Good morning. Thank you for inviting me.
My name is Hodan Nalayeh and I'm a woman entrepreneur, a journalist, independent television producer, and a television host. In fact, I'm the first Somali media owner in the world who is a woman.
I created and developed Integration TV, the first-ever television show regarding the Somali community here in Canada. Integration TV tells positive stories of the community so Canadians can come to know our beautiful community.
We came to Canada 30 years ago from the war-torn country of Somalia. We are the first English television program for Somalis worldwide. Most recently I was invited by the United Nations to Wales, along with 25 other Somali journalists from around the world, to speak on how to tell the stories of Somali people.
What I want to tell you this morning is that women, and particularly women from minority communities, need support. While we know from the data that women make an average of 81¢ for every dollar a man earns, women from minority communities still make less. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, university-educated visible minority workers take home 20% less than their non-visible minority counterparts. In the public sector, their wage gap is 12%. This information was just released last month in a study.
Although I was born in Somalia, my father, who was a diplomat, brought our family to Canada when I was six years old. We were taught from an early age that we could do anything, but I have experienced barriers, as has my family, my friends, and our community—barriers of integration, lack of understanding of our culture and religion, lack of acceptance, lack of support for university and college entrance.
You have to understand we are still a recent community here in Canada. Many of our parents are former diplomats. They're doctors, research scientists, but they have been forced to take whatever job they can to support their families, which means there's often not enough money for education. Other barriers include lack of support in transitioning from higher education to meaningful employment and attaining positions that are commensurate with our training.
I was never taught in school that being an entrepreneur was possible. I was never taught the skills to make it possible. We have to get to students early. My first recommendation, therefore, would be that we make entrepreneurship and skill sets part of the school curriculum. Why not even have national competitions?
Our community has great entrepreneurial spirit. After all, we have survived two decades of civil war and built some of the largest businesses in Africa, but where we have struggled in Canada is expanding our businesses to mainstream society outside of our community. One of the greatest challenges is lack of funding to support small businesses, so my second recommendation is that we need more grants and that they be tailored to the needs of minority communities.
Let me explain. Many Somali and more broadly Muslim communities are often uncomfortable applying for loans because it includes interest. Paying interest goes against Islamic faith, so is there a way to come up with another novel approach? My third recommendation is that there needs to be an outreach to the community to support businesses, to let them know the requirements in Canada, what funding is available and how to apply.
Women in Somali communities often own hair salons, restaurants, and traditional clothing stores. Many women are single parents. How do we help these strong women look after their children, run a business, and succeed? Women need financial training and information on how to grow a business. My fourth recommendation, therefore, would be to have the government come to listen, do round tables in our community, and hear directly what our needs are.
It is my understanding that you have been doing round tables around the country. How many were focused on minority communities? Was there a round table for the Somali community?
We all know that when you support a woman to succeed, you can change a community.
I will briefly tell you now a little bit of my story. I worked in the banking industry for seven years. After working with many small business clients, I knew my only opportunity to better my family was to own my own business. So at the age of 37, I went back to school to learn a new trade, namely television arts. lt was very scary. I was a new mom with two children under the age of four, and I was going back to school.
Tuition was expensive. I had a mortgage to pay. I had no one to look after my children, no grant, no loan, and I had to work long hours. After graduation, it was impossible to find a job in television, so instead of looking for someone to give me a job, I created a job for myself.
But it was not easy. There was no funding. It was expensive to start a business. But having the necessary business skills, I set to work finding the start-up costs. I funded 26 episodes of Integration TV, which aired on City TV in Toronto and nationally in Canada and which is now on YouTube with over 400,000 views.
But still I struggle. I have done the funding searches. I do not qualify because the networks want programs to be general enough to reach all Canadians, and to get multicultural funds the program has to be in the cultural language, in our case Somali.
We are proud Canadians. The second generation of Somalis speak only English or have limited understanding of the Somali language. There are over 200,000 of us in Canada, but 80% of us are under the age of 30. Moreover, my goal has always been to celebrate the diverse nature of Canada, and in order for Canadians to know Somali Canadians, the show needs to be in English.
My fifth recommendation is therefore that media grants need to be reviewed. We must ensure that they are in fact meeting the needs of all Canadians including members of diverse communities. I have used television to raise awareness and education of the Somali community in Canada. I would like to see more access for media, the encouragement of more diverse voices in Canada, and more support for start-ups and growing businesses for diverse communities.
The Somali people are strong, resilient people, and we are succeeding and will continue to succeed in Canada.
My last recommendation to the committee is for the government to start not only a dialogue on entrepreneurship with our community but a real dialogue with the Somali Canadian community to break down barriers. Somali Canadians want a discussion on more than crime and immigration. We are Canadian. We are proudly Canadian, and just like you, we want our children to be successful in school, in the workforce, in entrepreneurship, and in Canadian society.