UWI Toronto gala has benefited over 850 Caribbean students

By Lincoln DePradine

The challenge of obtaining a tertiary education, for young men and women living in the Caribbean, was underscored last Saturday in Toronto by several speakers including Jamaica-born Donette Chin-Loy Chang, who received an honourary doctorate from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2018.

From left are Ann-Marie Hibbert and husband Kevin_ Donette Chin-Loy Chang & Brigette Chang

Although the Caribbean is not poor, “basic resources and wealth are inequitably distributed’’ and a “substantial percentage of the population lives beneath the poverty line’’, with many “struggling daily, facing insurmountable adversities’’, Dr Chin-Loy Chang said, in addressing at the celebration of the 15th Annual UWI Toronto Benefit Awards at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Since its inception, the yearly event has raised millions of dollars in support of scholarships which benefitted 850 students, said Chin-Loy Chang, co-patron of the 2024 Toronto Benefit Awards.

“Much has happened’’, said Chin-Loy Chang, who attended the all-girls Catholic-run Immaculate Conception High School in Jamaica before migrating to Canada, where she earned degrees in journalism, communication and culture.

“Education is seen as a gateway out of poverty,’’ Chin-Loy Chang told guests at the event, whose theme was, “Lighting the Way Together’’.

However, she conveyed the concerns she felt on visiting Jamaica recently to be inducted into her high school’s hall of fame.

Award recipients, patrons & other VIPs

Chin-Loy Chang related having “some wonderful meetings’’ with “dozens of promising young women who are gearing up for higher education, excited about their future. Many want to go to the University of the West Indies. The reality left me a bit sad, as I know that many would fall by the wayside and not make it to university or higher education because they do not have the means nor the money’’.

It’s “sobering and oftentimes dismal’’ to think of the “thousands of promising students’’ in the Caribbean that “will not make it to higher learning’’, said Chin-Loy Chang, while emphasizing the importance of hosting the Benefit Awards.

“The work we have been doing here for 15 years has provided a bedrock of hope, a glimmer of light to students, whose dreams and aspirations are hanging in the balance and a chance for them to pull themselves up and their families by the bootstraps,’’ she said.

The Toronto gala was held before a sold-out crowd that celebrated seven “Canadian Trailblazers’’, who were honoured on the evening.

They included presentations of the “Vice Chancellor’s Award’’ to retired Canadian citizenship court judge, Dr. Pamela Appelt; BMO Bank of Montreal executive, Stanley J. Julien; philanthropist Deland Kamanga, and to human rights activist Dr. Claudette McGowan.

Justice Hugh L. Fraser, an arbitrator and human rights activist, received the “Luminary Award’’; Raj Kothari, a business leader and humanitarian, was presented with the G. Raymond Chang Award and Air Canada received the “Chancellor’s Award’’.

Scotiabank, which returned as “Lead Sponsor’’ of the event for another year, is increasing its annual sponsorship support for the UWI fundraiser from $75,000 to $100,000.

Jamaican-Canadian Kevin Hibbert implored fellow business leaders to broaden their search for recruits by hiring graduates of the University of the West Indies.

Hibbert, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Managing Partner & Co-Head of Sprott Inc., was one of the recipients of the Vice Chancellor’s Award last year.

He and his wife Ann-Marie were among the “primary sponsors’’ of the 2024 gala.

According to Hibbert, “education is the key to eradicating poverty; but, so too, is the existence of meaningful career opportunities to take advantage of. This is where the theme, ‘Lighting the Way Together’, should take on deeper significance’’, said Hibbert, extending a “challenge’’ to business owners.

“Ann-Marie and I will challenge all of you to join us in lighting the way for these young people out of poverty and into opportunity by expanding your employment searches to include UWI graduates,’’ he said.

“We did it at Sprott a few years ago and our company has benefited immensely ever since. It’s our sincere hope that your organization, too, will experience the joy, return on investment and satisfaction of partnering with UWI graduates. You will not be disappointed.’’