When Abena Offeh-Gyimah was struck with the inspiration for her small wholesale food business in 2017, one of the first places she turned to make it a reality was the TD Community Engagement Centre (TD CEC).
Offeh-Gyimah envisioned servicing the Jane and Finch community in Toronto where she lives by importing Indigenous African foods, including snacks infused with ancestral baobab powder and tigernuts (two African indigenous superfoods), but needed a workspace and a mentor to answer her questions and get started.
She had first heard of the TD CEC as a PhD student at McMaster University. And as Offeh-Gyimah considered changing her career path to leave academia to start her social enterprise business, she remembered that the organization could help her develop it in a way that would resonate for people living in the Jane and Finch community—an area locals say is overlooked by outsiders, and often makes the evening news for violence over positive, community activity.
TD initially supported the creation of the TD CEC in partnership with York University in 2007. In June 2019, the bank provided a second infusion, totaling $1 million to support a new direction for the centre that addresses the need for mid-career programs so that people like Offeh-Gyimah can pivot their career via training and reskilling curriculums.
"I also used the centre as a meeting space, a spot to film my YouTube videos, and to establish a professional network with like-minded community partners," said Offeh-Gyimah.
Developing tomorrow's workforce
Since opening its doors in 2008, the centre has serviced over 70,000 people through after-school tutoring, academic bridging programs, and student financial support programs, says Norie Campbell, Group Head, Customer and Colleague Experience at TD. She adds that in the past three years, the centre has helped over 736 community residents to graduate with a York University undergraduate degree.
Campbell says that the recent investment was a response to the rapid advances in technology that have led to a skills mismatch for the future jobs market. Combined, the expertise of the centre and the five-year investment by TD will help residents like Offeh-Gyimah gain the entrepreneurial skills needed to bridge the gaps in an ever-changing economy.
"To be equipped for this change and prepare our workforce for the future, there is a critical need for us to reinvent our approach to education, training, re-skilling and recruiting," said Campbell, adding that the centre is in part effective because it leverages a partnership between TD, academia and a community organization—an impact strategy that is part of TD's corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment.
"It is imperative that the workforce of the future is inclusive, providing all workers with an opportunity to participate in the economy," she said.
Competing in a disruptive labour market
"If we look at a before-and-after snapshot, the centre has witnessed many positive differences regarding the lives and wellbeing of residents in this community, including their access to post-secondary education," said Byron Gray, Manager at the TD CEC. "This new funding reflects the challenges of re-skilling mid-career individuals who are at risk of job loss due to disruptive changes in the labour market."
Gray adds that he is often asked by locals for more programs catering to entrepreneurs of small businesses, specifically.
Now that Offeh-Gyimah has launched her business, the centre has also helped build influence.
"In the early-stages of building my company, the people at the centre gave me the resources and helpful advice I needed to stand on my own two feet," said Offeh-Gyimah. "I still have them on speed dial."