Omar Karim has always thought that the greatest gift someone can give you is their belief in you and your capabilities.
Which is why, when he was eight, he created a “friendship club” in elementary school, where he brought children and youth living with autism and special needs together in a social-inclusive club, and helped identify their strengths.
This was decades ago in Burnaby, where Karim was born and raised.
“I will never forget the moment,” Karim said. “There’s these two students; they’re on different levels of spectrum of autism. And one student could go online and graphically design these training games. I was thinking, 'Oh my god, we're the same age.'”
“And people judged this individual based on how they looked. For me, it was about this person's amazing abilities, and how we showcase [those abilities].”
Karim said this was the moment that shaped his commitment to recognizing people’s abilities.
Karim has long been involved in community service, whether founding that friendship club as a boy or starting a ‘Mind Over autism’ group in high school or being a leader in university.
What helps guide him is the “notion of believing in something bigger than ourselves, and knowing how important it is.”
Helping shape the direction of Karim's life was receiving the National Millennium Scholarship and National TD Bank Scholarship, which recognizes youth leadership and community service. He demonstrated his commitment to helping others by working with the Canucks Autism Network during his undergrad days.
“Not just people on the spectrum, but all people’s abilities — giving people opportunities when they never saw something in themselves or to believe in themselves, that they could accomplish their dreams and our goals."
“Not just people on the spectrum,” he said, “but all people’s abilities — giving people opportunities when they never saw something in themselves or to believe in themselves, that they could accomplish their dreams and our goals."
When Karim went to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo to pursue his MBA, he helped shine a spotlight on the university while participating in the National MBA Games.
It was also during his time at the university that Karim opened his eyes to the struggles of his fellow students, whether domestic or international.
He was involved with the National Safe Space Safe Place initiative through the Indigenous Moose Hide Campaign against violence. This in turn led him to his doctoral thesis in higher education, which he said, is about understanding Indigenous perspectives and co-curricular learning and engagement.
Global Emerging Leadership Programs
In 2020, a colleague at the university’s co-curricular engagement office encouraged him to present his research to schools in India. During that pre-pandemic trip, Karim founded the Global Emerging Leadership Programs (GELP) organization.
GELP, he explained, is a social enterprise aimed at encouraging students and young professionals to develop skills necessary to become global leaders and help foster positive change in their communities.
He said that as the world moves into the post-pandemic era, unprecedented changes to work environments and advancements in technology have resulted in confusion, summoning the need for a new approach to education.
"What was local can now be global," he said. "You can live in a different country in a different place, and work for that country or place. We saw the changes in terms of skill development, soft skill development in particular.
"There's a lot of evidence-based research around soft skill development and skills that are needed to build outside the classroom, through experiential learning."
This month, the GELP team will embark on a three-week long expedition to India, where they expect to connect with leaders in that country and share understanding of cross-cultural Indigenous knowledge and skill development.
In a first, he said, Indigenous leaders from Canada will participate, and encourage people around the world to learn about Indigenous perspectives.
"I've seen how it's impacted me living in this country, and being able to mesh and create knowledge sharing, I think, is beautiful," he said.
Visit the GELP website for the complete trip itinerary and more about the organization.