My Talk on Selfless Service at Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Today I gave a speech to launch the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It was a great honour to do so being a first-generation Canadian and it was very humbling to have been thought of for this opportunity. Thank you Thiago and Sabrina for making it happen! 

Thank you Deputy Minister Anita Biguzs, Director General Catrina Tapley and the CIC GCWCC organizing committee for inviting me to speak here today.

Knowing I had an opportunity to share part of my story with you all had me in a very reflective mood this weekend. What could I say to a very well educated, committed, high-functioning group of public servants that would resonate and enable a positive dialogue around service and giving, and how could I help enable you all to best serve during the time of this campaign and beyond?

What do I have to offer you all to help you move forward in a meaningful way for our community today? All I have is my story and lived experiences, and so today I offer them to you in hopes that you will find something useful.

Seva.

This is the word for selfless service in Sanskrit, and in my native tongue of Punjabi. It is also a mantra that is embedded in the core of my life. We are here to serve without ego, and without expectation. We are here to serve to uplift humanity in whatever small or large way we can.

Growing up my parents never made a big deal out of giving back. It was part of our daily experience. From having cousins and family friends move into and out of our home as they immigrated to Canada, to having countless folks over for dinner every night, to driving around on election day in Grande Prairie, Alberta with my dad picking people up from work and taking them to the polling stations, service was embedded in my culture and my daily family life.

They also taught me how to have fun!

They also taught me how to have fun!

I was and continue to be in awe of my mother’s resilience, and ability to show up for others. When anything went down in our community, she was the first to be called to help. The most humbling of which was last year after a young man in our community, Baljit, took his own life, and my mom was called in to help his parents and plan his funeral service for the community.

There was not a moment of hesitation in her reaction. She entered the situation in the only way she knew how - to help, to listen, and to serve. I would call her each night, and hear the exhaustion in her voice, but she would not complain. She knew the gravity of the situation and knowing that she was able to help, fuelled her everyday.

Coming from a home like this, service became a foundational element of my life, and it is the biggest reason why I became an entrepreneur.

A few months following the Baljit’s funeral, I made a trip back home and visited his mother. She asked me that day to help bring awareness to the experiences of depression, addiction, and suicide in an effort to prevent others from taking their lives. I looked into her eyes and knew she and Baljit were now embedded in my soul. I could not undo our bond, and I would work in whatever way I could, big or small, to share their story to uplift and to help enable change.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so today.

The Parents Lifelines of Eastern Ontario has helped countless parents to bring their children back from the edge. As a United Way partner, their work is directly affected by your campaign and giving.

In honour of Baljit Singh Flora. A kind, loving, gentle spirit. Until we meet again Baljit.

If Baljit and his mother had the support they needed both as new immigrants, and victims of an abusive addict, Baljit’s fate could have shifted. Sadly, his story cannot change, but we can work together to help change the lives of so many other youth burdened by the weight of their lives.

This is the kind of change you are helping to make in our community. This is what you are contributing to throughout this campaign. This is why it matters. Whether it is your time, or your dollars, you are making a meaningful difference in ways you can’t imagine.

I read the stories on the GCWCC website of your colleagues who have given back to their communities as a result of their personal experiences with disability, aboriginal issues, early pregnancy, and more. I was so inspired to see how deeply personal these experiences were, and how powerful your colleagues’ responses were.

Often when giving becomes institutionalized, it loses its heart.

But heart is what we need to make the greatest impact in this world. It’s what helps us to truly change the lives of the people around us, and others if we so choose.

My partner Mitch works in the public service, when I told him I was speaking here today he urged me to speak to the importance of giving time in this campaign.

For millennials, simply giving money does not satisfy. Giving our time, energy, and skills is what helps us feel connected to our communities and to ourselves.

So do that.

If you are encumbered by giving only dollars, make an effort with your colleagues or on your own to engage face-to-face. To see the community this campaign is giving to.

That’s what has continued to change my life.

One of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced the past few years was when I was sitting in the South of India with a group of women who asked me to sing them a song in Hindi. This was a group of women who received loans from a micro-financing effort enabled by Coca-Cola Global, and I was there as a storyteller sharing their stories with the world.

I started off quietly… Orja Kalay Kaawan Theray Moo Wich Khand Paavan…

One by one they joined in. Suddenly one of the women had a drum, before we knew it the whole room was dancing. In that moment I was so happy and so moved. I started crying while we were dancing.

Leanette dancing up a storm after the ladies got going!

Leanette dancing up a storm after the ladies got going!

I had spent that week seeing extreme poverty in my motherland. I saw firsthand the experiences of women of my own culture who were being held down by our patriarchal culture, but in this moment we were free together. Their collective resilience, and power was so moving. When I get down about my daily work, or about the stories of the women we are engaging with each day, I think of that day, and it reminds me of the power of showing up, of serving, and of listening.

I know it’s my sole mission in life to help improve the lives of women and girls globally. I am producing a film right now called Dream, Girl, that showcases the inspiring and powerful stories of female CEOs and entrepreneurs to inspire this next generation of female leaders. We know the names of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, but who are the female founders, what do their lives look like?

One thing I’ve learned for certain is that we can’t be what we can’t see.

Last night Viola Davis won an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. She was the first woman of colour to win.

She said, ‘The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

That’s my why. I want to increase the roles, representation, and opportunities for women in the media. I know we are on the cusp of great change for diverse, real, complicated women in traditional media, and across the world in all sectors, and I want to be a driving force in that change.

But it happens not all at once, but one moment at a time, once act of selfless service at a time, and one year at a time.

Know that your being here, in Canada, in a capacity to raise tens of millions of dollars as a collective for our national community is worth it. You are playing a role everyday in making small and large impacts on the lives of many.

That is no small feat. You all inspire me, and I hope together we can keep working, within this campaign and in our daily work, to selflessly serve in an effort to change not only the lives of others, but our own along the way.

Thank you.