Chief of Getting It Done Through Service: Career Strategies for Building in a New Country

Feb 20, 2024

A text based logo for International Women's Month - written in black over a white background. This featured story is brought to you by the Power of Why Podcast in collaboration with Invest Ottawa, with critical support from BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund, the Title Sponsor of International Women’s Month 2024.

Five inspirational leaders are selected each year to represent International Women’s Month. They are role models who significantly impact our economy, community and society and embody the spirit, goals and values of IWM.  We teamed up to produce this special series to celebrate women leading in Ottawa for International Women’s Month and shine the spotlight on our IWW 2024 featured leaders to unpack their passion and purpose.

In support of its Women Founders and Owners strategy, Invest Ottawa offers programs and services that enable and accelerate the growth and success of women entrepreneurs from every walk of life. Visit to learn more! 

In a landscape where barriers often overshadow opportunities…

Mary Yazdani is curious about impactful results. 

Drawing insights from those who have successfully carved paths before her, she studied their strategies and implemented the advice that worked. At the age of 32, she started a new life in Canada with her family.

Leveraging her expertise and resourcefulness in navigating unfamiliar terrain, she established a business aimed at propelling others. 

Leading two innovative ventures – as the Founder and CEO of GenesisLink and Co-founder and CEO of RoboSafety –  Mary is committed to empowering individuals to navigate the complexities of transitioning to a new country, securing employment, and launching businesses. 

Recognized for her commitment to investing in people, potentia and purposes, she was honoured as an Immigrant Entrepreneur by the City of Ottawa in 2021, and received the Top Ottawa 40 Under 40 Award in 2023. 

This episode is for you if: 

  • You want to apply results-driven strategies for job search as an immigrant in Canada. 
  • You want to formalise your business by leveraging what you already assist people with. 
  • You are a leader aiming to invest in people, potential and purpose. 

Looking for a specific gem? 

[3:18] Mary grew up with strong and kind parents… her role models. 

[4:12] Started a new chapter in Canada in 2016 at 32 years old. 

[5:32] Her entrepreneurial spirit developed later in life, joining a start-up for the first time in Canada. 

[6:28] Chief Operating Officer or ‘Chief of Get This Shit Done’. 

[7:31] Mary noticed and appreciated the support available to female entrepreneurs in Canada. 

[10:19] The most challenging part of being an immigrant. 

[11:20] Who Mary decided to surround herself with when she first arrived in Canada. 

[12:21] How Mary got four interviews within ten days of moving to Canada. 

[16:53] How I leveraged government grants and funding to help a start-up boost its financial position. 

[19:44] From demonstrating results to formalising her business. 

[23:16] Success Story: even one seemingly small action and support can have a generational impact. 

[27:22] Motherhood and building a business. 

[34:19] The most significant misconceptions that she sees among immigrant job seekers. 

[35:48] Remember to build your network.. This is key. 

[36:25] Volunteering, building my network, and supporting others in my community were also part of my employment strategy.  

[38:45] Creating a strategy that yields results through participation. 

[39:40] Investment in people, potential and purpose. 

Connect with Mary 

Website – GenesisLink 

LinkedIn – ​​Mary Yazdani 

Connect with BDC 

LinkedIn – BDC Capital (Canada) 

Twitter – @bdc_capital 

Naomi Haile: What is your origin story? What was it like growing up in Iran, and how did you come to Canada? 

Mary Yazdani: I was born into a loving family in Iran. My childhood was filled with strong role models. I studied computer engineering. I started working as an IT expert and was then promoted to IT manager working for an enterprise-level company. At the age of 32, I immigrated to Canada to join my husband and raise a family. 

Naomi Haile: What were some of the early conversations you had around education and being an entrepreneur in your household? Were you encouraged to follow the narrow, traditional path, or were you inspired to do your own thing and explore? 

Mary Yazdani: My mother was a teacher, and my father worked in the public sector. Most people around me were with the mindset of staying within the lines. I liked going beyond the lines and thinking out of the box. So, this idea of entrepreneurship came from somewhere other than my family. It was not something I had thought about from childhood, nor did I see many entrepreneurs around me.  

When I moved to Canada, I was looking at other immigrant business owners and speaking about my experience starting and working in a startup. In Iran, most of the companies I worked for were enterprise-level companies, not startups. So that was a new experience for me. And that’s the flexibility I had here while working at a startup. My role as a Chief Operating Officer involved different tasks from HR, financial and technical operations, and anything else you can think of in a startup environment. You are wearing different hats, which allowed me to regain my confidence in Canada. Usually, when you immigrate, you see so many more hurdles. You may think that you have to take a step back. Still, it was eye-opening because I saw so many opportunities in Canada and much support for women fostered by the community and the government. 

My parents were kind and helpful members of my community growing up. They were supportive of others, and great examples of my core values. So, what I always enjoyed and saw from childhood were my parents helping others. They never hesitated to help others. And that was one of my success points: I always want to be able to help others. 

Naomi Haile: What compelled you to give working at a startup a shot, and how did you know the environment that would help you grow? 

Mary Yazdani: What I know about myself and what I heard from others who have been through this immigration journey. I was talking to the successful people around us before coming to Canada. And most of them were saying that the most challenging point or part of the immigration process is leaving everything behind and building from scratch. Mentally, it can be too much pressure to accept where you are. You had a great foundation, connections, and financial stability, and then you have to forget everything and start from scratch. That was what I heard. 

Even before moving to Canada, when I originally planned to move, I asked myself how to overcome these challenges. How can I make this path faster? And 90% of the stories I heard immigrants share were mostly negative.  

My advice? First, forget about the people with a negative mindset. Surround yourself with people with a positive attitude; the positive energy will come to you. Subconsciously, you will adopt what you surround yourself with. 

Second, create a plan. You have no idea how much I accomplished in the first 40 days that I moved to Canada. No one could believe my results. I had four interviews in the first ten days after arriving in Canada.  

“I followed any good advice, like volunteering, going to open houses, networking, anything that was recommended and positive. And I saw amazing results. I found my first job. And although I prepared myself to start at junior positions and prove my skills/capabilities, I didn’t have to. These results came from following the right directions, having a positive attitude, and having a plan.” 

Naomi Haile: The mindset shift started before you got to Canada. What was it like entering the technology space here? Was it simple to find and immerse yourself in the ecosystem? 

Mary Yazdani: I love working, and I accept the responsibility when I’m doing something. I work with my full energy and focus. So why not start doing something for myself that aligns with my core values, purpose, and intention? An encouraging aspect of wanting to create something was also seeing young entrepreneurs in Canada experience great success. 

When I was working on another startup, they were in a bad financial situation. And I told myself it’s my role to think and strategize how to help them. So I started searching and needed to figure out how. I heard one sentence from someone about government support that is available. I found so much grant funding in different areas that I took advantage of that company; after a few months, they were in a much better place and not struggling financially anymore. That helped me understand the environment and see how supportive it is. 

Naomi Haile: Yeah, I’m glad you are surrounded by that. It’s also a testament to you and your energy and how you show up in spaces. What were your initial thoughts on what you could offer and how you would position your business in the marketplace? 

Mary Yazdani: As an immigrant new to Canada, I was fortunate enough to have my husband. He was a great mentor and a great support from the beginning. Several years before me, he moved to Canada and went through this path. So he knew the challenges and was helping me overcome them and go through them the fastest and best way. He was one of the people who encouraged me to do something for myself. 

The idea of GenesisLink was initiated through conversation. Our friends, relatives, and family were talking to us about their stories or willingness to move to Canada to establish their companies or study there. They were also talking to us about their stories of experiencing fraud – where someone who was supposed to help them stole their money and didn’t deliver anything. 

We were helping them move to Canada. Then, I mentioned to my husband that we were spending a few hours daily on this. I asked: “why are we not doing this as our official business?” And here, since immigration is a regulated occupation, we registered the business to help people move to Canada. 

I was building GenesisLink while working full-time for that particular startup company. And even before newcomers arrived in Canada, I showed them various paths, connecting them with the centres I knew were helpful. We started generating revenue from our services. And I was building a community. Eventually, I quit that job and started working full-time on GenesisLink. I expanded our services, and this is how the business goes. You see other opportunities coming, and you use those opportunities. 

Naomi Haile: I’m sure you have many. What is a particular story of how you advised an organisation or an entrepreneur, and what was their result from working with GenesisLink? 

Mary Yazdani: GenesisLink offers different services. One of the services we offer is finding job opportunities for people outside of Canada and willing to move to Canada. And connect them with employers who are facing labour shortages. The other service is helping foreign entrepreneurs establish a business in Canada and expand a company in Canada with innovative ideas. 

Success Story: “One of my first clients was a referral from a friend. She asked, “Can you help him find a job?” I said, “Send me his resume.” At the time, he was a young guy aged 22 or 23. My first intention was to help this young person build a future in Canada and provide access to the opportunity he deserves. So that’s what I did. He was among one of the first clients that I had. I helped him connect with an employer in Canada. He moved to Canada. He got his permanent residency and gained so much experience.” 

Now, he’s working at an enterprise-level company and earning an excellent salary. He’s supporting his family and helping his parents come to Canada. 

“I’m not involved with that person daily, but when I hear his success story, if this is the one thing I did to change someone’s future, and that’s the impact I had in life, that’s good enough for me. I’ve supported many other families and individuals where even one sentence can make a big difference.” 

I enjoy every moment of what I do because I see this impact. 

You mentioned referrals earlier. Over 90% of our clients are referrals. 

Naomi Haile: Yeah, and it’s not surprising that they would want you to be a part of other things they’re building. It’s also about quality of life, building and sustaining a livelihood, and supporting your family and all these other critical areas. Could you talk about what was crucial for you to continue managing everything on your plate and everything else you had responsibility over? 

Mary Yazdani: As a mother and having the responsibility of a business… I can tell you that it’s overwhelming. I mean, it’s rewarding. Last year, I learned that a key and what is crucial for success and your well-being is asking for help. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. 

The other thing I want to mention is the pressures that are on women. I have some statistics that I wanted to share with you and your audience. In Canada, like other nations worldwide, women’s work is never done. A study by Statistics Canada estimated unpaid women’s work at home is valued between $17 billion and $900 billion, depending on how you calculate this value of the work. And another study puts the value of that work at 25% of GDP. Add on to that mental stress that they are experiencing. 

So it’s about harmony. I don’t believe in work-life balance. You should always have harmony and prioritise based on your needs at each time.

“You have to decide which parts of your life need more attention and then slow down on the other side. Resilience, optimism, and dedication are also key to this harmony in your family and professional life.”  

Naomi Haile: You mentioned some insights you’ve learned about work-life harmony. How can people assess what they need for their own lives when it comes to prioritising the ebbs and flows of work or raising a family? What have you learned that has resonated with you? 

Mary Yazdani: I have a high sense of accountability for all my responsibilities, from being a good mother and an entrepreneur to being in charge of and supporting my team. As I mentioned, I created that harmony by understanding my priorities. From the first day my daughter was born, I knew I would not sacrifice those hours with her after daycare. I wasn’t going to jeopardise that. So, my work was better postponed for after her sleep time. 

We must understand and prioritise our needs, having a concrete plan for each specific time. Sometimes, the priority is taking care of yourself and your well-being. This is a part of what was missing for a while in my life. I have to be healthy, and I have to have enough energy even to begin to support others. 

Naomi Haile: I’m also curious about your deep commitment to community building, mentoring, and supporting newcomers. What are the biggest misconceptions for immigrants, especially those seeking employment in a new country or pursuing their entrepreneurial ventures? 

Mary Yazdani: One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can’t find a job unless you apply to more than 100 job postings. This is just not necessarily accurate. If you are applying for 100 jobs and everything [on your application] is okay, you should receive a response. When I’m talking to my mentees, I recommend that they assess what went wrong and understand why no one was interested in giving you a call or a response. It’s not about repeating what you did the last six months. It’s about finding the problem, analysing it, and resolving it to ensure you get a positive response. 

The other misconception is that when people move or immigrate to Canada, they think the first thing they should do is validate their credentials or upgrade their certificates. People think they need to be better to get opportunities in Canada. One of the first things that you should focus on is building relationships. I believe in surrounding yourself with positive and successful individuals. Don’t just sit at home and send resumes. Go out and start networking. 

“That’s how I found my first job very quickly. And it was not because of the resumes that I sent.” 

I participated in a few community activities and attended open houses and workshops. One day, I met someone who had a conversation with their neighbour who was looking for someone to help in their business. They said, “I know a superstar,” and he connected us. That’s how I got the job. 

I also see two different groups. One group is overconfident and thinks they are overqualified for any position here, so they are getting rejected or not receiving any response. The second group thinks they are not good enough, so they get rejected.  

Both are wrong. 

We need to balance and know ourselves. First, we must know our capability, understand the culture in Canada, and build on that.  

The ‘barriers’ I thought were stopping/slowing me down- being a woman, a newcomer, and not being a native English speaker – were not. I realised that my results come from my work ethic and professional attitude. Dedication, accountability, and a positive mindset are the keys to their success. 

Naomi Haile: Would you say that those are some of the things that were very critical in terms of investments that you made in yourself? What are some other investments that you made in yourself? 

Mary Yazdani: As I mentioned, I was trying to surround myself with positive people and asking for advice. I was also using Google a lot. When I read something useful, I followed it. So, I read about volunteering. And right away, I signed up for volunteer activities. And I was not waiting for the organisations to send me volunteer opportunities. I asked anyone that I met if they needed help. 

“I was jumping to help others and participating, which was one of my best investments. It was an investment in people, potential, and purpose. It’s a combination of time, money, and resources. I was investing in human potential.” 

That aligns with my core principle of living with intention. 

Living my purpose is empowering everyone to succeed, thrive, and grow together. It’s not about being selfish and seeing how you can get an advantage over others without giving anything back.” 

Whatever I like for myself, I like for others to have. That’s how all of us can grow together and build a more thriving community. 

Naomi Haile: That’s beautiful. And that is very true. For those who are listening and resonate with what you are saying, what is the best place for people to connect with you? How can people support what you’re working on? How can they connect with you and learn more about what is happening in your world? 

Mary Yazdani: People can connect with me online by following my LinkedIn profile, where I share my insights and updates about my work and advocacy. Reach out for collaborative opportunities. These are all great ways to support my mission of empowering the next generation, immigrants, and newcomers and contributing to meaningful change together. 

Naomi Haile: Beautiful. Thank you, everyone, for listening to this episode of The Power Why podcast. We will catch up with you in the next episode. 

Mary Yazdani: Thank you so much for having this discussion. 

A profile picture of smiling Naomi Haile, Talent Strategy Consultant & Podcast Host - who's standing in front of a light blue background.Naomi Haile, Talent Strategy Consultant & Podcast Host

A human capital professional and inclusion strategy expert, Naomi Haile understands people. With 7+ years of experience spanning international tax compliance at the Canadian federal government and consulting at specialized boutique firms, Naomi leverages data about how people interact with systems and filters them through her unique lens to build responsible organizations. Using innovative design thinking strategies, she works with executives and their high-performing teams to co-create sustainable solutions for even the most complex of human capital challenges.

Currently, she is a Senior Talent Strategist, Office of the CEO, at WritersBlok, a white-glove ghostwriting agency that helps business leaders, celebrities, executives, politicians, and athletes turn their personal stories into brand assets. In addition to her consulting work, Naomi is the producer and host of the rising Power of Why Podcast (which boasts over 30K downloads and 200 active monthly listeners), where she interviews top global and local industry leaders. Most notably, her recent interview with Netflix’s Chief of Human Resources Officer was featured on Business Insider.

An avid traveler, Naomi has explored over 25 cities and 11 countries, and loves to connect with new cultures through her passion for food. When she’s not monitoring her investment watchlists, she is boxing or enjoying a Broadway show.

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