Ratna Omidvar arrived in Canada from Iran in 1981. Like scores of new immigrants, she had no job despite a bagful of qualifications and it took her six years to find her feet in her new adopted country. That made her wonder: “How much longer does it take for other people to settle down in Canada?”

Unlike most other immigrants, she decided to do something about it.

She started working for Skills for Change, a non-governmental organization that helped new immigrants. She joined Maytree in 1998 “partly because I realized that in order to achieve my objective, I needed to work with different tools. Maytree, a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through leadership building, gave me access to those tools.”

She is now the president of Maytree. Under her leadership, Maytree founded the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council to create opportunities for skilled immigrants to connect o the local labor market. It works with all levels of government, enhancing coordination and effecting more responsive policy and programs for skilled [immigrant] employment.

TRIEC’s main emphasis is on bridge-building programs for international graduates so they can gain some Canadian experience – that is so crucial for new immigrants to find jobs in their own profession in Canada. TRIEC has mentored more than 3,000 international graduates and more than 1,000 have gone through internship programs. Most importantly, says Omidvar, many employers are now changing their hiring policies and procedures.

She’s too modest to take credit for the positive changes in the Canadian labor market. “There’s a much deeper and mature understanding of my key message that Canada will not succeed unless immigrants succeed,” she says. “Therefore, integration of immigrants is not the responsibility of immigrants of or the government – but the whole society.” Omidvar says she’s happy that the mindset is changing “in the government at all levels, also amongst professional regulatory bodies and amongst Canada’s leading employers.”

She firmly believes that “success of new immigrants is part of the mainstream success.”

To underline that, she points out that according to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada loses $4 billion every year because international graduates are under-employed. The study was conducted in the year 2000. By now, the cost of not properly utilizing the talent pool of new immigrants is likely to have doubled.

“I started to become aware of the scope and depth of the problem because of its complexity: One level of government brings an immigrant into the country, another level of government is responsible for their education and training. And a third level of government is responsible for regulating and issuing credentials – and the employers hire whom then like,” Omidvar explains.

An alumnus of the Kumaun University in Nainital, Uttarakhand and Delhi University, she learnt German in Pune and went on a scholarship to Munich, Germany, where she met her Iranian husband.

Amongst the dozens of government task forces she has been appointed to, she was a member of the Transition Advisory Board to the Premier of Ontario in 2003, when Dalton McGuinty was elected the head f Canada’s most populated province.

“I am very glad that I will never the Premier of Ontario,” Omidvar quips. “It is a very difficult task as once you are in power you have to bounce the priorities because of fiscal problems.”

Liberal prime minister Paul Martin also named her a member of his External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities. Among other honors, Omidvar received the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest civilian award, in 2006. She was named Woman of Distinction by the Young Women’s Christian Association in 2005 and she won the President’s Award from the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce in 2006 in recognition of her work with TRIEC. She also serves as a board member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, holds an honorary title of follow of Centennial College and was awarded an honorary diploma in community work from George Brown College in 2006.

That immigrants come to Canada, she says, is “in face a testament to their entrepreneurial zeal. It works out in the long term, but we have to keep working [to make it easier for new immigrants].”

Reference: India Abroad