When Rany Ibrahim first moved to Canada from Cairo in 2002, he didn’t know much about the country. After studying at University of New Brunswick, he moved to Cape Breton to earn an MBA and later Halifax to start work on a PhD. As he met new people, the place started to grow on him.
“The more I stayed, the more I started to get to know the place through the people, professors, classmates,” he says. “One thing lead to another and here I am, a citizen, Haligonian-slash-Cape Bretoner.”
Now he works with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education as a business workforce consultant. He also teaches international business at Dalhousie part-time. He wants more immigrants to come to the province, and Nova Scotia to open its doors to them.
He serves on a number of volunteer boards and often speaks about his home country and immigration on CNN, BBC and CTV. In 2013, he was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Immigrants, a people’s choice awards that recognizes immigrants to Canada who have achieved success and are making a difference in their communities. In late May, he attended the Governor General Canadian Leadership Conference as an emerging leader. He was recently named to 21 Inc’s Under 40 Summit, which gathers Atlantic Canada’s most influential entrepreneurial leaders under the age of 40 for a three-day summit.
When you first came here what was it that you liked the most?
It was a totally different environment. People are friendly and different… I know it may not be the experience of others, but in my case most people I met were welcoming and opened their homes for me. Even for me as an immigrant, the concept of being a public servant, and a public servant in Canada… talk about citizenship. I’m a Canadian and a public servant, and I wasn’t even born here. That means a lot to me.
What exactly does that mean to you?
It’s a more powerful feeling of belonging. As an immigrant, you always have the struggle do we or do we not belong to a new place. You’re always looking for validation. Sometimes you get it, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s not clear. I am doing something that is helping the community, the province. I am doing a service for the public and trying to work in the best interest of the public. It’s acceptance, it’s a validation, and it’s a privilege.
The province is always talking about immigration and that we need immigration to boost the workforce. What do you think needs to be done to attract immigrants and get them to stay?
What I am saying here is I am saying as me not as any position… as an immigrant as well. But I am talking about my experience as an immigrant: I think it’s a more welcoming environment, more understanding of the opportunities here, the opportunities immigrants bring. But not just looking at the skills, but also the social contributions. How do you get them involved in the community? How do you get them involved in volunteer groups? You don’t want an isolated immigrant community talking their own language, visiting each other in isolation in the rest of community, city. You want to make sure everyone lives in harmony, they are connected, working together toward collective goals. I think it’s more about welcoming, but in a broader sense, in a meaningful sense. It’s not about opening the door for someone at the mall or about smiling or greeting or shaking hands. It’s about giving opportunities, giving a chance. Remembering that most of us were immigrants at some point.
What do you love about Halifax?
It’s a cozy city. It has a charm, it has its own flavour. I’ve been to many cities. It’s very hard to find cities that actually speak to the uniqueness of Halifax and also how well it’s positioned in the province and even the country.
How can we get international students to stay?
Seventy per cent would like to stay if they had the opportunity. They are no different than us. They are looking for a career, looking to be established. They are moving around, but they aren’t moving around because they don’t like it here. They are moving around because there are better opportunities elsewhere. That’s like any other student. The only difference is they are willing to take chances more. And they bring international connections that can be helpful for someone doing international business. Right now, if you’re not doing international business or you’re not thinking of doing international business, in my personal opinion, you’re not going far. We have to think globally.
Even Halifax. We have to think big. What’s wrong with that? We’re a beautiful city, we have assets, we have opportunities. We’re well positioned. Why not? I just came back from the Governor General Conference and if I learned anything …I learned if not now, when? If not you, who? I would add to this, if not here, where? It’s as simple as that.