To kick off, can you tell me a little bit about you and your family
My parents immigrated from Fiji to Canada in the 1960’s. I was born in Vancouver. My parents worked very hard, growing up I recall they often had two or three jobs to support our family and for periods of time our extended families. I moved to Calgary nearly 30 years ago, which is home for me and my two children.
You are the CEO and president of an Alberta based start-up, how did you come upon this opportunity, are you also the founder?
I met John Kenny, the founder of Yr Plans, in my early days with Olympia Trust, where I was establishing their corporate services division and Solium Capital was also in its early days. John and my paths crossed many times over the years as we each pursued various ventures. In 2017 I decided to take a pause and re-evaluate my personal and career path. There were opportunities to fall back into a familiar role however I was looking for an entrepreneurial challenge with purpose. When John approached me in Spring 2018 with his vision for Yr Plans, I immediately knew this was the opportunity I was looking for.
How do you define the ambition of YR Plans, what are you trying to solve? Give us your ‘pitch’.
Yr Plans is purpose-driven to deliver better financial outcomes for today’s workforce. As the competition for skilled and educated talent heats up, employers are going to have to offer benefits valued by today’s workforce consisting of Millennials and Gen Z. 60% of these post-secondary educated generations will begin their careers with more debt than any generation before them. The estimated student loan debt in Canada is $38 Billion, 62% held by women, and 70% held by families whose parents are considered to earn middle to low incomes. Employers who require a more diverse and inclusive workforce will need to find solutions to this acute situation. This is why Yr Plans has created The Smart Benefit™, Canada’s first enterprise employer-sponsored student loan repayment benefit. We create an algorithm that diverts a portion of existing workplace savings plan contributions to accelerate loan repayment. The results are significant time and loan cost savings, improved mental health, and potential for better employee financial outcomes. For employers, this serves as an effective tool for the attraction and retention of top talent with nominal additional cost. Recruitment costs and employee turnover rates are significantly reduced, and it assists in establishing the organization as an employer of choice.
What about your family was most inspirational to you?
My parents have been a great source of strength and inspiration. Leaving Fiji with a grade school education, they worked extremely hard to provide for their family. Growing up I recall there would always be visitors immigrating from Fiji staying with us for periods of time. I later learned the reason we had so many visitors is that when my father first moved to Canada, he was taken in by a family who provided room and board in exchange for help on their farm. When he was upon his feet, he wanted to repay that family, but they refused any form of payment. They wouldn’t even take a bag of flour. Instead, they asked that when he was able, do the same for others as they had helped him. Their generosity and kindness are touched by everyone they meet and their community. I have a sister in Vancouver and two brothers in Toronto and despite the distance, we all remain very close and have helped each other through our difficult times. My parents have instilled in us their hard work ethic and values that keeps our family aligned. COVID-19 has been difficult; my kids miss their cousins and grandparents.
Do you feel there is a great sense of community in your community, what does community mean to you and how has it actualised locally for you?
I could not have survived these past few years without my community! I am so fortunate to have friends, neighbors, and a community who have supported me as I started this venture with Yr Plans while transitioning into the role of a single full-time mother. I have lived in West Hillhurst for over 13 years, this is where my children have grown up and whether at the community center, hockey rink, or local park there have been so many people to offer a hand getting the kids to school/activities, fixing my roof!, making sure I change the furnace filters, etc. A big shout out to Heather, Troy, Glenn & Tara who are there without having to ask.
But what about you Sangita, how are you doing? How have you managed being a single mom, a start-up founder, and a pandemic? Give it to us straight.
To be honest, there’s been times of complete chaos balancing my ambitions for Yr Plans while being a hockey/dance/pandemic mom and trying to carve out some time for me. The me-time has definitely suffered but I recognize this is temporary. As the company grows I don’t anticipate my responsibilities or workload to lessen but I will have access to resources (i.e. a paycheque!) to help me better balance my life. I’m in a good place now.
I have always been driven to succeed and self-reliant. Ten years ago I kind of had it all; a challenging career, two beautiful children, supportive family and friends, and financial security. Except for one thing, my then-husband was slowly sinking deeper and deeper into depression. He is bi-polar and in his sickness he refused to seek help. He went through periods of depression followed by mania during which he would self medicate through alcohol and drug abuse.
In early 2018 everything fell apart, he swung from extreme depression to extreme mania, unlike any episode before. I couldn’t shelter the children from his behaviour this time, they were 8 and 10 years old and could see there was something very wrong and it was affecting them. I felt I couldn’t talk to my family; both my parents and my father-in-law were ill, I thought I could handle it and not add to their worries.
The stress, emotional turmoil, and pressures caught up to me. I developed health issues that landed me in the emergency ward. The start-up venture I was working with was winding down and my husband’s mania was getting increasingly worse. I asked my husband to leave that summer. There I was, an unemployed single mother, financially devasted, feeling alone and scared. How did I get there?
Never in my life had I needed to ask for help nor had I been open about my struggles but I knew I couldn’t be quiet any longer, no only for me but also for my children. Thee is a family history of mental health illness on my ex-husband’s side of the family. I needed my children to understand what was happening with their father and I wanted them to have the support of our family, friends, and counsellors as I was in a fragile place and needed their help.
It’s been over two years now and as I said earlier I’m in a much better place now. Through this experience I learned a lot about myself, the importance of mental health, and self-care. Most importantly I learned that it’s ok to ask for help and don’t wait to ask for it. Our family of three have found our stride and I am back in the driver’s seat prepared to take on the opportunities that life has to offer me.
My ex-husband, thankfully he’s better now too. He was extremely sick and self-destructive but he was able to pull himself out of the depths of his illness and seek help. He’s been sober for over seven months now, going to counselling programs and getting his life back in order. It’s made a huge difference to my kids to have their dad back in their lives.
Give us a list of your books, tv shows, podcasts… that you recommend?
I’m not much of a TV watcher, the kids monopolize the TV more or less. We’ve been watching the series The 100 and The Umbrella Academy. Most of my book reading is also with the kids; my daughter and I are reading The Outsider by Stephen King and with my son I am reading Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan. For me, I have just started reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle.
What’s become your favourite summertime pastime? Which cocktail makes your list? Can you share your fav/recipe?
Well, I’ve recently taken up gardening, mostly vegetables; I find it extremely satisfying biting into a crisp cucumber or tomatoes from my back yard. I’ve also been trying to get away as much as possible for a hike in the mountains or a bike ride along the paths.
You’ve stumbled upon (or were recruited by) this community called The51, can you tell us what this means to you and why are you involved?
The51 empowers women, giving them the tools to take charge of their futures and their entrepreneurial drive. How young girls are raised, and women take charge of their financial futures needs to evolve through education, access to opportunities, and mentorship; The51 provides a community for like-minded women to excel in business and in life. A few years ago, someone said to me “my daughter (who was five years old at the time) would need to marry a rich man to afford her taste for fine things.” I got my back up and immediately responded “no, she will get an education and work hard to afford her fine tastes”. I am proud of my achievements, that I have been able to achieve them independently and I wish the same for my daughter and my son.
What’s your vision for YR Plans, what do you need help from? How can your community of women around you support you better?
The51 community has been very supportive in providing connections, sharing information and believing in Yr Plans’ vision by their investment support. We need lots! Right now, we are looking for to companies who may want to add The Smart Benefit™ to their organization’s benefit offering, to potential investors as we launch a small debenture financing and to senior HR professionals to add to our advisory board.
What is your astrology sign?
It’s a full moon today… Pisces.