Bringing a world of difference to Toronto students
It takes courage and dedication to commit to a goal of any kind, whether it’s navigating the business world, serving in the armed forces, or sharing in the daily life of a village in Central America. It takes something extra to accomplish all of these before the age of 30. This month’s featured "Canadian Arab to Watch" is Abdullah Snobar, who will be taking charge of Ryerson University’s business startup incubator ‘the DMZ’ at the end of June, as its new Executive Director.
Born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, Snobar spent much of his childhood shuttled between the very different worlds of Amman and London (Ontario). With the addition of a brief move to Montreal – “Now that was like visiting a different planet,” Snobar remarks wryly – these experiences granted him an appreciation of the importance of diversity and community to one’s personal development, even with the difficulties faced by an immigrant family. “You really start understanding the opportunities you have at a young age,” he remembers, “No matter what people thought, there was always room to grow.”
One of these opportunities was being able to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces, which began a five-year relationship with the military and Department of National Defence that Snobar credits with teaching him the maturity and focus that has allowed him to successfully pursue his ambitions. Always interested in the hospitality industry, he parlayed a business degree from Ryerson University into a career at Fairmont Hotels, and later Marriott Hotels, before deciding that his love of service was better satisfied in the educational sector. “I always wanted to work in hotels,” he admits with a laugh, “But I realized that I really just liked staying in them.”
As a student at Ryerson he had been very active in student politics, while also developing an excellent rapport with the administration and faculty. After working for the Dean’s office for almost five years, he was eager to join the effort to create a groundbreaking support centre for tech entrepreneurship, then called the ‘Digital Media Zone’, and served as its Director of Community and Business Development. Since 2010, startups in the DMZ have raised over $80 million in funding. The DMZ has expanded to house approximately 40,000 square feet of offices and collaborative space, and is ranked as the best university-based incubator in Canada and fifth globally by the Sweden-based “University Business Incubator Index.”
Snobar has also been involved in numerous other social change and educational projects – he serves as the university liaison for the SupaMaasai Foundation (which promotes education and empowerment among Kenyan Maasai women and youth), serves as President of the Board for the Arab Community Centre of Toronto, and he co-founded the Ryerson International Experiential Learning (RIEL) program which encourages students to travel abroad and immerse themselves in different cultures and communities.
“I really believe in the mutual benefits of learning and teaching,” Snobar explains as his motivation, adding that his greatest inspirations and encouragements have been from having “very good people” around him in his community. His greatest wish for the future for Toronto, and Canada, is to see greater collaboration across cultural groups, to build on the strength of our diversity – “I’m an extremely, extremely proud Canadian, and there’s no reason that we can’t be the best at whatever we do.”