You Need to Meet: Rochelle Prasad, founder of the youth-focused non-profit, the SPARK Foundation
She empowers the next generation through quality life education
Rochelle Prasad is an internationally recognized leader, educator, and social entrepreneur passionate about advocating for sustainable communities, engaging youth in political discourse, and inspiring positive change while working to build a more equitable and connected world for the next generation. With over a decade of experience in organizational development, community engagement, and stakeholder relations, she is a recognized leader in sustainable development. Rochelle’s unwavering commitment and exceptional leadership skills make her a highly respected advocate for a more equitable and connected world.
As a leader, educator, and social entrepreneur, can you share one lesson you’ve learned that has informed how you navigate these roles? The power of collaboration; working together with diverse perspectives and skills not only enhances creativity but also brings about more sustainable and impactful solutions.
Where did your passion for service, leadership, and community engagement come from? From empowering mentorship through my mom, grade six teacher Ms. Dhillon, and high school teacher Mr. Bruce. These mentors demonstrated to me that no matter how large or small the barrier, there is always a way up, around, or under it.
What inspired you to start your own non-profit, SPARK? Noticing the large gap in direction that Canadian students have when preparing for post-secondary, volunteering, and life education skills. At that time, SPARK was the only youth-led and peer-oriented non-profit — I believe that this is what led us to our earlier successes.
What are some unique challenges and opportunities that leaders face in the non-profit industry? How have you personally navigated those challenges? I remind myself that age does not matter when it comes to making a difference. I have walked into countless boardrooms and investor meetings and chatted with people who simply told me that I was too young to make a difference or too great of a risk to invest in. What I learned from these experiences is that most are busy trying to accomplish their dreams, so I must do the same — and that was to empower the next generation through quality life education, no matter the barriers.
Can you discuss a specific project or initiative you’re particularly proud of and why? SPARK has travelled across the world delivering workshops, camps, and educational opportunities for young people, but one of my favourite memories is a local project that we were able to lead in Surrey.
During the pandemic, we partnered with the Red Cross, the Government of Canada, Vancity, and five local non-profit organizations to create and deliver hundreds of relief packages that impacted just over 1500 people. Imagine 15 young people volunteering in a large gym with boxed crates of food scaling the high gym walls. We were able to donate warm meals, relief packages, 3D printers to schools, mental health kits, and a warm smile to those who needed it the most. This project was led fully with our hearts and helped us keep a pulse on our community of Surrey.
Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of the non-profit sector, particularly in terms of women’s leadership and the social issues we aim to address? I envision a space where young people are leading the way in collaboration and advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through non-profit work. I envision a space where we no longer need to fight to be heard, but are seen and heard.
What advice would you have for anyone who wants to make an impact, but may feel overwhelmed with where to start? Start with a quick writing or brainstorming session. Write down everything that comes to your mind, then start with: what you want to do (write this down in a few sentences), how you are going to do it, and why you want to do it. Also, consider the resources you will need to get started and remember that there is always a way to get things done without funding.
What about you surprises people? The amount of work I have been able to accomplish in my last 24 years of living. The comment I get most is that I am young and that I have accomplished a truckload; my response to that is that everyone is on their own journey, and mine has just begun. There is so much more work to be done and I am excited to help start as much as I can.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it? Practicing mindfulness. It is so important to find balance in work, community, and life, and it is even more important to take care of oneself. I used to think taking time for myself in bulk was selfish, but what I have learned the hard way is that I need to take care of myself in order to provide the world with the best version of myself.
What excites you about the future? The world’s progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how far we have left to go. There are so many amazing young people leading the way and work on this; I am excited to see where our progress goes. Go next-gen!