This blog is written by Hanna Asheber, a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario.
While the pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges, two sisters from Stouffville, Ontario didn’t let that stand in their way. After volunteering at a local animal shelter, Anya Bhopa, one of the two co-founders of the Canadian Courage Project noticed that many of the animals came from youth who could no longer support them due to homelessness. Seeing that there weren’t any services dedicated to keeping owners and pets together, the sisters decided not to wait around for someone else to lend a helping hand and started curating care packages to help support these youth and their companions. From hand-delivering these packages in the winter of 2019 to now being a registered non-profit organization, Anya and Shania Bhopa have undoubtedly made a difference in the lives of countless homeless youth and strive to continue partnering with local shelters to provide resources to those who need it.
With the constant evolution of the field of business as well as witnessing first-hand what it takes to run a business from their parents, Anya and Shania noticed that certain homeless youth were at a greater disadvantage than others and decided to tackle the issue head-on.
“We saw no other organization that specifically targeted this group so we took the initiative to do it ourselves”.
According to Shania, “having the leadership abilities to form a team of passionate individuals and work together to push for changes that you see lacking” is one of the things she most enjoys about being an entrepreneur. Additionally, the sisters agreed that having your voice heard and the ability to reach out to partners and organizations that you want to work with is an exhilarating feeling that forces you to learn to trust your gut.
However, entrepreneurship is rarely ever a walk in the park. Anya highlighted that the pandemic has forced them to turn to the virtual world and social media platforms to carry out fundraisers and expand their network. Although they’ve had to learn to navigate solely online, the two have proven resilient by selling their “CHANGE” hoodies where 100% of the proceeds go towards the shelters that they help provide for. When asked about the organization’s difficulties, Shania responded with 3 major obstacles. The first being registering a non-profit and figuring out the logistics on their own including launching a website and creating relationships within the community. Their second challenge was forming a team virtually and the third was establishing themselves within the business sphere and having people understand that their perspectives are worth listening to.
“It’s hard as two young, females of colour for people to take you seriously. We have no experience in the non-profit world aside from volunteer work, so there were times when we’d second guess ourselves. But it was important for us to keep pushing boundaries and impose that youth need to be present in spaces where decisions are being made”.
Despite the hardships, the Canadian Courage Project has a lot to be proud of. Not only have they been able to push past the difficulties as mentioned, but they’ve also been able to extend their reach tremendously within the past year. They’ve been interviewed by numerous news outlets including Global News and CBC News, which have allowed them to reach individuals outside of their network. While extending their reach has been amazing, the two have marvelled most over the support they’ve received from their community. Anya adds that “ even though money has been tight for a lot of people, we’ve seen so many donations and support from our community. Whether that’s posting on their story or telling it to their friends, our community has been nothing shy of supportive”.
Like any organization, the Canadian Courage Project continues to adjust and establish new goals. Moving forward, the sisters hope to tackle the lack of awareness and education by implementing educational workshops at elementary and high school levels for individuals to feel empowered that they too can make a change. As young change-makers themselves, Anya and Shania hope to not only tackle the issue of youth homelessness but also inspire and empower young people to hone their passions and take on the world’s issues from their own backyards.
Reflecting is one of the most important things anyone can do for self-improvement and is an essential skill needed for those wanting to get their foot into the world of business. So in hopes of inciting reflection in your own life, I asked these young entrepreneurs what advice they would give about starting a business. A recurring theme was to be bold and to have the confidence to navigate new spaces. Another point was not to overlook the value of a good mentor. Shania stressed the importance of “finding people who you’re inspired by and are in a position that you want to be in”. All in all, as young people trying to make a mark, remember to believe in yourself before anyone else validates those beliefs!
After connecting with Anya and Shania Bhopa I can say that I am nothing short of inspired and I hope that after reading this, you are too! If you’d like to learn more about the Canadian Courage Project or are interested in supporting their educational program, I encourage you to head over to their website, thecanadiancourageproject.org