Thursday, 1st June 2023

Uche-Ezeala shines as equity, diversity and inclusion champion

By Chukwuma Muanya
20 May 2023   |   3:05 am
For the umpteenth time, Dr. Ijeoma Uche-Ezeala has shone as one of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion champions for 2023, who were celebrated on April 28, in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

Dr. Ijeoma Uche-Ezeala

For the umpteenth time, Dr. Ijeoma Uche-Ezeala has shone as one of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion champions for 2023, who were celebrated on April 28, in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

The award was organised by Diversity Magazine, Alberta’s award-winning largest multicultural publication, which has been telling untold Albertan stories for over a decade now.

Other winners of Friends of Diversity (Individual) are Luciana Erregue-Sacchi; Gopal Bhatta; Ben Acquaye; Elaine Spencer; Francis Aranha; Sherri Smith Holly Glassford; and Sabrina Samuel.

Innisfail Welcoming & Inclusive won the Friends of Diversity (Organisation) category, while Patricia Arango won the Diversity Awards (Peace & Friendship) category.

Diversity Award, for the first time, was spiced with an exciting Tourism Enhancement component – a guided tour along the beautiful Sylvan Lake’s lakefront by Councillors Ian Oostindie and Graham Parsons of the Town of Sylvan Lake.

Uche-Ezeala is the Managing Director and CEO of Without Walls Inc. Canada. She is an economist and holds an MBA in Global Business Administration from the prestigious Imperial College London, the United Kingdom (UK). She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Maverick Business Academy, London.

Her business network spans Africa, the Middle East, North America, and Europe. IJ, as she is fondly called, is a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, an educator, an advocate for the girl child and women empowerment, and a transformational community leader whose business help kids and youth, build solid academic foundations, resilience, and life skills. She is a highly engaged and passionate leader with over a decade of volunteering in Canada. She serves on several Boards as a Director for social-profit groups, political organisations, and committees.

In Wood Buffalo, she serves with RMWB Library Board; Development Advisory Committee; Downtown Revitalisation Advisory; VP Fundraiser for her local Conservative Constituency Association for MLA representing Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo; the local CPC Board for the MP representing Fort McMurray – Cold Lake; Immigrant Advisory Board and United Ways as the Board Treasurer.

She strongly believes in giving back to her community, as a Director for Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta, our purpose is to inspire all girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold through direct services and advocacy. They equip girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. As a formal Big Sister volunteer, she was grateful to mentor Elementary School Girls in the Go-Girls programme. Her mentee learns about Healthy Bodies, the Healthy Minds Programme, which focuses on lessons of building self-esteem and confidence while addressing the importance of physical activity, healthy eating, and creating positive friendships.

During her tenure as the VP of Rehoboth Alliance, she effectively executed a graceful Black History event in the region. The Black heritage is being showcased within schools through the Lincoln Alexandra School Essay writing competition. The banquet and award nights celebrate black heritage, culture, and black achievements. She is a successful business owner that advocates for newcomers and empowers immigrants through employment opportunities.

Oftentimes, it is the immigrant’s first Canadian work experience and this helps to improve the immigrant’s adaptation quotient. Her staff force exemplifies strength in diversity because the demography is mostly women from different continents, cultures, and languages, which increases her ability to provide excellent diverse customer services to the multicultural wood buffalo community. Uche-Ezeala’s public services and community contributions have been appreciated, recognised, and rewarded.

In 2021, Fuse Social Association Canada nominated her business for the Heart of Wood Buffalo Excellence awards within the ‘Community Impact’ category. As an authentic leader, in 2021 and 2022 the Chamber of Commerce Fort McMurray Alberta Canada did recognise her excellent effort and bravery to open her business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was awarded Woman of Inspiration (WOI) at the 2022 International Women’s Day. She was nominated as a discussion panelist at the 2022 Human Rights organised by Multicultural Association. In 2022 she was a guest speaker at the 3rd African Women Summit held in Kigali Rwanda. And in 2023, she was also a guest speaker at the 4th African Women Summit to hold in South Africa. She examines the critical roles women play as agents of Peace and sustainable development.

Her local business is listed on the Hall of Fame of Northern Light Foundation for her generous donation to support the Northern Light Foundation. Her family sponsors a scholarship award with the Keyano College Foundation, a student award targeted to assist International students of African descent. As a powerhouse of energy, in November 2022, she was named Top 50 under-50 in Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada.

Last year, as part of its vision towards inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold, Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta and Bouchier, Canada, had announced her as the final nominee of the 2021-2022 Women of Inspiration Series. She had been chosen by the committee for her tireless efforts in breaking race and gender stereotypes and providing opportunities for women and children – particularly girls – to thrive. She is also passionate about promoting the region and encouraging people to live.

Uche-Ezeala has been a champion for women and girls in many ways, such as a motivational speaker and a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She has also helped to organise the Conversation Cafés, where visible minorities in the Wood Buffalo region could express their concerns in a survey. The survey results encouraged the June 2021 motion by council to increase the number of members on the Regional Advisory Committee on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (RACIDE) from five to nine in order to improve diversity of experience and expertise.

In her over 20 years working in a corporate environment, Uche-Ezeala was once the only woman of a visible minority in management. During this time, she was bullied and undermined, even once arriving at her office to find a racial statement had been written on her whiteboard. After having the incident brushed off, she went to Calgary to speak to the Vice President, which led to her working with Human Resources to promote an anti-bullying policy.

“We are very diverse, but the bigger question is, how inclusive are we to accommodate and appreciate our differences? Let’s stop the hate and be humane,” Uche-Ezeala said.

In 2016, when she returned to the region after the Horse River Wildfire, Uche-Ezeala noticed children and youth in the community were experiencing academic gaps. To help them build a solid academic foundation, she began Kumon Math and Reading Centre – an after-school enrichment programme providing individualized lesson plans and support for kids.

When asked why she chose the transition into working with youth, she said she hopes to make it one of her legacies, to see kids excel academically, unlock their potential while building positive life skills. It’s the ‘aha moments’ on the faces of the kids that are priceless to know that each kid has gained mastery on a topic.

Uche-Ezeala’s work with Kumon goes beyond bridging academic gaps. When her students reach employment age and are interested, she offers work opportunities while encouraging them to pursue further education and experience.

She joined four other Women of Inspiration nominees to be honoured on March 19 at VOICES: Women of Inspiration Celebration 2022 — Together, we can amplify.

Canadian Anishinaabe artist, Sarain Fox, an indigenous youth empowerment activist, host of RISE on Viceland and Future History, headlined the event.

Meanwhile, Frankline (Producer), and Anna (Events Manager) at Diversity Magazine, said from their coverage of multicultural, indigenous communities, and organisations across Alberta, they realised that most organisations have done some work on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I), but are too busy to share what has been done. “As you know, ED&I is a never ending journey, and every organisation is at a different level of this journey.

“We invite you to share your organisation’s ED&I journey. Your organisation’s journey will be shared with indigenous and multicultural communities across Alberta and Canada, using our multi-media platforms of print, online, online TV, events, festival, and social media pages,” they said.