Maninder Dhaliwal

Executive director, Tradeworks, Age 37

Despite a successful career as an electrical and lighting engineer, Maninder Dhaliwal was in the dark about her future seven years ago.

She came to Canada in 1999 on a University of British Columbia scholarship, where she did her M.Sc. in electrical engineering and later worked for some of B.C.'s largest firms.

But by 2007, she had realized that a career as a consulting engineer was not for her. Deep down, she felt a passion to work in the non-profit sector. But she didn't jump in right away. For the next few years, she branched out as president and creative director of Lumiere Concepts, a sustainable lighting firm.

"If I had the guts, I would have gone into the non-profit sector right away."

It was only after meeting and working with mentors like Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia through her work on Vancouver Board of Trade (VBOT) programs that she found the courage to "jump into the non-profit sector with both feet."

Since joining Tradeworks a year ago, she has transformed the Downtown Eastside social enterprise from a government-dependent, financially struggling organization into a business success. It generated $1.5 million in annual revenue last year and is expected to grow to $2.5 million next year from the sale of goods produced by participants in its employment readiness program for women and youth with multiple barriers to entry into the job market.

Her early tenure at the organization has already benefited program participants. Before, only a handful of the 72 people stayed in their job after completing the program; today, the employment rate for Tradeworks graduates is 70%. "Our program completion rate is 94%."

A key change she implemented was matching the skills needed by employers with what was being provided in the program and then creating a mentorship program to support participants.

"It builds a sense of accomplishment that leads to confidence. It's a beautiful cycle that gets better and better."

Dhaliwal has continued to expand her non-profit portfolio. Recently, she joined the board of Ballet BC, and she is also on the executive committee of the VBOT and on the advisory committee of the UBC Alumni Association.

"They say life expands to the extent of your courage, and I'm jumping in with both feet and not second-guessing myself. I've done that a lot but I won't do it again."