Chameli Naraine CEO of $700M Symcor

Business leader attributes success to education, experience gained in Waterloo Region

Chameli Naraine, graduate from Conestoga College and Wilfrid Laurier University, received the Premier's Award for Business at the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit in November.

Chameli Naraine, graduate from Conestoga College and Wilfrid Laurier University, received the Premier's Award for Business at the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit in November.

TORONTO — Having spent 20 years in the business world, Chameli Naraine says much of her success comes from hard work, a good education and the encouraging start she had in Waterloo Region.

Naraine, president and chief executive officer of the $700-million financial processing service provider Symcor, got her educational foundation in business at Conestoga College where she graduated from the Business Administration, Materials Management program in 1983.

Last month, Naraine was recognized for her impressive career and philanthropic work since graduating from the college by winning the Premier’s Award in business at the Colleges Ontario Higher Education Summit.

Naraine moved to Waterloo with her family in 1976 from their home country of Guyana and attended Bluevale Collegiate Institute. Encouraged to go into engineering, she applied to the University of Waterloo following high school.

“I wasn’t too excited about that,” she admitted.

But a summer job working for the local technology company NCR opened Naraine’s eyes to a whole new career path.

She decided not to attend the University of Waterloo and worked full time at NCR in supply chain management, registering for college the next year.

“Going to Conestoga was one of those things that you got excited about. It was practical and it seemed real,” she said. “I describe it as truly igniting my passion for learning.”

Between working full time and taking classes full time, the demanding, but rewarding work prepared Naraine for her career ahead.

“Those early years . . . although it was difficult, it set the pace for what I don’t think I’ve ever stopped,” she said.

Once completed college, having made the dean’s honour list, Naraine enrolled part-time at Wilfrid Laurier University for economics to round out her practical knowledge in business.

“The business skills that I really honed in from the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s in Waterloo, that was really an incubation and a place to demonstrate my strength in running businesses,” Naraine said.

After leaving the region, Naraine worked for major companies, spending time in Asia and the U.S. before returning to Canada in 2008 and joining Symcor.

Returning, she was impressed to the changes in the business landscape in Canada. During her years in studying and working in Waterloo, she was one of a very few women in business.

“There was the desire to break those ceilings and see women in management and so it happened,” she said. “I see a significant shift of the role of women in business.”

That same year, she founded the Naraine Global Fund, a philanthropic organization that funds grassroots projects and NGOs for health and educational initiatives for girls and women and farming programs for young men in Honduras.

It also funds literacy and education projects in India targeting people of all ages.

“You reach a point in life where you have to give back and share the things that you have been fortunate about,” she explained.

Despite her busy schedule, Naraine keeps close ties to the foundation, visiting the countries receiving aid to see how the projects are improving lives firsthand. When she isn’t travelling, Naraine’s mother who still resides in Waterloo is an active project manager with the fund.

At the core of her foundation is the belief that education is the key to eliminating poverty.

“Between literacy and education, this is the only way out of poverty and the only way to offer a future to anyone,” she said.

That belief, Naraine said, comes from looking back on her life and realizing the important role education played.

“Those early years have really positioned me now . . . to being so committed to education globally,” she said.
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