“It’s been so meaningful to know that there are others who are going through something similar and who understand that each day is a little different. Sometimes, it’s okay not to feel okay. As long as we can find our way out of the darkness and find a space to ignite our passions.”[i]
Zoya Jiwa is hoping to make a statement in the fashion and social impact worlds by creating an online platform where people with health conditions can creatively come together. At the young age of 14, Zoya was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can create inflammation in an individual’s organs. She also lives with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by intense pain in muscles and soft tissues. By personally understanding how health conditions can be an overwhelming challenge, especially when it comes to what to wear and how comfortable the clothing is, Zoya has developed the safe haven of As We Are to create a community of understanding. According to its website, As We Are “is a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines.” As We Are works to alleviate shared pain by exchanging style strategies, sharing personal stories, and finding different ways to build self-confidence. This project does not believe in the commonly perpetuated idea that people can only live a vibrant life after they get better from their ailments. As We Are aims to create a space where people can celebrate and embrace themselves as they are in the present.
Alongside Sociology, Zoya is studying Entrepreneurship and Innovation in school. She was only recently introduced to social entrepreneurship last year. Her hands-on introduction to the field began with RADIUS (RADical Ideas, Useful to Society), a social innovation lab and venture incubator based at the Beedie School of Business within Simon Fraser University and ultimately spurred the creation of As We Are. When describing her time during the RADIUS Fellowship, she commented on its balanced approach to professional and personal development, which was exciting because she could apply what she learned immediately. She also highlights the important role RADIUS played in her social entrepreneurship experience:
“Entering the RADIUS Fellowship… I had a general idea about creating a positive, inclusive social support network and resource for people with health conditions, but I didn’t exactly know what it would look like. It was just a broad idea. Then, I had a chance to narrow down exactly what I was hoping to work on. That’s when As We Are emerged. What this really offered me was a community, support, resources, and mentorship. That was the best thing about it.”
After she completed the RADIUS fellowship in June 2015, Zoya participated in The Next Big Thing (TNBT), a national entrepreneurship fellowship the following September. TNBT is a national charitable organization that empowers youth with the tools and skills they need to succeed as entrepreneurs. This fellowship allowed her to develop her project As We Are beyond its basic structure.
Additional highlights for Zoya include attendance at a national RECODE gathering of students, which she found very useful; being a recipient of Simon Fraser University’s 2015 Terry Fox Gold Medal; and presenting a TEDxSFU Talk called “What Weaves The Fabrics Of Our Lives?” (Jiwa’s TEDx Talk is available at the end of this blog.)
However, that doesn’t mean building Zoya’s venture has been without its share of obstacles. One challenge Zoya faces is that she currently manages the project on her own. She understands the importance of keeping community engagement consistent and looks to invite guest writers to contribute to the blog. Zoya has numerous other plans up-and-coming for As We Are. For instance, she intends to feature businesses and organizations that are enhancing wellness, accessibility, and social inclusion through their services and products. Zoya also plans on hosting community events in Vancouver for people living with and without health challenges. Finally, she talks about another endeavor she is working on:
“I’m working with two other students right now in what’s called the Social Innovation Activators Program through RADIUS. We’re doing some research altogether on social innovation on our university campus…I’ve been reminded of the importance of team work and the positive impact we can make when we’re working together.”
The goal of As We Are is to bring together individuals experiencing challenges and sharing the message that they are not alone. Zoya knows the effectiveness of working together rather than alone, and implements this knowledge in both the fundamental values of her project and in making that project a reality.
Increasingly, we are seeing that some of the greatest advances in social entrepreneurship and social innovation are coming from students. These stories are being lived, but they are rarely told. As a result, RECODE and the Trico Charitable Foundation are collaborating to survey and interview leading examples of Canadian post-secondary students who are developing social enterprises (for profit or not for profit).
This work seeks to build on RECODE’s survey activities with Emory University in Atlanta, and the insights from the Scaled Purpose and Mount Royal University report “Where to Begin: How Social Innovation is Emerging Across Canadian Campuses”.
It is hoped this research will inform our efforts to help Canada’s post-secondary institutions lead the way in supporting student social entrepreneurs and social innovators. But more than that, it will lead to a series of blogs capturing the students’ journeys. These stories will “reveal how process and purpose can converge to power a new economy for social and ecological impact” and, hopefully, inspire and inform social entrepreneurs within and beyond our Universities.