On track: How Southern Railway is helping break down barriers for Indigenous and immigrant students at Douglas
Southern Railway of British Columbia’s (SRY) main office is just down the street from Douglas College’s New Westminster Campus. But it wasn’t until Douglas alum Allyn Edwards stepped into SRY President Gerald Linden’s office that an idea for a partnership was born.
Allyn, SRY’s accounting controller and a Commerce and Business Administration (CBA) grad, has served on the Douglas College Alumni Association board since 2019. It was during a board meeting that he was inspired to approach Gerald about opportunities for SRY to support Douglas College students through corporate giving.
As a result, SRY officially launched the Southern Railway of BC Future Leaders Bursary through the Douglas College Foundation early this year. The bursary supports Indigenous and immigrant students enrolled in a CBA program.
“Part of SRY’s cultural identity is giving back to the communities that the company is based in. It made sense to connect SRY with Douglas,” explains Allyn. “SRY’s headquarters are right down the street from Douglas. I wondered, ‘Why haven’t we been doing this all along?’”
“Allyn’s connection with Douglas College was an initial, critical bond,” says Gerald. “But beyond that, SRY has always been very cognizant of situations where if we can give back, we do. It seemed like a good fit.”
A two-way track
While SRY’s bursary with Douglas is new, they’re no stranger to philanthropy. The organization supports numerous local charities, including the local hospital foundation and other railway and heritage causes.
In fact, giving to a post-secondary institution had already been on Gerald’s radar. SRY’s parent and sister companies, Seaspan and the Washington Group of Companies, have made significant contributions to other academic institutions. But Gerald hadn’t quite found the right fit for SRY until Allyn came into his office.
When it came to Douglas College, the organization’s goal was to establish a bursary to help students facing systemic inequalities. The Government of Canada and the Parliament of Canada report that Indigenous people and immigrants both face barriers to education and the workforce that their peers don’t. These include limited resources and a lack of recognition of foreign experience and accreditation.
“We asked ourselves who would benefit the most from our support,” says Gerald. “If the students who receive this bursary – or even their children or grandchildren – end up working at SRY one day, that’s great. But that’s not the purpose of this bursary.
“Our financial support isn’t about a short-term situation or something that will eventually benefit us as an organization. It’s about helping people improve their lives through education.”
Close to 8.5 percent of landed immigrants in Canada were unemployed last year. Among new immigrants who had been in Canada for five years or less, that number jumped to almost ten percent. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, Indigenous populations had an unemployment rate of nearly 12.5 percent.
The 2022 Stronger BC Economic Plan identifies skills training for Indigenous people as critical in reducing barriers to the workforce. Also, immigration provides almost 100 percent of Canada’s workforce growth and addresses major gaps in fields like health care.
With the bursary, SRY hopes to help address these issues in the workforce while giving financial aid to underrepresented student groups.
“It’s time we support opportunities to diversify our workforce and make sure everyone has the chance to succeed,” says Gerald.
A route to the future
The Southern Railway of BC Future Leaders Bursary has officially launched. Now, Gerald hopes that SRY’s philanthropy will inspire other organizations to give back.
“I really encourage other companies to look into financial support programs like this,” says Gerald. “It takes an internal catalyst for an organization to bring something like this to fruition. Someone needs to be the one to take the first step,”
“I hope our bursary motivates everyone to match or exceed what SRY has established to improve access to education. To me, there’s nothing more important.”
SRY’s new bursary has inspired a legacy of philanthropy within Douglas itself. On April 1, the Douglas College Foundation launched its 2022 Spring Campaign, which aims to raise $70,000 to support the creation of additional Indigenous and immigrant student bursaries at Douglas. Until July 30, all donations made to the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling the impact of each and every donation made.
Are you interested in joining Southern Railway in helping to break down barriers for Indigenous and immigrant students? Donate today.