When Joanne Kinya Baker came to Canada in the summer of 2011 as a single, ambitious lady, she had no idea what kind of roller-coaster ride she was signing up for. The searing summer sun welcomed her to the Prairies of Alberta Province where she was a graduate student at University of Calgary (commonly known as U of C) where everyone was friendly, and always smiled.
Joanne, a very social person began living through the emptiness that comes with leaving Kenya, her home and having to not only establish a new home, but also a new network. In her quest to build new friendships, she quickly learnt how hard it was to establish new friendships in a new country, “I felt like people did not warm up instantly, and this was perhaps a cultural shift in socialization for me, I am a social person and I thrive on constant social connection,” stated Joanne.
One of her first student jobs in Canada was at a grocery store. This was quite humbling as Joanne was a Project Manager in Kenya prior to relocating to Canada, where she managed a team of professionals and program budgets. A lesson of humility during this time was the importance of treating everyone with fairness, dignity and respect.
Soon after summer ended with all its shine and exhilaration, Fall came and then Winter crept in. Winters in Alberta are very cold, sometimes dipping to -40 degrees C, and sometimes last 6 months. Joanne experienced a hard time adjusting to the extreme cold in the Calgarian winter. The balance between going to school full time and working part-time in the winter became an uphill task, as the public transit commutes in the Winter were brutal! In addition to that, Joanne worked on campus (students are allowed to work unlimited hours on campus, but only 20 hours off campus), as she quickly realized that in order to pay bills and remain in school, she needed to have multiple jobs. In her second year, Joanne had two roles on campus; working in events and catering as well as a Research Assistant in the Faculty of Social Work (which later turned out to be a blessing), and working off campus at a youth program in elementary schools with immigrant kids. Three jobs, most times, were a minimum and normal occurrence at best.
When asked about some of the challenges she faced while settling in Canada, Joanne had this to say, “ You get used to the weather- however racism and discrimination in the workplace towards immigrants and people of color at every level, weather through unconscious bias or microaggressions almost always happens; but the part I struggled with the most, was speaking out for fear of losing my job. I now feel that I have grown enough in my confidence to speak my truth, and as such, years later, I was able to share my experience with a former director about this. Another Challenge is immigrants more often than not worked twice as hard and earned less than their Canadian-born counterparts for the same job.
But not everything was doom and gloom for Joanne, several great things happened to her along her journey. To begin with, when she applied for Margaret McNamara Education Grant (through the World Bank), she was one among 12 lucky women from around the world to receive the much sought-after grant. Joanne was also awarded scholarships from U of C. Those scholarships were a turning point in Joanne’s journey of settlement in Canada as an immigrant. Things began to look up for her.
Upon graduation, Joanne shared that finding a job was not easy, applying for hundreds of jobs (literally) but hoped that something would come up in the immigrant service sector. Many immigrants work in immigrant serving agencies as a stepping stone to Canadian careers as it is one of the places that values the lived experiences they bring to the table.
So just how did Joanne deal with all the challenges she faced as a new immigrant to Canada? She discovered how worthy she was and took leadership of her own career growth. She also began to connect with like-minded networks by reaching out to professionals and joining professional groups. She also leaned in to the experience she garnered at her practicum; and that was where her prowess in leadership was discovered. Not long after that, Joanne was hired at an immigrant serving agency in Calgary as a Team Lead managing 12 people and serving about 7000-10000 clients a year. Joanne was also the youngest in the team she led, and it came with a lot of growth.
Joanne joined Internations Calgary in 2015, a networking platform for global professionals. She strongly believes that being an “immigrant” is not synonymous to living in a struggle. After participating in the Internations community for a while, she was ready to take on the role of leading the local chapter, and became the Ambassador for the Calgary Chapter, which she still leads to date. Internations is available in every major city in the world and finding an Internations Community is a great way to be plugged in. Members network and share business cards and job opportunities within the communities, further to that, Internations members quickly become like family.
Currently Joanne sits as a Board Member at Corrections Canada for Calgary Parole, through the Citizens Advisory Committee. These involvements give her insights on how marginalized communities can be supported better within the justice system. Joanne also serves as an advisor on the Calgary Police Services Diversity Board.
Apart from receiving prestigious scholarships for studying Masters in Community Development and Social Work, Joanne has many accomplishments in Canada. Currently she serves as an Adjunct Professor at U of C and also works for a Municipal Government as an Advisor to political leaders, staff and community to build the values of equity and inclusion. She uses her skills and passion to get things done. She is also a part time instructor at a local college.
Recently, Joanne founded Shades of Humanity Consulting– a company that aims at enhancing organizational practices of Equity, Diversity and inclusion, using a change management approach. This Consulting firm is based in Calgary, and some of the services offered include; training, EDI audits and policy evaluation.
According to Joanne, Canada presents limitless opportunities. She is grateful for the education, and the amazing people she has met over the years. When she was applying for citizenship, she acknowledges that the process was transparent and seamless. She is proud to be a Canadian, and appreciates the healthcare and living standards. Along her journey, Joanne found love, and got married in 2019.
Joanne advises that if you get an opportunity go for it. There may be challenges that immigrants face, but set your eyes on the prize. You can grow into what you would wish to be but be ready to put the work in. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”- Maya Angelou.