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Interview with Sanjana Vijayann, Program Coordinator Youth Entrepreneurship Program, YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg (Business Training Centre)

When we think of the YMCA, what usually comes to mind are sports and leisure activities. This is not surprising. For over a century now, the YMCA has been synonymous with building communities that are healthy, engaged and active not only in Canada but all over the world. In Winnipeg, the YMCA-YWCA has been working towards this and more. A big part of this is offering quality skills training programs aside from fitness activities.

For example, if you’re interested in expanding your livelihood options, the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg has a Business Training Centre that offers various programs on self-employment. Among its most recent offerings is a new program for young entrepreneurs. We spoke to Sanjana Vijayann, Youth Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator, to learn more about it:

English Online (EO): Can you tell us more about the Youth Entrepreneurship Program?
Sanjana Vijayann (SV):
The Youth Entrepreneurship Program is part of the Y’s programs for employment services. The goal is to support young people ages 18-29 who are interested in self-employment and growing their business acumen. The program provides three levels of support: building entrepreneurial skills, providing knowledge (so that they’ll know how to develop a business idea), and developing their networks.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Program runs for three weeks. For the first two weeks, participants attend in-class sessions (half-day, every day) to build their knowledge and skills. They attend various sessions where they learn everything from assessing their business idea, seeing if their product or service meets a need, and developing a Business Model Canvas. The Business Model Canvas is a one-page tool to outline a business model. This is important because it allows them to see all the elements of their business idea in one document. One of the best features of the program is that our lecturers are small business owners themselves. They share their knowledge with the participants based on their diverse experience and expertise in running a small business in Manitoba. The participants benefit from their actual local experience and gain practical tips they might not be able to find anywhere else.

The last week of the program is dedicated to networking. We arrange with our program partners such as the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, North Forge, Futurpreneur, World Trade Centre and small business owners to meet with our participants. This is a great opportunity for them to build important connections, ask questions, and learn more about the Manitoba business environment.

EO: Who can attend the program?
SV:
We encourage those who belong to a visible minority, Indigenous, women or persons with disability who are 18-29 years old to apply to the program. They must also be legally entitled to work in Canada and have a preliminary idea of the kind of business they are interested in getting into. Participants must be committed to the program. As the sessions are three hours (9 am-12 pm) every day for three consecutive weeks, we do expect them to attend regularly and participate in all the sessions.

EO: Learning how to put up a business is a great skill for young newcomers to have. It can be a great avenue for them to explore career-wise. Is there a language level requirement for the program?
SV:
I would say that a CLB level 4 to 5 would be the requirement. We carry out all the courses in English and they would also need to draft a Business Model Canvas, so it would be best if they are at this language level to fully appreciate and participate in the program.

EO: Are they required to put up a business afterwards? Are there requirements they must meet?
SV:
No they are not required to launch a business right after the program. Our intention is mainly to provide them with the right information and equip them with basic entrepreneurship skills to get them started. But if someone is interested in putting up a business, we can refer them to our other programs so that they can move up to the next level of preparation. For example, we can refer them to our YMCA YWCA Self-Employment Program which provides business coaching during the planning, launch and operations stage. They will also receive support in drafting their business plan and during the actual launching of the business – practically all the supports they may need to put up their business venture.

EO: If a newcomer is interested in joining the Youth Entrepreneurship Program but doesn’t know how to formulate a preliminary business concept, where can that person get help?
SV:
They are welcome to contact me. If they are interested in joining but have questions in terms of the requirements or even just knowing how to start the application, I can assist them. They can give me a call at 204-989-5864 or email sanjana.vijayann@ymanitoba.ca : Contact Us. This will be a good first step. I’ll help them proceed from there.

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