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Our Team

Rustum Southwell

Chief Executive Officer

Rustum Southwell has a true entrepreneurial mind, business acumen, passion and spirit to drive a successful business. Having successfully owned and managed various franchises in the food industry for several years, Rustum switched gears and took his years of experience and acquired competencies to oversee an organization whose main purpose is to develop and enhance Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia. As the first and founding CEO of the Black Business Initiative (BBI) for 17 years, Rustum’s vision, tireless efforts, dogged determination, and persistence has made the BBI a well-respected organization and a leader in developing an entrepreneurial culture that is helping to drive the economic vibrancy in Nova Scotia. He is an able and innovative administrator with significant expertise in strategic planning, business and entrepreneurial development and corporate governance. Rustum understands and champions the importance of employing entrepreneurial participation in community economic development strategies. He is back as Interim CEO.

Matthew Martel

Chief Operating Officer

A Certified Project Manager who believes in a ‘people-first’ approach to business, Matthew James Martel is the Chief Operating Officer at the Black Business Initiative (BBI). He holds a master’s degree in Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation from the Sobey School of Business. A serial entrepreneur, Matthew also has an extensive background in leadership, Human Resources, change management, and strategic planning.

Matthew is passionate about Canadian entrepreneurship, especially in working to foster and grow minority-led enterprises. His ability to observe and understand the contributions of different facets of a company allows him to effectively work with individuals and teams to innovate organizational processes.

Njabulo Nkala

Director, Innovation & Growth

Njabulo Nkala, CFA, is the Director, Innovation & Growth and Entrepreneurship. He is charged with providing leadership and direction to the Black Business Initiative’s Entrepreneurship Team that works directly with Black-owned businesses across the four Atlantic Canadian Provinces, as well as lead and inform on some of the organization’s key initiatives and strategies, including the Atlantic Canada Black Entrepreneurship Program. Njabulo is also the managing director of the Black Business Community Investment Fund Ltd., BBI’s community investment fund that aims to capitalized Black businesses in Nova Scotia. He completed his MBA degree with a specialization in Finance at Saint Mary’s University and holds a BSc in Applied Physics. He is also Charter holder of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute. He also uses his global knowledge of finance and business in his work with business owners, and as an adjunct professor of finance at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University.

Idy Fasharonti

Consultant, DEN Project Lead

Idy Fashoranti assumed the role of the Director of Operations for the Diversity Employment Network, bringing to the position more than 20 years of experience in financial planning and analysis, corporate accounting, financial management, and corporate governance. She also has a wealth of experience in people and business management, HR policies development, strategic planning, and business development. During her career, Idy has worked with leaders, owners, executive, managers and diverse personnel in the capacity of a senior administrative director, financial controller, corporate officer, and senior auditor.

Gabriela Mkonde

Accounting Assistant

Growing up in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, Gabriela moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia to complete a Bachelor of Administration with a major in accounting and a minor in management at Mount Saint Vincent University. Gabriela is currently the Accounting Assistant and IT Tech at BBI. Passionate about community and social impact, Gabriela has led and been a part of many fundraising campaigns. Gabriela is a self-driven and dedicated member of the team. She is passionate and knowledgeable about her work. Adept at paying attention to detail and providing information efficiently, Gabriela is an asset to her team as she can pull data to inform organizational projects. Gabriela believes in the payoff of hard work, citing that the results may take time, but willpower and patience will yield positive outcomes. A multi-linguist, Gabriela enjoys learning new languages. She enjoys playing and watching soccer, as well as cooking with her friends and family.

Chiedza Jones

Director of Corporate Strategy, Research and Communications

Chiedza has been working in the non-profit sector for several years, supporting communities and organizations through project management, research, data management, evaluation, communications, grant administration and advocacy. She is a certified project manager with a master’s degree in international development studies and is passionate about addressing complex socioeconomic challenges through sustainable development and innovation, as well as using her experience and expertise to support organizational growth and sustainability.
Outside of work, Chiedza is also a speaker and a spoken word artist, and believes in creating necessary discomfort, provoking thought, and inspiring change with her pieces!

Rodger Smith

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager

Prior to joining BBI in Nov. 2013, Rodger Smith was a Senior Account Manager, Personal Financial Services with RBC Financial Group. He retired in July 2009 after 35 years. During that time, Rodger managed two branches – Gottingen St. & Lady Hammond Rd. – for a total of six years.

Rodger has held many volunteer positions on community and church boards and committees. He was the Resource Development Chairperson of the National Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association. Rodger served for 10 years as a board member and chair of The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, and the Chebucto Wind Field Inc. to name a few.

Rodger and his wife Marilyn have been married for almost 47 years. They have three daughters and six grandchildren of whom they are very proud.

Otni Chinenere

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager

Otni Chinenere has an extensive background in travel and a passion for people and their stories. She uses these skills and experiences in her role as an Entrepreneurial Engagement Manager. In this role, she supports businesses by connecting them to resources and opportunities in the business sector that promote growth and sustainability. Otni received her bachelor’s degree in Tourism & Hospitality with a minor in Business Administration from Mount Saint Vincent University. In her efforts to support marginalized businesses and communities, Otni has hosted several panels to help push the pin on significant conversation. These include “The Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” presented by the Diversity Employment Network (DEN), and “Black Wealth: Creating Space for Black Women,” presented by the Halifax Black Film Festival (HBFF). Otni sits on the executive team of Soli Productions Management, an entertainment agency that addresses the need for increased diversity in the talent industry.

Mamadou Wade

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager

Mamadou Wade was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and moved to Halifax with his family at the age of 12. He recently graduated from U of T. He is currently working as an Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager (EEM). Entrepreneurship has always been a passion for him, but giving back is something he is equally fond of. Education – whether formal or informal – has always been a pillar in Mamadou’s life, and a stepping-stone to reach new avenues. He is grateful for community and the connections that it has brought to his life. As a young person, he believes that one thing worth protecting in his community is the future of our youth, including building their courage to achieve their dreams. When he is not in the office, he finds pleasure in art and other creative means, as well as staying physically active and spiritually in tune.  

Ayoola Ogunbiyi

Financial Controller

Ayoola Ogunbiyi is the Financial Controller of the Black Business Initiative. He holds a master’s degree in Finance and hold designations with both the Institute of Chartered Accountants Nigeria and Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. He brings over 18 years’ experience from public accounting practice and private sectors across local and multinational companies. He was also involved in training and manpower development at both tertiary institutions and professional levels on a part-time basis. He has worked in diverse roles such as Financial Reporting, Treasury and Cash Management, and Taxation with ExxonMobil subsidiary companies in Nigeria. Prior to that, he also worked with public accounting firms, a financial service institution and a manufacturing company. He is a research enthusiast, an avid reader and has passion for soccer.

Monica Mutale

Communications Manager

Monica is a graduate of the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College. She has a passion for using her communications expertise to help organizations reach wider audiences more effectively. Monica has worked as a freelance journalist, profiling Olympic athletes, award-winning musicians and even reporting on injustice in the education system. A former student and community leader, she has a passion for volunteering. She has contributed her skills to the non-profit sector in both communications and leadership capacities. Above all, Monica seeks to help individuals and organizations find their unique voices and share their stories in an authentic manner. She is thrilled to be able to do this as part of the BBI team.

Precious Familusi

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager – Newfoundland

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Precious Familusi spent most of his life living in different countries around the world before making Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) his home. His passion for supporting Black-owned businesses is the driving force for why he wanted to be an Entrepreneurial Engagement Manager with Black Business Initiative. Upon graduating from Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration, he was the winner of the Leslie Thoms Convocation Award for Leadership and was chosen as one of the Heroes of 2020 by The Telegram for his work within the community. He is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter NL and host of “Out of the Fog” on Rogers TV. Precious is a community organizer and conversationalist who loves making new connections. An avid musician, movie lover and soccer fan, he can be found either banging on the drums at his church, binge-watching Netflix or watching Premier League games.

Jocelyn Stevens

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager – New Brunswick

Jocelyn Stevens is a native New Brunswicker. Prior to her recent accomplishments as an entrepreneur, she has spent over 15 years within the non-profit sector in the role of Managing Director, committed to advancing the social and economic lives of the Black and immigrant communities. Since graduating from NBCC-SJ in Business Administration, she has been a strong advocate of cultural diversity for many years. Her passion to end racism, coupled with her interests in inclusive communities, is what led Jocelyn to the development of many successful programs aimed towards helping youth understand the importance of respecting others and their differences. Jocelyn remains an active volunteer in her community. She is the recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award, in recognition for her involvement in community volunteering and helping to shape the lives of others.

Marine Gemeda

Manager, Business is Jammin'

Marine Gemeda earned a bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies from Saint Mary’s University. She joined BBI in April of 2022 as Coordinator Assistant for Youth Client & Stakeholder Engagement. Prior to joining BBI, Marine was travelling and teaching in China. Her greatest passions are learning and healing, but also bettering the community and herself. While it can be easy to lose sight of what is important, being at BBI helps Marine stay connected to her community. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with family and friends. She also enjoys going for hikes and is currently dreaming up her next travel adventure!

Amber Grosse

Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager

Amber Grosse is our newest EEM but not new to the BBI team. Amber hails from the community of East Preston and a descendant of the Preston Township. She is a recent graduate of Bachelor of Business Administration from Mount Saint Vincent University, with a double minor in Marketing and Management. Amber is a youth champion, community connector and event planner. She has worked in community and the child and youth sector from a very young age and brings her several years of experience working with non profit organizations and supporting youth and more specifically ANS youth.
Amber sits on the Board of Directors for Phoenix Youth and is a current Girl Guide Leader for the Preston Area Girl Guide Unit 1.

Ruth Njilayi

Administrative Assistant

Ruth Njilayi is a young African Canadian who is passionate about business, innovation, content creation, and economics. Born in DRC Congo, Ruth and her family immigrated to Moncton New Brunswick when she was 11 years old and have since planted deep roots in their community.
Ruth is in her fourth year at Dalhousie University, studying economics and women and gender studies. She hopes to one day build her own business that empowers and supports Black female entrepreneurs across Canada.

Hawa Seck

Special Project Manager, SBCCI Project Lead

Originally from Dakar, Senegal, Hawa is our Special Project Manager and SBCCI project lead, also responsible for the French-speaking components of BBI.
Hawa studied Business Administration at Dalhousie University and is a business professional with extensive background in Business Operations and Relationship Management with extensive knowledge and hands-on experience in the Canadian industry and ecosystem as well. She is using her experience and expertise in strategic planning and leadership to support organizational growth and sustainability.
Outside of work, Hawa is a wife and mother who enjoys taking care of her family and loved ones.

Gordon Blackmore

Consultant, Diversity Employment Network (DEN)

Gordon is a lawyer/consultant skilled in Negotiation, Team Building, Legal Writing, Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Governance, and Appeals. He is a strong legal professional with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) from St. Mary’s University and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) from Dalhousie University.

Claudia Bowers

Project Coordinator, Diversity Employment Network (DEN)

Claudia is a multi-faceted and versatile Operations and Project Manager who is skilled at planning, implementing and overseeing key improvements to drive business growth and efficiency. She is a highly professional, organized, adaptable, relationship-builder and problem solver with a passion for transformation. Claudia is a skilled communicator adept at managing relationships in multicultural environments with diplomacy and tact, and positively engaging with a diverse audience.

Chipo Nhema

Executive Assistant to the CEO

Chipo Nhema has been working in the private sector for many years in management and performance management roles. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, she came to Canada to pursue a Business Degree from Acadia University. She later went on to obtain a certificate in Human Resource Management from Saint Mary’s University. She recently joined BBI as Rustum Southwell’s Executive Assistant and HR Advisor.
She is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion and has held several roles while on the board of the TD Insurance Visible Minority Committee.
Chipo believes that it is important to love where you work and feel as though you are making an impact.
On her days off, she loves spending time with her family dog Lexi, going on hikes, travelling and cooking.

Jacob Burnie

Design & Marketing Coordinator, Business is Jammin’ (BIJ)