L-R: Aki Tchitacov, Valérie Sagine-Toussaint, Alisha Wissanji, and Geoff Wagner | Photo credit: OK George! Studio
The winner of the Iris Unger Recognition award for 2022 is Alisha Wissanji. Alisha Wissanji got her start tutoring immigrants when she was just 8 years old. Passionate about helping underserved communities achieve better educational outcomes, Wissanji has spent the better part of her life building programs to help youth. This work has culminated in the creation of Fondation W, a registered charity organization with a mission to achieve educational success for all.
Fondation W’s flagship program, School of the Greats (École des Grands), was developed as a response to Wissanji’s experience tutoring and as a CÉGEP teacher in Montreal Nord, which in 2014 had a high school dropout rate of 25%. Recognizing the potential of mentorship, Alisha developed a program that paired CÉGEP students with underserved youth. The free program brings at-risk elementary students to local CÉGEPs on Saturday mornings, where they are provided with breakfast and meet with CÉGEP student volunteers who provide French and Math lessons and homework help, as well as introductory science and computer programming activities. Low cost and turnkey, the benefits are clear, with improvements reported in the educational success of both the elementary students as well as their college mentors.
How YES Employment and Entrepreneurship Helped
The School of the Greats program has quickly taken off, growing from 1 Centre in 2015 to 10 CÉGEPs and 15 elementary schools this year, with more in the pipeline. As the program grew, Alisha came to YES Employment + Entrepreneurship, a charitable non-profit that provides resources, tools and strategies to improve employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for Quebecers, to get help structuring the organization. “This (YES) is such an amazing resource for entrepreneurs. It revolutionized the way I was thinking about these things and really educated me and planted the seed of what I needed to pursue this” notes Wissanji.
Wissanji’s business coach at YES later encouraged her to apply for the Iris Unger Recognition Award. With a $1,000 cash prize, the award recognizes artists and entrepreneurs whose project best reflects the values that Iris Unger, YES’ former Executive Director, instilled during her 18 years at YES: dedication and passion, success through hard work, and a true commitment to making a difference in the community.
Wissanji is hoping that receiving the Iris Unger Recognition Award will help broaden awareness of the Foundation and its work as she works toward the goal of uplifting 500,000 students across Canada. With more schools in the pipeline, including in Ontario, and over 1000 beneficiaries since the program’s inception, Alisha is well on her way toward her goal.