Empowering immigrants: A journey from newcomer to community builder

Submitted photo. Divya Nagavara created a group to support newcomers as they settle in Canada.

Somya Lohia, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media

Each year, thousands of immigrants embark on a journey to Canada in pursuit of new opportunities and a brighter future. But the journey to establish oneself in this promising land is often filled with challenges. 

For those newcomers, Divya Nagavara has emerged as a guiding light. Affectionately known as Dee among her friends, she offers support to students and newcomers as they navigate the complexities of life in their new country.

Originally from India, Dee embarked on her own immigration journey in 2012, initially moving to Australia. After overcoming the struggles of learning a new culture, she settled in the country and eventually became a citizen. A decade later, a new chapter unfolded as she and her husband decided to make Canada their home after securing jobs in the country. 

Anticipating the potential loneliness that comes with starting anew in a foreign land, Dee took a proactive approach to building a sense of community well before landing on Canadian soil.

She created a group on Meetup and focused on making connections with fellow Kannada-speaking migrants — living in the Toronto region. Dee recognized the importance of having a support network that shares common cultural backgrounds and experiences, making the transition to life in Canada more manageable. She aimed to foster a tight-knit group that could provide mutual support, share insights and celebrate their shared heritage.

“I wanted to make the new country more familiar to me,” said Dee, who works as a product manager at Scotiabank. “I knew the struggles of an immigrant when I migrated to Australia. Now, as a second-time immigrant, I wanted to make it mine as soon as possible. So, I started building a community of Kannadiga people before coming to Canada.”

Just 10 days after arriving in Toronto, Dee initiated a get-together for the community. What started with 18 people has now blossomed into almost 600 registered members, with many more connected through various social media platforms.

While rooted in Kannadigas, the community has evolved to embrace all individuals who have migrated to Canada and are in search of a supportive circle. “We engage in different types of enjoyable activities like hiking, axe throwing, badminton and more,” Dee said.

Beyond serving as a refreshing reprieve from the routine of daily life, these gatherings also serve as a catalyst for networking opportunities and open forums where members can candidly discuss their challenges and triumphs.

During these meetups, Dee discovered the myriad challenges faced by her fellow immigrants. Inspired to make a tangible difference, she embarked on a mission to understand these challenges more deeply.

“One day, a friend told me about students struggling to make ends meet. I wanted to understand what exactly the students’ problems were. To grasp the ground reality, I conducted a survey, initially within the community and later extended it to colleges,” she says.

The survey revealed a spectrum of issues, from finding accommodation and managing finances to adapting to a new culture. But the most significant challenge that surfaced was the struggle to secure employment.

 In response, Dee launched a free mentorship program in August 2023 to assist those in need of guidance in building a career.

One of the program’s success stories attests to its impact. A mentee, who recently secured a coveted job, expressed gratitude for Dee’s invaluable assistance.

“The mentorship program really helped me. I cracked a job after five rounds of interviews, and Divya was with me every step of the way,” said Srinivas Bharat. “She guided me in expanding my connections for job referrals, prepared me for technical rounds, and even helped me with interview preparation.”

Dee saw the need for more mentors and reached out to her network for others willing to help. In addition to the mentorship program, she has launched Infobeku, a website dedicated to empowering immigrant entrepreneurs by providing them with a free space to advertise their small businesses. 

The driving force behind Infobeku is Dee’s first hand understanding of the challenges immigrants face, especially when trying to establish and promote their small ventures in a new country. While other advertising platforms often come with hefty price tags, Infobeku emerges as a beacon of hope for immigrant entrepreneurs, offering them a platform to showcase their products and services without the burden of costs.

Currently, Dee is actively curating and posting content on behalf of users who submit their details, but in the near future, Infobeku will evolve to allow users to directly advertise themselves on the platform. 

“For many immigrant entrepreneurs, it’s the difference between being seen and staying invisible in a competitive market,” she said. “Infobeku’s commitment to being cost-free ensures that financial constraints do not hinder the growth and visibility of small businesses owned by immigrants.”