The annual Ignite Summit, organised by the Aga Khan Economic Planning Board in Canada, was held in Calgary earlier this year. Each instalment of the conference is hosted for entrepreneurs to meet, discuss themes of relevance, and exchange ideas. Farkhunda Niazi — an attendee and conference participant — wrote the following article, recounting her experiences at Ignite.

The 2019 Ignite Summit, themed ‘Adaptability and Resiliency,’ was an outstanding conference for me on a personal level. As a young professional, I found it empowering and informative, and I have no doubt that other young entrepreneurs who attended shared similar sentiments.

The weekend-long conference was a useful platform for many young professionals to learn, engage, and connect with skilled and experienced professionals from a diverse range of sectors. The conference gave us a rare opportunity to converse with some of the foremost industry leaders within our Jamat from across North America, and to learn about their personal journeys and success stories.

Two major topics discussed over the course of the weekend were the advancement of artificial intelligence and an entrepreneurial mindset, among many others relevant to our futures in a globalised world.

Among the invited speakers, Asiff Hirji, former President and COO of Coinbase, discussed the evolution of machine learning and virtual reality and its implications on professionals. He also shed light on the future of blockchain and its potential to change the way that financial institutions work. 

During a breakout session, Lisa Caruso, founder of Toddler Monitor, advised aspiring entrepreneurs to be iterative and agile, build a network of experts, test their ideas, conduct market research, leverage e-commerce, and negotiate as much as possible.

One of the most inspirational speakers to me was 15-year-old technopreneur Zaynah Bhanji, who stated that the Ignite Summit was the best conference she has ever participated in, having already attended over 40 such conferences around the world.

Zaynah shared stories of her visits to developing countries and talked about the future potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help with improving quality of life in these parts of the world. She discussed possible uses of AI in classrooms, where it can be harnessed to administer and monitor lessons when teachers are not available.

For me, the women in leadership panel discussion ‘Breaking down barriers’ was one of the most empowering sessions of the conference. The speakers consistently focused their discussion on the importance and the need for women leaders to come forward, and for women to not be afraid of balancing family responsibility with serving in leadership roles or aspiring to progress along a chosen career path.

Manjit Minhas, a judge from CBC’s Dragons Den, shared an inspiring story of how she built a successful business from the ground up. Meanwhile, Karima Ramji, a certified advanced Cultural Intelligence professional, discussed the importance of cultural intelligence and how it enables us to understand one another, and work together towards building a stronger community. 

Communications expert Ryan Townend discussed the significance of personal branding and its importance in entrepreneurship and leadership, while Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi addressed the importance of closing the gender pay gap, and developing an enhanced sense of community.

During a Startup Showcase, experienced judges emphasised the key qualities of entrepreneurs they take into consideration before making an investment. These include drive, resilience, coach-ability, technical expertise, and an entrepreneur’s confidence to enact positive change in the world.

As a recent university graduate, I learned about the importance of building a network - not only to augment my personal career goals, but also to contribute towards the development of civil society in Canada and further afield. 

Throughout the conference, many of the speakers called upon community members to facilitate and offer mentorship to the young professionals present. Their encouragement prompted me to reach out to some of the speakers and attendees for help and advice. 

I eagerly look forward to beginning my professional journey in Canada and I am immensely grateful to the volunteers for organising and facilitating a world class conference in Calgary, the city I call home.