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From York Lanes to global lanes of impact

From York Lanes to global lanes of impact

While a student at York, Tosin Akinwekomi (BCom ’07), founded Beam Inc., a non-profit organization that donated school supplies to underprivileged students in Nigeria and rebuilt schools in the area. Now the Senior Director, Business Effectiveness, Client Contact Centres at CIBC. Tosin shares the experiences he had as a York student and advice he has for recent graduates.

Can you take us back to the beginning of your journey at York and share how your experiences shaped your career path?

I started at York in 2003 as an accounting student. Coming out of high school, I had an idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but I wasn’t fully certain at the same time. I had always done well in accounting during high school, so taking it in university seemed like a logical step. York University was also very close to home for me, since I lived only a few minutes away. I remember being very excited to begin my journey as a postsecondary student and learning and growing over the four years I would spend at York.

Tosin Akinwekomi (B.Com ’07)

As a Senior Director at CIBC, what are the most valuable lessons you've learned in the financial sector that you believe are essential to succeed in this competitive industry?

First and foremost, technical skills serve as the foundation across all industries. Employers are assuming you have the proper technical skills when you arrive on the job, so it is important to come equipped with those foundational skills. For example, if you are in accounting, understanding profit and loss, balance sheets, and income statements, are all applicable technical skills for accounting jobs. There are also important supporting skill sets. Being able to communicate effectively is essential. Whether it be writing or delivering presentations, being able to deliver your message clearly is extremely important. The ability to work within a team is also valuable, since you will be working with other people for different projects. Lastly, being able to manage projects from start to finish is critical.

Let's talk about Beam Inc. What inspired you to co-found this non-profit?

Beam Inc. found its roots during my student days at York with my friends at the Nigerian Students Club Association. As students of Nigerian descent, my friends and I would always talk about the issues back home. One key issue we discussed was education and the lack of resources that students in Nigeria had available to them. We were thinking about what we could address this issue and we decided to take action. When we went back to Nigeria to visit family, we would bring school supplies and donate them to students in neighbourhoods that needed them.

At York, we started on campus, by raising funds, gathering materials and taking them back home. We believed that if we gave school supplies to kids in the most impoverished neighbourhoods, it would remove one of the barriers to good education, which is having the necessary supplies.

Fundraising began during our first year and we were able to raise $3,000. We continued to do this every year afterwards, for eight years. As we grew, we were able to raise $10,000 – $20,000 by increasing our network and sources of raising funds.

Beam Inc. has made a significant impact on the lives of over 3,000 children. Can you share a particular story or moment that stands out to you?

One moment that stands out was during a visit to a school in Lagos, Nigeria. During the visit, while we were talking to a few of the local children, all of them spontaneously started to pray for us. This moment was incredibly heart-warming and was a testament to the impact our simple act of providing school supplies had on the children. They would tell us, “You are the guys from Canada. Thanks for thinking about us and making a difference in the community.”

It was that feeling of gratitude expressed by the children and the local community that showed the significance of our efforts. We realized that this our actions were not just about the supplies we distributed, but much more than that.

Beam Inc. has now wrapped up its operations. Can you share more about the decision to transition and how the commitment to the well-being and education of the children persisted?

At the time of concluding Beam Inc., members of our team were moving to different places and we had less time to devote to Beam. In the eight years of operating, we started to learn that we should supply all these resources locally. We wanted to equip the locals to continue what we started there on their own.

We helped the locals in the community by helping set up their own businesses and giving them the supplies. We also started with re-building schools, and we would hire locals in the area ensuring that this was a school built for the people, by the people. These decisions were made to ensure that the impact of our work doesn’t end with our operation but is lasting and the well-being of the locals keeps improving.

What advice would you give to current York students and recent graduates about leveraging their education to make a positive impact in their communities?

When you graduate, there can be anxiety about landing the right job; everyone wants to start on the right foot. I graduated 17 years ago, and my first job after graduation was not my first choice. It is important to think of yourself as a person who is constantly learning and growing. Once you graduate, the learning opportunities that you identify yourself and the types of people who you associate with will make the biggest difference in who you will be in five years' time. It is very helpful to find a group of people that you're growing with where you can encourage each other.

Another piece of advice I have to offer is volunteering. While you are giving to others, you are also building skill sets that you may not normally build in your day-to-day job.

Lastly, when you are deciding on a job, and you have the privilege of having multiple options, always prioritize the place where you are going to learn the most, even if it's going to be the hardest job, or pay a little less. The first four to five years after graduating are extremely important and it would benefit you in the long run if you were able to prioritize learning in those years.