2023 Immigrants of Distinction Awards Finalists
* Nominations are assessed by an external committee of experts in each award category. This ensures an unbiased and independent assessment that operates separately from Immigrant Services Calgary.
Achievement Under 35
Iman Bukhari, immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2000. At just 19 years old, she founded the grassroots not-for-profit Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation (CCMF) to improve race relations and help create a more equitable, understanding Calgary. CCMF’s work in the anti-racism sphere—which includes an online resource hub for kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers—has won multiple awards. For her tireless work and lasting impact on Canada’s fight against anti-racism, Iman has been recognized with the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal and was named Top 40 under 40 by Avenue Magazine.
Alex Montiel, who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela in 2017, is a passionate advocate and community leader, who has dedicated his time to community service and volunteerism to improve the communities he lives in. Before joining Diversecities as chief executive officer, Alex was the director of projects and engagement at Pro Bono Law Alberta, where he led the transition of the court-based program from an in-person to a virtual service to ensure vulnerable Calgarians continue having access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of work, Alex volunteers on three Boards, lending his expertise to support newcomers and marginalized communities.
Raffi Minas, immigrated from Syria to Canada in 2017. As a registered social worker, he has aided over 1,000 newcomers’ access to the City of Calgary’s Fair Entry Program and integration into the community. Raffi's leadership fosters collaboration and mentorship, driven by resilience, adaptability, and a strong work ethic. Recognized with an Academic Excellence Award, his extensive volunteer work includes supporting over 250 families and individuals, helping resettle 300 Ukrainian newcomers and offering 3,000 referrals connecting refugees and newcomers with the resources and services in Calgary, demonstrates his commitment to positive change.
Community Development Through Sport
Harpal Sandhu, originally from India, has been a devoted contributor to the Canadian community since arriving in 1975. His remarkable achievements in sports include coaching high school football, leading the Forest Lawn team to the 2013 Division 3 City Championship, and fostering young talents who have gone on to professional careers. Harpal's dedication extends beyond the field; he has worked with high-risk youth for 35 years, offering alternatives to gangs and drugs through football and mentoring youth leaders. His commitment earned him the South Asian Inspiration Award in 2022 and other accolades.
Lemlem Haile, originally from Eritrea and a Canadian resident since 1991, is a committed human rights and social justice advocate who has dedicated herself to community service for almost 30 years. She played an instrumental role in developing and facilitating public education initiatives focused on anti-racism and anti-colonialism, and is a founding member of the award-winning volunteer-led professional group, Social Workers for Social Justice (SWSJ). Lemlem's contributions extend beyond borders, fostering global citizenship and advocating for the rights of migrant workers. Her commitment to mentorship, research, and community building showcases her exceptional dedication to Calgary's diverse communities.
Sherrisa Celis, an immigrant from the Philippines who arrived in Canada in 2004, has earned numerous accolades for her exceptional contributions to the community. She's been actively involved in volunteering since her arrival, serving on several boards, including the Premier's Council on Multiculturalism and the Calgary Police Service Asia Advisory Board. Sherrisa is a passionate advocate for elder abuse awareness and has been instrumental in breaking taboos around this issue in many communities. She has received several awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal and the Minister's Seniors Service Award, recognizing her as a true champion of immigrant and senior rights.
Ogechi Nwaneri immigrated from Nigeria to Canada in 2011. She founded the Nigerian Canadian Nurses Association, which boasts over 500 members, and is instrumental in breaking barriers for immigrant and minority nurses. Her organization provides mentoring, job readiness, and networking for internationally educated nurses, helping them advance into leadership roles. Ogechi's commitment to supporting minorities extends beyond nursing, as she also served as the first female president of the Igbo Cultural Association of Calgary where she championed initiatives in immigrant settlement services and youth and mental health awareness.
Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Hong Phuc Nguyen
Hong Phuc Nguyen immigrated to Canada in 2020 from Vietnam. A dedicated advocate and visionary entrepreneur, she co-founded Kibbi Technologies Inc. in 2022 to revolutionize the job search experience for newcomers and refugees. Recognized as a Formidable Woman Across Alberta in 2023, her innovative approach combines job listings with a visual interface and a multilingual job portal. Beyond her entrepreneurial success, Hong Phuc has tirelessly worked with partners to create job opportunities for newcomers. Her journey embodies the transformative power of immigrants in building a thriving society.
Eno Eka, an immigrant from Nigeria, has made remarkable contributions to the Canadian community in a short time. Within two years of arriving in Canada, she founded Eny Consulting Inc. and the Business Analysis School, which offers accredited business analysis and professional development courses to over 1,000 immigrants. Her commitment to education has impacted over 5,000 professionals, and her pro-bono work has helped numerous immigrants gain employment. Recognized globally, she was Forbes 30 under 30 nominee and was named Universal Women’s Network Award for Mentorship. Eno's dedication to empowering immigrants and fostering education demonstrates her remarkable potential for positive change.
Monika Gupta, an Indian immigrant to Canada in 2004, founded MCG Career College to empower students in the health and wellness field. Her institution emphasizes the balance of mind, body, and spirit, aiming to develop leaders and support the community. Through cutting-edge training, top instruction, and flexible programming, Monika's college equips students with the confidence and skills to excel in health and wellness professions. Monika's commitment to community service and innovative vocational education sets her apart as a visionary entrepreneur.
Zabeda Yaqoob, originally from the UK, is a trained lawyer and the current director of legal & regulatory affairs at the Alberta Insurance Council. She provides pro-bono legal services as a legal advisor for the Brenda Stafford Foundation, and has contributed notably to the creation of textbooks for insurance broker/agent licensing exams. Zabeda's passion extends beyond her career, as she has actively supported internationally trained lawyers, mentored newcomers, and engaged in community initiatives through the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association.
Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, a Sri Lankan immigrant who arrived in Canada in 1997, is a distinguished academic leader and researcher. Currently serving as the vice-provost and associate vice president (Research) International at the University of Calgary, he has achieved excellence in teaching, research, and leadership. His pioneering work in construction engineering and project management, along with innovations like i-Booth and AMOTS, has transformed the construction industry, earning him the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants award in 2022. Dr. Ruwanpura’s exceptional contributions to internationalization have earned the University of Calgary six excellence and innovation awards, solidifying its presence in post-secondary institutions worldwide.
Pembina Pipeline Corporation
Pembina Pipeline Corporation is a leading energy transportation and midstream service provider that has served North America's energy industry for more than 65 years. Their approach to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) creates a differentiated experience for employees and all stakeholders through community, awareness, and education using multiple methods to support their employees’ understanding of how they can all contribute to a culture of inclusion. This includes Inclusion Networks, company-wide EDI events, Acknowledgement Months, such as Black History, Indigenous History, Pride, and EDI Foundations Education, which aims to increase leaders’ understanding of the core concepts of EDI. Learn more at www.pembina.com.
BMO is a venerable banking institution with over two centuries of history and with an unwavering dedication to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which transcends employee and customer engagement. They actively seek individuals with strong customer service, technical, and business skills, representing a multitude of languages to serve diverse clients. In Calgary, their branch boasts proficiency in over 30 languages. BMO offers comprehensive newcomer packages, easing the transition for new Canadians into banking services. Their commitment to DEI permeates their workforce, fostering diversity and inclusion at all levels, detailed in publicly accessible practices.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
Puneet, originally from India, arrived in Canada in 2001 and is a pioneered leader in Calgary's innovation ecosystem. As the Associate Director of the Energy Transition Centre (ETC) at Innovate Calgary, he spearheaded the creation of Canada's first Energy Transition Centre, a global model for addressing net-zero emissions by 2050. Puneet's leadership brought together government, industry, and academia, fostering nearly 40 energy startups. His contributions in establishing the Energy Transition Centre as a global center of excellence and fostering STEM talent exemplify his profound impact on Calgary's community.
Evelyn Ofsoske, a Ukrainian immigrant to Canada since 1993, is a distinguished Professional Engineer with a remarkable career spanning various sectors. Serving as the Principal Electrical Engineer at ExxonMobil, she has demonstrated her engineering expertise and leadership. She's not only excelled in her career but also championed a positive workplace culture, initiating a mentoring program, and supporting veterans through an employee resource group. Beyond her profession, Evelyn founded WUNDERfund, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, showcasing her unwavering commitment to community service.
Sara Ashoori, an Iranian immigrant to Canada since 2017, is Canada’s first certified non-military female pilot for long-endurance heavy drones, and a standout figure in the fields of unmanned systems and environmental monitoring. She currently manages operations and strategy at the Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS), and has contributed to river bathymetry, 3D geological modeling, and water quality assessment projects across Canada. As part of her humanitarian efforts, she used advanced systems to detect and record landmine locations, and helped deliver diagnostic test kits and medical supplies to remote First Nations communities.
Visual and Performing Arts
Tania Lemos Malpuria & Vishal Malpuria
Tania Lemos Malpuria and Vishal Malpuria, the creative minds behind Sparq Productions, have dedicated their lives to enriching Calgary's arts scene and Calgary’s South Asian Community, through a variety of productions including the annual ONE – A Dance Spectacle, Stampede Bolly Flash Mob, Diwali Dhamaaka Dinner gala, and many more. With over 30 combined years of experience in Bollywood-style choreography, they've charmed audiences through unique choreography, corporate instruction, music videos, and live performances having even worked with legends like A.R. Rahman and opened for Michael Jackson. Beyond their artistry, they're active in community outreach, supporting causes like organ donation awareness, youth engagement, and cultural inclusivity.
Lanre Ajayi, a Nigerian-born visual and new media creator who immigrated to Canada in 2015, has united communities and shared stories through art. He serves as the founder and artistic director of the Ethnik Festivals Association, facilitating connections and opportunities within diverse communities. Lanre's creative leadership fosters equity and diversity through art and cultural activities, notably using arts and crafts to aid traumatized immigrants from war-torn regions. During the pandemic, he produced the internationally recognized film "Yellow Legacy," showcasing Calgary's resilience and co-initiated "Operation Temporarily Adopt A Mailbox Stand" for essential worker safety.
Harpreet M Dayal
Harpreet M Dayal is an author, poet, and believer in the power of the arts to connect and heal. Born and raised in London, England, Harpreet moved to Calgary, Canada in 2015.
She founded 'Love Notes,' an event that gathers artists from across disciplines to create a performative love note to Calgary and beyond. Since its inception, Harpreet has collaborated with Arts Commons to bring Love Notes to their Amplify Cabaret Series, Moonlight Market, and cSpace. Harpreet is the Curation Lead at TEDxYYC. Her work has featured in HuffPost, Avenue Magazine, CBC, CTV, and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Yvette Ysabel Yao
Yvette Yao, originally from the Philippines, is a second-year medical student at the University of Calgary, aiming to become the first doctor in her family. Before coming to Calgary, Yvette graduated Magna Cum Laude with dual majors in Molecular & Cell Biology and Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley, and worked in research at Stanford Medicine. Yvette co-founded the Calgary Asian Medical Students Association, promoting immigrant and refugee health, and holds leadership roles in various medical organizations. Her global health efforts include launching a hand-washing curriculum for Filipino street children and facilitating research exchange programs. Yvette's dedication to medicine and community advocacy exemplifies her commitment to positive change.
Shrisha Gupta, an Indian immigrant to Canada since 2014, is a standout youth achiever. A medalist swimmer, winner of the CIWA Daughters of the Year 2022, and a Calgary Award 2023 finalist, she has many achievements under her belt, despite still being in high school. Shrisha has won international case competitions for financial management, was awarded the Platinum Medal for KUMON Math, and placed first in Marketyze’s Global Summer Marketing Challenge. Shrisha's leadership roles in organizations like FUSE Society, APCAA Youth, and Horizons YYC showcase her dedication to promoting business literacy and empowering youth.