Even though he has seen millions come and go and gets calls from prime minister’s office and CEOs of multinationals, Aditya Jha says he is still a middle-class guy at heart. But it is a big heart going by the philanthropic work this serial entrepreneur has taken up.
Born in a village in Nepal and brought up in Bihar, India, Adiya Jha is today a well-known Canadian businessman and philanthropist. His journey to the top has been through many places and numerous risks – from New Delhi to Paris, back to Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, then on to Singapore, Australia and finally Canada.
“Canada is the best country on the planet, especially for people like us,” says Jha who has political ambitions. In fact, the political climate in Canada today may be just right for this conservative Indo-Canadian who is clearly honning his political skills.
The general election in May saw the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper re-elected to power with a thumping majority, ousting several longtime Indo-Canadian Liberal incumbents.
Jha’s entrepreneurial pursuits have included both start-up technology ventures as well as brick-and-mortar turnaround businesses ranging from software product development and IT services to chocolate manufacturing, fine dining and fast-food restaurants and real estate investments in Canada, the United States, Thailand and India. He co-founded a software company, Isopia Inc., after having a successful career at Bell Canada as general manager for e-business and product marketing. In July 2001, despite the downturn in the technology industry, Isopia was acquired by Sun Microsystems.
Jha’s philanthropic interests are as varied as his business pursuits. They range from education projects in Nepal to entrepreneurial initiatives for First Nations youth in Canada.
“When I came to Canada in 1994, I saw a First World country with pockets of Third World for its aboriginal peoples, and that’s where I thought I could contribute,” he says.
Jha sponsors a unique initiative encouraging Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s youth through a venture philanthropy program. He works with the office of the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation to nurture entrepreneurship within the aboriginal communities of Canada.
He founded his private charitable foundation, POA Educational Foundation, in 2001, and has created endowments at four institutions -- Ryerson University, York University, Trent University and George Brown College in Ontario. They give out a total of 13 awards ($42,000 annually) in perpetuity to students.
The foundation has also supported other projects. With Ryerson University, it has participated in a research project on the economic value of Indo-Canadians and the Pathways Education Program for inner-city kids in the Regent Park community in Toronto.
He has also sponsored the Share the Music program of Roy Thomson Hall through an endowment to give Canadian aboriginal youth access to the best musical performances in Toronto; an infrastructure grant for Canadian Youth Ballet Ensemble and Trillium Hospital, Mississauga; contributed as a gold patron to the Toronto International Film Festival and to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
Other projects include paying for housing 50 students from landless families in Bihar and supporting the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He also supports an annual contest on the best business plan ($15,000) and best career plan ($5,000) for First Nation youth.
He has funded a digital literacy project by donating laptops and desktops to 11 schools in Nepal and to the Islamic Institute of Toronto and has supported the Nepal Library Foundation to help set up libraries in remote villages of Nepal.
Asked how he is able to keep track of all these interests along with his business, Jha admits he would ideally like to employ professional managers and put more financial resources into his philanthropic interests.
“Forever, I will be a middle-class guy. So wherever my money goes, I am hands-on. I juggle several balls, and consequently some gets dropped and then I pick them up and carry on,” he admits. “I have seen some results but I know I can have more success and more focus with more professionals. But that requires more resources and the luxury of more time.”
Yet, he says, the nature of an entrepreneur is steeped in chaos. “We thrive and fail because of chaos. ... In my life, I have had many, many downs,” along with the ups, he says. “I am more humble for my failures than elated by my success.”
His second software company in which they put $9 million “went nowhere” in seven years. He made his chocolate factory profitable in its very first year, but then had to sell it to another individual in the third year so that it could survive, and it did.
“Life is great,” he says. And that seems to be an understatement. His achievements have made Jha a much-sought-after figure. Consider a few instances: he was invited to a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II during her recent visit and he accompanied the Canadian prime minister on a trade mission to India.
Today, Jha is the Canadian government’s appointee to the Board of Directors of First Nations Financial Management Board; he is a member of the Ontario Investment & Trade Advisory Council and advisory council member to the dean of the School of Social Services at Ryerson University. He has served as a board member of two Toronto Stock Exchange-listed public companies, is a charter member of the mentoring group, The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE), and has also served on the board of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the Institute of Corporate Directors.
Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business Management conferred an honorary doctorate on Jha in 2009. In 2010, he was selected among the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants for his achievements and contributions by Canadian Immigrant magazine. He was one of seven Canadians who accompanied Harper on his state visit to India in 2009. He has been featured as one of the “New Radical Pioneers” in Julia Moulden’s book “We Are the New Radicals” published by McGraw Hill in 2008.
Jha is the national convenor of the influential Canada India Foundation that focuses on public policy advocacy for a deeper engagement in with India. He led the signing of $10 million endowment for setting up the Canada India Public Policy Centre at the University of Waterloo. He works closely with several successful Indo-Canadians in guiding their philanthropic giving to mainstream causes.
Recently, in his keynote speech May 14, at the Vedic Cultural Centre South Asian Heritage Festival, he spoke about how a young country in a greying world, is coming into its demographic dividend and how it will reap the benefits over coming decades as it grows rapidly into a consumer market for the world.
The role of the Indian diaspora, Jha contends, cannot be underestimated and as Indians are respected in the countries they adopt, so does the respect for India increase.
“I believe, India will have unique answer to the four debates facing the world at the beginning of the 21st century – economic development versus liberal democracy; pluralism versus fundamentalism; globalization versus democratization of prosperity; and global diaspora versus net gain for adopted and native countries, Jha says.