IDA 2020 Award Finalists | Immigrant Services Calgary
IDA 2020 Award Finalists

Award recipients will be announced at the gala, held on March 13, 2020 at the Bella Concert Hall (Mount Royal Theatre). The event will host hundreds of guests, including representation from all levels of government, the corporate community, and the voluntary sector. This year's  theme is "Unleashing Potential", meant to recognize the inspirational immigrants who have come to call Calgary home, as well as their resilience and ability to break through barriers and help others do the same.

In the following weeks we'll be highlighting each finalist and sharing their stories on our website and social media. Make sure to follow us online to catch a glimpse of their photos and to hear about their remarkable achievements that are breaking down barriers.

IDA 2020 Award Finalists

Achievement Under 35 is presented to an immigrant or refugee under 35 years of age who has had remarkable success and made significant achievements in their chosen career path in a relatively short period of time. By overcoming significant obstacles, this person has demonstrated perseverance and dedication.


Iman Bukhari Charles Osuji Aishwarya Khanduja

An anti-racism activist, Iman Bukhari started her own non-profit organization at the age of 19. In the 10 years since the founding of the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation, she has expanded her team to 20 members, published numerous research studies, and has spoken at dozens of conferences. She is currently working for the City of Calgary on their multicultural strategy, and she continues to improve race relations for adults, kids, teens, seniors, and people from all paths of life.

Within a short period of time, Nigerian-born Charles Osuji has succeeded in securing re-accreditation as an internationally trained lawyer, become an associate lawyer, and has acquired a 3-decade old law firm (now named Osuji Smith Law). Since assuming ownership, direction, and responsibility of the firm, he has doubled the number of staff and has become a popular role model for the community. In addition to mentoring other internationally trained lawyers, he volunteers for a variety of activities and offers pro-bono work for clients through his rapidly growing firm.

Aishwarya Khanduja is a passionate innovator who has used her skills to connect social justice and civic transformation. As the founder of her own non-profit, First Generations Organization (1GO), she has helped numerous high school students realize and reach their fullest potential. An advocate for knowledge translation and global health, she conducts research in fetal and neonatal medicine where she is developing a diagnostic tool that will help decrease maternal morbidity rates.

Arts & Culture is presented to an immigrant or refugee who has achieved success in an artistic endeavor within the visual, media or performing arts fields.


Dr. Daljinder Singh Johal Olawunmi Idowu Ishita Singla

Dr. Daljinder Singh is a well-known advocate in the city’s Punjabi community. With his vast knowledge and experience in folk dances, he has taught high school students the importance and rich history of Punjabi culture. His efforts have created Bhangra teams which have won distinctions in various Alberta competitions, motived dance academies in California, and has influenced well-known Bollywood actors. Using the arts, he discusses pain points of the Punjabi community, such as how to combat drugs and violence.

Olawunmi Idowu shares the intricacies of African culture and art forms through dance, music, theatre, and storytelling. An accomplished choreographer and producer, she has brought global African dance instructors to Calgary where they have taught styles never before seen in the city. In addition to organizing numerous theatre productions, she continues to celebrate intercultural understanding and promotes the African-Canadian community by sitting as a member of several arts and inclusion organizations.

Ishita Singla is the Founder and Artistic Director of Madhuban Performing Arts and specializes in Indian folk forms, Bollywood dancing, and semi-classical styles. An avid believer that art can promote health and well-being, she has worked tirelessly to promote South Asian art forms through dance and music, and she also serves as keynote speaker for awareness events such as mental health, domestic violence, female empowerment, and stigma associated with the performing arts.

Community Service is presented to an immigrant or refugee who has provided outstanding community service to the city of Calgary and immigrant communities in a volunteer capacity.


Humaira Falak Saima Jamal Nitu Purna

Humaira Falak is an advocate for domestic violence awareness and prevention, shedding light on the issues faced by various ethno-cultural communities. An unwavering force for change, she uplifts and empowers women and vulnerable populations of diverse cultures through her public speaking and community work. Humaira has continuously used her platform and experience with domestic violence to discuss how current issues in employment, justice, policy, and cultural biases are hindering the success of vulnerable populations.

4 years ago, Saima Jamal co-founded the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, but her activism and humanitarian efforts for immigrants, refugees and members of the international and local community began in 1998. She is a formidable force and catalyst for public good, and her rallies and fundraisers have led to the mobilization of thousands of diverse community members and leaders. Raising funds to combat prejudice and discrimination, she empowers marginalized populations within the city.

In 2008, Nitu Purna became the first female literature editor in a national newspaper in Bangladesh. As an editor, author, and social worker she has highlighted the barriers that newcomers face on their journey to integrate. Striving to pave a path of equity for immigrants and refugees in Calgary, she addresses the obstacles that they face in receiving mental health support. She is known for her advocacy and connection to community partners to ensure supports are culturally informed, inclusive, and emphasize resilience.

Entrepreneurship & Innovation is presented to an immigrant or refugee who has achieved success in the creation or operation of a business or entrepreneurial endeavor or has applied innovation resulting in business success in Calgary or surrounding areas.


Jose M. Azares Angie Ostojic Erkin Atakhanov

As a two-time start-up founder, Jose M. Azares works to create inclusive work environments, employing those of differing abilities. His popular boutique restaurant REGRUB, employs many individuals with developmental disabilities, and publicly recognizes the hard work and loyalty they bring to his work force and the community. His second start-up, NIDUM, is a unique initiative which promotes inclusivity by creating virtual reality training modules to support employers in diversifying their employees.

Angie Ostojic, is the founder of AO Giving Hearts which supports less fortunate children in the Philippines. Her inspirational life story of overcoming poverty and reaching success in a new country through determination has fueled her passion to assist others in their pursuit of achieving financial freedom. As a life-coach and motivation speaker, she works to break down barriers standing between individuals and their lifelong dreams.

Within 3 years, Erkin Atakhanov opened his firm, PFC accounting which is now the first in Canada to be represented in the Pancell Kerr Forster (PKF) global network of accounting firms. 90% of his business is comprised of immigrants, hailing from diverse backgrounds and he actively works with newcomers to improve their financial literacy through free financial education and services. Erkin is also an active supporter of various not-for-profits within the city.

Lifetime Achievement presented to an immigrant or refugee who has achieved outstanding success in his or her chosen career path, professional field, or in the area of immigrant services. This individual will have made significant contributions to our city in the areas of professional achievement, community building, and philanthropic endeavors.


Prof. Károly Bezdek Dr. Lashitew Gedamu Dr. Evelyn Jain

A professor at the University of Calgary and one of the four longest serving Canadian research chairs in mathematics, Prof. Károly Bezdek is an international leader in discrete mathematics. His accomplishments range from being one of 13 researchers holding a Canada research Tier 1 title in mathematics, solving one of the best-known open questions of computational and discrete geometry in more than 40 years, creating the free e-journal “contributions to discrete mathematics”, and his work with the Banff International Research Station. His research works enables others to tackle problems in the areas of robotics, computer graphics, pattern recognition, crystals and quasicrystals, and manufacturing processes.

Since moving to Calgary, Dr. Lashitew has fostered an extensive scientific, educational, cultural, and humanitarian relationship between Calgary and his native Ethiopia. He has played a pivotal role in influencing future researchers, having mentored over 60 students in his laboratory at the University of Calgary. His community involvement includes being a co-founder of the Ethiopia Community Association, supporting individuals with HIV/AIDS, coaching soccer, fundraising to improve health care in Ethiopia, building biomedical research and educational capacity in Ethiopia, and providing Ethiopian students with courses on molecular biology and bioinformatics.

With a commitment to make the world a better place, Dr. Evelyn Jain has overcome every obstacle she has faced in her personal, professional, and academic life. Her policies and medical interventions on breastfeeding have become industry standard, and her passion to educate future health care professionals ensures a lasting impact on mothers and their families. Along with her love for medicine, Dr. Evelyn Jain is a supporter of social justice, providing young socially conscious women with scholarships and fighting discrimination.

Organizational Diversity is presented to an organization* (business, government body, non-profit organization, or media outlet) that is a leader in embracing and promoting an inclusive, welcoming and diverse workplace. The winner will be a shining example of how a company champions workplace diversity initiatives and has made significant contributions to supporting and integrating an ethnically diverse workforce.


Developmental Disabilities
Resource Centre of Calgary (DDRC)
/ Helen Cowie
Action Dignity Society
/ Marichu Antonio 
Centre for Affordable
Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
/ Tori D'Avella

“Everyone belongs” is the guiding principle of DDRC. Through various community partnerships they provide first-language support for refugees having developmental disabilities encouraging clients to maintain their cultural connection and build natural supports. Inclusivity efforts are seen through DDRC’s annual inclusion awards, highlighting integrative techniques employed by community members. DDRC recruits, develops, and supports a diverse set of newcomers, with over 50% of the employees being immigrants to Canada, which includes members of the management team, and the CEO.

The Action Dignity Society is a community-based organization that facilitates the collective voice of ethno-cultural communities and other minority groups who are seeking equity in areas such as employment, health, academia, and government. Through the consultation of 70 ethnocultural organizations, the agency ensures best-practice and an ongoing enrichment of agency initiatives. Organizational diversity is reflective in their goals aiming to fill cultural gaps, employees, board of directors, and their implementation of unique HR policies allowing paid personal cultural days.

CAWST provides international organizations with economically efficient solutions to sanitation and water needs, supporting healthy and productive lives for those in extreme poverty.  With a long history of supporting workplace diversity, CAWST actively searches for employees based on education, ability, knowledge and experience, without regard to race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Their work environment not only encourages diversity but also connection and growth through its accepting environment, wellness program, and learning exchanges.


Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is presented to an immigrant or refugee who has achieved success in or made outstanding contributions to promote science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) in Calgary.


Dr. Belinda Heyne Dr. Guenther Ruhe Dr. Baljit Singh

A tenured Department of Chemistry Professor for the University of Calgary, world renowned scientist, and advocate for women in STEM, Dr. Belinda Heyne has a mission of engaging people in science for the benefit of the greater society. Tackling some of societies greatest challenges, she has spent the last 12 years combatting antimicrobial resistance, creating and patenting technology that kills microbes upon contact.  She encourages diversity and the removal of barriers through her creative teaching style, international conferences, local engagement, and passion for science.

Informatics Researcher at the University of Calgary, Dr. Guenther Ruhe is a pioneer in transferring research results into industrial practice. Some of his achievements involve the isolation of gaps in Emergency App Services, providing a business intelligence solution for waste management in Calgary, participating in over 250 publications, holding a US patent on research planning, chairing positions in international conferences, and acting as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal of information and software technology, making it clear that Dr. Ruhe’s impact is significant and far reaching.

Dean of Veterinary Medicine at University of Calgary, Dr. Baljit Singh, has made significant discoveries in the area of  respiratory disease. He has received over $10 million in research funding, trained over 85 students, published 110 research papers, wrote two textbooks, received the Pfizer Research Excellence Award, and under his deanship has received the greatest ranch donation in North America. A champion of human rights, Dr. Singh formed the first human rights office in the University of Guelph and actively engages diverse populations including the indigenous for collaborative partnerships.

Youth Achievement is awarded to an immigrant or refugee youth between the ages of 14 and 24 who have made an outstanding contribution or significant achievement in one or more of the following areas: arts and culture, sports, community and volunteer activities, academics, and leadership.


Arshiya Shareef Yuvraj Singh Qiu Hao (Dundee) Wang

Badminton player, debater, advocate for human rights, and high academic achiever, Arshiya Shareef is used to beating the odds. She consistently uses her own life-experiences to inform her efforts of bridging inter-faith communities, promoting open dialogue, and ultimately improving the lives of vulnerable populations. She has led three blood drives, co-lead a youth group supporting Syrian refugees, partnered with Orphan Sponsorship Program, and is the General Director of the Muslim Student’s Association. 

With a dedication to serving the community through arts, culture, and research, Yuvraj Bhatti strives for equity in health care, community support, and academia. He provides Sikh youth with opportunities to reconnect to their cultural and musical roots through free programming. He activates members of the community, government, and the University, to create opportunities for marginalized youth to become future leaders and pioneers, promote a harmonious co-existence between all Calgarians, and to make strides in health research to improve access for immigrants and refugees.  

Nationally recognized basketball player, student union representative, honor student, and community volunteer, Qui Hao Wang, is a dedicated champion for positive change through sports, academia, and philanthropic efforts. He has a passion for empowering immigrant youth to engage in sports and foster through his not-for-profit organization Vision Youth Sport, so they can work towards their dreams as he is.


Sunand Kannappan Aaranyo Ghosh  

Sunand Kannappan’s passion for fighting cancer is exemplified by his interdisciplinary research and volunteerism at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Forming a not-for-profit committed to democratizing cancer research through the involvement of youth, he is regularly recognized both nationally and internationally for his innovative work and is seen by his peers and professors as a future leader in cancer research. He is an advocate for issues that matter to him on and off campus and shows incredible potential to improve communities around him.

Inspiring Sea Cadet, avid Health Sciences researcher, award winning trumpet player, and selfless volunteer, Aaranyo Ghosh, works to encourage and inspire his generation. Some of his efforts include his dedication to the Canadian armed forces, leading poppy drives for veterans, and hoping to one day be a medical surgeon in the field. In addition to his research regarding chronic diseases, he is also a skilled trumpet player and is often asked to perform for his school and Remembrance Day ceremonies.