to addressing climate change extends beyond her organization’s work.

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan in Kolkata, she initiated a fundraising campaign to support affected communities, demonstrating her dedication to making a difference in her home country. She has also contributed work on climate change, food insecurity, migration and other social justice issues for the World Economic Forum, as well as for Forbes magazine and other media outlets.

Looking ahead, Banerjee is set to begin a master’s in data journalism at Stanford University in September, where she plans to further explore innovative approaches to climate storytelling. With her unique blend of skills and experiences, she hopes to establish Planet Anomaly as a leading platform for equitable access to climate information and drive meaningful change.

“I’m certain that an advanced degree in journalism would help me develop a better understanding of the nuances of climate storytelling,” Banerjee said.

“I’m excited to continue to innovate with my cohort on how we can fill the existing gaps and better disseminate information and data in the evolving media landscape.”

Memorial scholarship advances refugee studies

refugee with suitcase BANNER

For several years now, the Anthony H. Richmond Scholarship, named after the late distinguished professor emeritus at York University, has provided a path for promising graduate student researchers to advance important research in refugee studies.

Richmond, who died in 2017, was an academic known for his commitment to scholarly life, sense of fairness and unwavering advocacy for marginalized communities. A lifelong Quaker, he played a pivotal role in shaping York University’s Department of Sociology and was a founding member of the York Centre for Refugee Studies.

Anthony H. Richmond
Anthony H. Richmond

The scholarship – established in memory of Richmond by his wife, Freda Richmond, a fellow academic – honours his work by awarding $2,000 annually to graduate-level students conducting research at the intersections of forced migration, immigration, resettlement and environmental changes.

Since its inception in 2020, its funded students have been exploring climate justice education and tree planting campaigns near refugee camps. Its recipients have included students like Mara Mahmud, a master of arts candidate in environmental studies, who investigated the impact of climate change on urban development in Dhaka, Bangladesh, exemplifying the scholarship’s global reach and interdisciplinary nature; and Michael De Santi, a master’s student in civil engineering, who utilized artificial neural networks to enhance water quality in refugee settlements, demonstrating the scholarship’s commitment to tangible solutions for displaced populations.

The latest recipient of the Anthony H. Richmond Scholarship, announced in the fall of 2023, is Dheman Abdi, who is currently pursuing a master of arts in political science. Abdi is dedicated to unravelling the complex dynamics between political migration and anthropogenic climate change in the Horn of Africa, underscoring the scholarship’s relevance in addressing pressing global challenges and advancing knowledge in the region.

The recipients follow in the footsteps of Richmond’s career, which spanned decades and continents, and was marked by a relentless pursuit of social justice and scholarly excellence.

Born in England, Richmond was a student at the London School of Economics and later the University of Liverpool, where he began his pioneering research on race relations and immigration. His first job was as a lecturer in social theory in the Department of Social Study at the University of Edinburgh, during which time he published his first book, The Colour Problem (1955). The second edition of this book, published in 1961, included a new chapter on apartheid in South Africa and brought him his first international recognition, stirring considerable controversy. His book was banned in South Africa until the country’s first free elections in 1994.

He relocated to Canada with his family in 1965, where his impact extended beyond academia, influencing Canadian immigration policy and advocating for racial equality.

Richmond’s published work, including his final book, Global Apartheid: Refugees, Racism and the New World Order (1994), continues to resonate with scholars and activists worldwide, and maintains the relevance of his research in today’s increasingly interconnected world. The Anthony H. Richmond Scholarship continues to do that, too.

York alumnae among Top 25 Women of Influence

Rear view of four diverse women

Three women with affiliations to York University have been recognized in the 2024 Top 25 Women of Influence list for their impact and contributions to driving meaningful progress and to the advancement of women in their respective fields.   

Every year Women of Influence+, a leading global organization dedicated to promoting gender equity in the workplace, announces its list recognizing the achievements and contributions of women who have made significant contributions in their respective fields, driving meaningful progress and change in business and society.

This year, in particular, recipients are recognized for their innovation, leadership and pursuit of gender equity and inclusion.   

“Their accomplishments demonstrate the important role that women play in driving meaningful progress in business and society. Through celebrating their stories, we aim to inspire others to challenge the status quo, paving the way for future generations,” said Rumeet Billan, CEO of Women of Influence+, about the recipients.

Among the list of 2024 recipients are two York alumnae and one honorary degree recipient:

Pamela Farrell (BEd ‘07)  
The founder and executive director of the GROW Community Food Literacy Centre, Canada’s first community food literacy centre, Farrell has sought to provide vulnerable Canadians with access to healthy and culturally relevant foods as well as essential food literacy skills. Her community work has also looked to address health disparities, as well as promote health and social equity. Furthermore, combining her expertise in special education with equity, diversity and inclusion, Farrell looks to play a transformative role in guiding and inspiring the next generation of educators.

Tina Singh (BA ‘04)   
Singh is an occupational therapist, digital content creator and the founder of Bold Helmets, which creates helmets to fit over Sikh kids’ head coverings. As a mother and therapist working in the areas of head and brain injuries, Singh understood the importance of helmets but was unable to find any suitable for her children, leading her to create the first safety-certified, multi-sport helmet for Sikh children.  

Lynn Posluns (LLD [Hon.] ‘19)  
Posluns is the founder, president and CEO of Women’s Brain Health Initiative, the only organization dedicated to protecting the brain health of women, caregivers and families. Through this initiative, she has raised awareness of women’s cognitive brain health and the inequity in women’s brain aging research, funding and preventative health programs.  

Astronomer in Residence program offers hands-on experience to stargazers

Starry sky reflecting on lake at Lost Lake, USA

Applications are now open for York University’s 2024 Astronomer in Residence (AIR) program, an initiative led by the Allan I. Carswell Observatory in partnership with Killarney Provincial Park allowing qualified individuals to enjoy astronomy under the park’s dark skies and lead programming using its observatory. This year’s program runs from May 13 to Oct. 20.

Launched in 2022, the program calls on qualified astronomers – both professional and amateur – to apply to be an astronomer in residence at Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park for a period of one to three weeks this summer and fall. The selected individuals will be expected to run in-person tours two to five times a week and create observatory shows, YouTube livestreams and recorded video sessions, as well as author a blog. Participants are offered free parking and lodging, as well as a $400-per-week stipend for their residency.

The full summer schedule can be found on the program’s website.

Those interested in applying can do so via the application form. For more information about qualifications, visit the Candidate Expectations page.

Throughout the duration of the program, passionate stargazers can follow along through the Astronomer in Residence Blog and livestreams on the Allan I. Carswell Observatory YouTube page, or by attending live viewings and programming at Killarney Provincial Park.

YSpace program gets boost for under-represented founders

hands holding out food banner

YSpace will receive more than $476,000 in new funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) over the next two years to expand its Food & Beverage Accelerator program across the country and support over 100 racialized and women founders to scale and thrive in the industry.

YSpace created Ontario’s first food and beverage accelerator in 2019 to help grow consumer packaged goods ventures in the field. The five-month program provides customized workshops, expert mentorship and peer-to-peer circles to ventures as they develop their strategy, grow their network and scale their business.

To date, the YSpace accelerator has supported 93 ventures and over 200 entrepreneurs who are scaling into mass retail, raising funds and getting acquired. Many ventures in the program have seen exponential growth and established valuable connections in the industry.

YSpace Food Accelerator entrepreneurs gather at the September 2023 Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) Pitch Competition. From left: Ari Alli – Noble Snacks, Charlene Li – EATABLE, Kieran Klassen – Heartwood Farm & Cidery, Dominique Mastronardi – The Happy Era, Rebecca Prime – Beck’s Broth, Muna Mohammed – eight50 Coffee).
YSpace Food Accelerator entrepreneurs gather at the September 2023 Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) Pitch Competition.
From left: Ari Alli, Charlene Li, Kieran Klassen, Dominique Mastronardi, Rebecca Prime and Muna Mohammed.

One example is EATABLE, a company that produces all-natural gourmet popcorn with flavours inspired by classic cocktails, wines and spirits, which has expanded their retail footprint to over 1,600 doors across Canada and the U.S. “As part of the YSpace Food Accelerator, we connected with industry experts who helped us grow 19 times in revenues since our launch in 2019,” says Charlene Li, co-founder and CEO.

Another example is Zing, which creates vegan and gluten-free condiments and seasoning salts that are designed to be pantry shortcuts. It is available in over 400 retail doors across Canada and the U.S. “YSpace programming and mentorship helped our company develop and execute an effective retail strategy that allowed us transition from an e-commerce to an omni-channel business,” says co-founder and CEO Jannine Rane.

The new funding provided by the AAFC’s AgriDiversity Program will support under-represented groups in the food and beverage industry and help provide them with the resources to build their entrepreneurial and business skills. The program was created under the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a $3.5-billion, five-year agreement between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture, agri‐food and agri‐based products sector.

“We are thrilled that our Food & Beverage Accelerator will soon be able to support racialized and women founders nationally,” says David Kwok, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at YSpace. “We have built a robust and impactful program, and now with the funding resources to serve these groups, we can expand not only our reach but impact across Canada.”

In his role as Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food, Lawrence MacAulay has seen first-hand how integral women are to creating a thriving economy. “A more diverse and inclusive labour force can provide significant benefits to the agriculture sector by supporting competitiveness and risk management, innovation and rural vitality, and sustainable growth,” he says.

The new Food & Beverage Accelerator program will build and implement specialized tools and resources to support the unique challenges faced by under-represented groups in the consumer packaged goods and agri-food sector. To achieve this, YSpace will be leveraging its expertise from both ELLA, which provides dedicated programming for women entrepreneurs, and the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance, which provides specialized streams for Black entrepreneurs to better engage with those communities. YSpace will also look to leverage those experiences and expertise to consciously expand its offering into other under-represented communities in consultation with those communities.

“This specialized and comprehensive programming designed for under-represented communities doesn’t quite exist yet on a national level and will fill an ecosystem gap in the consumer packaged goods and agri-food sector,” says Judy Wong, consumer packaged goods program advisor at YSpace. “This is incredibly important for both our economy and the entrepreneurial ecosystem to further drive growth and innovation in the agri-food sector.”

Further information about YSpace and its diverse programming for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs can be found through its website.

York alumna launches centre to empower youth in Scarborough

Two Black students outside on York's Keele Campus

Back 2 Basickz Youth Support Services, an organization founded by York University alumna Amanda Coombs, recently celebrated the grand opening of its new centre in Scarborough, Ont., building on her work to create a safe haven for marginalized, Black and racialized youth.

Amanda Coombs
Amanda Coombs

The newly opened Back 2 Basickz Scarborough location represents an expansion of the program that began in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood in 2013.

The centre will operate as an extension of the organization’s Black Youth Outreach United program, which employs Black professionals who share similar life experiences with participating youth, enabling them to provide guidance and personal advocacy, along with essential life skills and support systems to help break the cycle of poverty and disengagement.

“We strive to break the cycle of poverty that many of these youth experience by providing them with valuable resources, and the tools to help them excel and overcome the challenges they are experiencing,” says Coombs, who serves as the organization’s executive director.

Back 2 Basickz achieves this through a variety of programs and initiatives that provide academic support, mentorship, employment opportunities and culturally sensitive counselling tailored to the unique needs of its participants.

Its after-school program, for instance, provides a safe space exclusively for Black youth, offering academic support in subjects such as math, English, science and computer technology. Additionally, students can engage in recreational activities aimed at fostering social bonds and building positive relationships.

Furthermore, its employment program aims to empower Black youth and young adults by providing access to meaningful employment opportunities in sectors where they are historically underrepresented. Mentorship and job placement assistance are key components of this initiative.

The centre also provides post-incarceration soft-landing programs, as well as counselling for youth facing mental health challenges or crises. Staffed by Black therapists and case managers, these programs offer a compassionate and holistic approach to mental health care.

“Mentorship is provided by men and women who have walked similar paths and successfully transformed their lives,” Coombs says. “Graduates from the Youth Reset program have the unique opportunity to mentor younger youth, creating a powerful cycle of growth, leadership and positive change.”

The Jan. 30 grand opening event saw more than 50 attendees, including parents, youth from the Scarborough community, representatives from various organizations and government officials. Notable guests included member of provincial parliament David Smith, city councillor Michael Thompson and Shauna-Marie Benn, a fellow York grad who is the office manager for member of Parliament Gary Anandasangaree. Also present was Stachen Frederick, another York alumna, who is executive director of the Frontlines youth charity in Toronto’s west end.

“It’s crucial,” says Coombs, “for Black youth to recognize that with persistence, hard work and the right support, achieving their dreams is entirely within reach.”

Back 2 Basickz is there to show them the way.

For more information, visit or email Coombs at

York alumna to champion respect at Ontario Soccer Summit

soccer ball on field

York University women’s soccer coach and former Lions star player Farkhunda Muhtaj takes the stage at the 2024 edition of the Ontario Soccer Summit, where – as a celebrated advocate for social justice – she will emphasize the critical need for promoting respect in sport within Canada’s soccer community.

A two-time York graduate who holds degrees from the Faculty of Education and the University’s kinesiology program, she is one of 600 delegates expected to attend the summit, a gathering of coaches, staff, administrators and stakeholders from across Canada’s soccer community, taking place on the Keele Campus from Feb. 23 to 25.

Farkhunda Muhtaj 
(Credit: Mike Ford for York U Magazine)
Farkhunda Muhtaj
(photo credit: Mike Ford for The York University Magazine)

As a keynote speaker, Muhtaj will draw from her experiences within Ontario’s soccer system and her journey as an Afghan-Canadian professional soccer player. Muhtaj gained international recognition when, in 2021, she defied the Taliban by successfully relocating Afghanistan’s junior soccer team outside the country to safeguard its female players and their ability to play.

In her talk, the 26-year-old former midfielder will highlight the transformative influence of sports, particularly in marginalized communities. She will also present the documentary about the Afghan team’s story, We Are Ayenda, to underscore the resilience of the Afghan youth women’s national team and the power of soccer in shaping lives.

“I’ll discuss strategies for creating inclusive environments, prioritizing player safety and combatting bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination. Soccer has empowered me to give back to my communities as a global active citizen, and I believe it’s imperative to offer others similarly enriching experiences,” she says.

Named a York University Top 30 Under 30 in 2022 for her active dedication to social justice through sport, Muhtaj will also stress the urgency of rebuilding trust within the soccer community just as Canada is getting ready to host 13 of the 104 games at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, with seven in Vancouver and six in Toronto.

Her ongoing role as a mentor and role model for aspiring soccer players, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds, underscores her commitment to nurturing talent and diversity within Canadian soccer.

Through partnerships with soccer organizations, government agencies and community groups such as the Scarborough Simbas – a Toronto-based soccer program for refugees and other newcomers to Canada – Muhtaj aims to promote inclusivity and growth within the sport. She does so as well through Respect in Sport, a program within the Respect Group, which educates youth leaders, coaches, officials and others on how to approach bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

“As an Afghan-Canadian professional soccer player, the director of culture and conscience at the Respect Group and the co-founder of Scarborough Simbas, I am uniquely positioned to contribute to the development of soccer in Canada,” she says, “ensuring it is truly inclusive and growing the game.”

Muhtaj’s ongoing advocacy for policy changes within Canadian soccer governing bodies also aims to guarantee that diversity, equity and inclusion remain top priorities at all levels of the sport. By actively participating in policy discussions and decision-making processes, Muhtaj continues to shape the future of soccer in Canada. She believes the need for comprehensive, long-term plans to foster a culture of respect and integrity within the sport is important.

“In light of significant milestones in Canadian soccer, such as the establishment of a women’s professional league and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2026, there’s an urgent need for unity within the sports community,” she says. “It’s crucial to safeguard our children, keeping them engaged in sport for a lifetime.”

York entrepreneurs recognized by award, prime minister

BEA Demo Day image BANNER

York University alumni Yemi Ifegbuyi (BA ’10) and Zainab Williams (BA ’07) are among the top three Black entrepreneurs named the winners of a startup pitch competition hosted by the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance (BEA) founded by the Black Creek Community Health Centre in partnership with York University’s YSpace.

The competition, the inaugural BEA Investment Bootcamp Demo Day, is the final assignment of a four-month program run in partnership with YSpace for early-stage and capital-ready, Black-led startups.

The Investment Bootcamp program is aimed at supporting Black-led tech startups with training, mentorship and fundraising insights to secure early capital. With a community-driven approach, the program offers curated content and resources to support entrepreneurs through educational workshops, one-on-one coaching and peer founder circles, which provides a safe and open space for founders to connect and receive support.

The nine startup finalists in the BEA Investment Bootcamp program
The nine startup finalists in the BEA Investment Bootcamp program.

Applicants to the competition were narrowed down from the 17 Black entrepreneurs who participated in the program to nine finalists who pitched their businesses to a live audience at an event on Feb. 1 celebrating Black excellence.

The Demo Day event, which also marked the start of Black History Month, was attended by a number of government officials, including Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Judy Sgro, member of Parliament for Humber River – Black Creek, was also in attendance and was impressed by the entrepreneurs. “Witnessing the dedication and leadership of these young entrepreneurs has not only inspired me, but it reaffirms my belief in the incredible potential of our community’s future leaders,” she says.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with first place winner Yemi Ifegbuyi
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who met finalists at a special event before the awards were announced, with first-place winner Yemi Ifegbuyi.

First-place winner Ifegbuyi will receive $5,000 toward his business, Cozii Technologies, an artificial intelligence-driven property management platform tailored to multi-unit landlords. Ifegbuyi immigrated from Nigeria about 15 years ago and received his degree in international development and urban studies at York as well as a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation. As a founder known for his entrepreneurial drive, Ifegbuyi is excited for the future as his business continues to grow.

“This fund will be channelled into our sales and marketing endeavours, with the goal of reaching and serving more small- and medium-scale rental property owners and managers,” he says. “It’s not just a cash prize. It’s an investment in Cozii Technologies’ vision to revolutionize the way we approach property management.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with second place winner Zainab Williams
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with second-place winner Zainab Williams.

Second-place winner Williams, the founder of Fundevolve Inc., a pioneering platform dedicated to empowering women in their financial journey, will receive $3,000 to further her company. Williams developed her passion for business while studying business administration and management at York. Born out of an investment gone wrong, Williams became an independent financial planner and was determined to empower individuals to make the right financial decisions. Her business is quickly building momentum as she works to further develop the web-based platform and equip women with the tools to take control of their financials.

“We plan to use the prize winnings for testing before launching our platform,” says Williams. “This investment in security ensures not only our project’s safety but also our users’ trust.”

Both Ifegbuyi and Williams cite the boot camp’s collaborative spirit as a contributor to their startup’s success. “Participating in the program has been a transformative journey,” says Ifegbuyi. “The unwavering support and mentorship we received are catalysts for long-term growth.”

Special guest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also attended a private event – where York President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton was also present – held before the awards to meet the finalists and learn more about their businesses.

“Meeting Justin Trudeau was a great honour and opportunity,” says Ifegbuyi. “It symbolized the recognition of our hard work and the federal government commitment to supporting the Black entrepreneurial community. It’s a reminder that our efforts are making an impact, and it inspires us to continue pushing boundaries and striving for excellence in everything we do.”

Both BEA and YSpace offer several innovative programs and events for entrepreneurs at all stages, including curated programming dedicated to under-represented groups like Black entrepreneurs and women founders.

To learn more about this partnership, visit BEA’s website at YSpace.