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Removing Systemic Barriers with the BlackNorth Initiative
With Dahabo Ahmed-Omer—Executive Director, BlackNorth Initiative
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Globe and Mail’s Inaugural Business Changemakers Award recipient in 2021, Dahabo was recently appointed Executive Director of the BlackNorth Initiative—an organization with a mission to end anti-Black systemic racism by leveraging a business-first mindset. Dahabo participated in our DEI Panel at this year’s IBAO Virtual Convention. Here, we chat about the behind-the-scenes work BlackNorth does to move the bar on equality across Canada.
How did BlackNorth come together?
The BlackNorth Initiative came together in June 2020 after we were all deeply shaken by the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many before them. We witnessed the demonstrations against racism and police brutality in the United States, Canada and across the world. It lit a spark in all of us to take action.
For far too long, too many people in Canada have said “this is not my problem,” with anti-Black systemic racism and hate somehow distant from the lives we live here in Canada. Truthfully, that’s not the case. Black Canadians face systemic barriers that negatively affect their lives. The effects aren’t constrained to just one generation, but in fact have multi-generation affects.
We looked at the history of systemic racism in Canada and realized we’ve been going about it all wrong—governments alone can’t fix the problem. Both public and private sectors must come together to take a meaningful role in leading change. This is why the BlackNorth Initiative takes a business centered approach to solving this societal problem. Our first step is asking corporate leaders across Canada to pledge their organizations to policies and targets to help us in our fight against racism.
What are BlackNorth’s key objectives?
We’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s still work to be done. A few months after inception, we held our first BlackNorth Summit where we gathered Executives and staff members from some of the top companies in Canada to share their thoughts on how companies can do more in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion. Staff members shared their own personal experiences with racism and their thoughts on how corporate Canada needs to step up and play a leading role in addressing anti-Black systemic racism.
This past summer we held our first annual BlackNorth Ignites series comprising three separate events—Our Community, Our Allies and Our Summit. Events each focused on different aspects of what we’re doing at the BlackNorth Initiative. Our Community highlighted the work we and our signatories are doing in the community to uplift underrepresented voices and make sure they’re heard. Our Allies highlighted the work we’re doing as allies to all underrepresented groups in Canada—we had elders from Indigenous, Jewish, Black and Asian Communities speak and other visible minority leaders participate to amplify their voices and spread awareness of their cause. The event proved to be a stark reminder that there are many groups in Canada who face racism and systemic barriers every day, in all aspects of life. Finally, Our Summit highlighted our signatories. CEOs and Executives shared how they’re taking steps to eliminate barriers and announced programs and initiates they’re undertaking internally.
How can Ontario Brokers get involved?
Of course, our main goal is to end anti-Black systemic racism and systemic racism in all its forms across Canada, and every day we’re taking steps to reach that goal. Our 16 Action Committees all have a different focus—our Housing Committee has a plan to help Black families secure rent-to-own housing which allows families to build equity and create generational wealth; our Youth Committee works in underrepresented communities to create opportunities for youth to become active members within those communities; our Mentorship and Sponsorship Committee works with students and graduates from Canadian post-secondary institutions. The program has two main components—a webinar series where Black professions share their experiences of overcoming systemic racism, and group mentoring sessions working within the participants’ desired industry.
Our CEO Pledge is also a big part of what we do. It sets targets that companies have to meet by 2025. For example, taking part in our unconscious bias training, having a minimum of 3.5% of Executive and Board roles held by Black leaders, CEOs working with our Diversity Leadership Council to ensure underrepresented voices are being heard at the top level, and creating conditions for success. It’s essential that we collect data on race and ethnicity to understand where the gaps are and where we’re making progress.
In your first year of operation, what were some of your biggest accomplishments? Challenges?
If you’re a CEO, sign the CEO pledge. If you work for an organization or a business, encourage your CEO to sign the pledge. If you’re interested in volunteering for the BlackNorth Initiative, send an email to with information about your background, skillset and how you feel you can best help us reach our goal and spread awareness. You can also support us by donating through your business or personally. To keep learning about the work we’re doing, watch for updates on social—@blacknorthca on Instagram and Twitter, BlackNorth Initiative on LinkedIn and Facebook.
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