Ayesha Rekhi: Diversity breeds innovation and creativity. Today we need them more than ever

Text Daniel Libertin Foto Ayesha Rekhi Publikováno
thumbnail Kanada

"As Canada's ambassador, I benefit every day from the warm and friendly relations between our countries, and I see the Czech Republic as one of our closest partners and allies," says Ayesha Rekhi. "Our two countries have strong historical ties, such as the multiple waves of Czechoslovak immigration in the 20th century, but also shared values in various areas such as international trade, human rights and security. This foundation gives us a head start in the relations between our governments, companies and institutions. From my position, I’m doing my best to keep building and further strengthening these relations," Ms. Rekhi adds at the beginning of our talk at the Canadian Embassy in Prague.

Q: What are the main goals of your work as ambassador in the Czech Republic in this turbulent time? How have you leveraged the ongoing Czech EU Presidency?

A: Our priorities are clear and I am sure that the Czech side would mention the same: defense, security, human rights and currently also helping Ukraine. The Czech Republic presides over the Council of the EU at a critically important time. Your country is very well positioned to play this role, whose importance has also grown with the Russian aggression in Ukraine. I feel that the Czech Republic is now at the centre of events, and I’m really impressed by the great job your government and institutions have done in this respect so far – particularly since you were likely planning for a completely different agenda. Your country is really leading by example.

As for trade, thanks to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between Canada and the EU, we have a clear framework for bilateral trade, but also for pursuing our common agenda in other areas. Personally, I’m a strong advocate of women's rights and I support female entrepreneurs and investors.

Diversity as the path to Canada's economic growth

Canada is the tenth largest economy in the world. What are its main features and specifics?

Canada is rich in natural resources, it places great emphasis on the manufacturing sector, but also has a very advanced service sector. Our economy is unique in that it tries to maximise the potential of all population groups. That’s why we have sophisticated support programmes for women investors, entrepreneurs or also SMEs. We're also convinced that a stable and growing economy doesn't have to come at the expense of the environment, so Canada is investing heavily in clean energy, clean technology and innovation. Last but not least, international trade and free market are of course extremely important for us as a very open economy.

Canada is also known for its openness when it comes to immigration, for example. Your life story of a daughter of Indian immigrants who made it to high diplomacy is perhaps the best proof. What benefits does this approach bring for your country in terms of business and innovation?

I grew up in Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities. If you look at the economic and innovation profile of this most populous Canadian city, you’ll see that the University of Toronto is consistently ranked as one of the top ten AI institutions in the world. MaRS innovation hub in downtown Toronto is the largest innovation centre in North America. Studies by major consulting firms such as McKinsey contain empirical evidence of the positive benefits of diversity on decision-making and problem-solving in company boards for example. The above facts about Toronto suggest that the same can be said for entire cities or countries. The example of Canada shows us the tangible benefits of diversity, as the country is attracting global talent, being a welcoming, safe and business-friendly place.

Moreover, diversity always breeds innovation and creativity. And this is exactly what we need today more than ever to find creative and innovative solutions to problems such as disrupted supply chains or economic and social crises around the world.

How exactly is the Canadian government addressing this?

As part of the effort to revive the economy, the government is focusing on maximising the potential of previously marginalised groups. We have a range of programmes to support women's entrepreneurship, including financing and mentoring. The government is trying to cover all possible opportunities and solutions - our approach to diversity encourages everyone to use their talents and thus contribute to the economic development of the whole country.

Canada looks forward to Czech investors

Is Canada also open when it comes to access of foreign companies to its market?

We have several trade agreements concluded besides CETA, for example, the CPTPP, which covers partnerships with East Asian markets, or an agreement with the US and Mexico. This positions Canada as a gateway to North American markets or, more broadly, to the Americas as well.

Canada has also long been at the top of international rankings that assess how easy it is to do business or how long it takes to set up a company in a given country. This again confirms how open the Canadian market is. The stability and predictability of our business and regulatory environment also play a big role, and I must not forget the highly educated workforce. All this makes Canada an excellent destination for investors as well as a great business partner. Plus it's a wonderful place to live!

You mentioned the CETA agreement between Canada and the EU. What specific benefits does this agreement bring about?

Thanks to CETA, Canada can trade with EU countries with almost no restrictions: the agreement removed 98% of all tariffs, it simplified customs procedures and brought other benefits. By the way, Czechia was one of the first countries to ratify the agreement. We can also see some tangible benefits here: in 2021 for example, we’ve seen a 24% increase in bilateral trade volume between our two countries.

Can you name the most important Canadian investors and employers in the Czech Republic? And vice versa - can you please also mention significant Czech exporters in Canada?

Many Canadian companies across various sectors are active in Czechia. To name a few, Magna is one of the world's biggest automotive parts manufacturers, Molson Coors Beverages Company covers a couple of beer brands, or the relatively new entry, Colonnade Insurance. As for successful Czech companies in Canada, I can mention GZ Media, the world’s largest producer of vinyl records, or Colt from the Česká zbrojovka Group. Canada is very open to foreign investment, so we look forward to more Czech companies!

Fairytale Prague and dogs as a ‘gateway’ to people’s stories

You have been ambassador in Prague since 2019. How much have you explored our country so far?

Very soon after I assumed office, the covid pandemic broke out, which disrupted my plans to explore your beautiful country. That being said, my family and I have travelled a lot, and one of our favourite places is definitely Bohemian Switzerland. It was heart-breaking to see the devastating fire. Whenever I have time, I love walking and getting lost in the streets of Prague. It’s amazing to find something new every time - an interesting architectural detail, like an art nouveau tile, or a piece of street art you didn’t notice before. Living in Prague is like living in a story book. It’s a real gift to call Prague home.

Living in Prague is like living in a story book.

What have you found the most interesting about the Czech Republic and its people?

One thing comes to mind, or rather a personal reflection. I’m in Prague with my husband and kids. Our children always wanted a dog, and one of the first things we did when we arrived in Prague was to get them one. We soon found out that there is an incredible number of dog owners in the Czech Republic and that you love dogs as much as we do. One thing I really like is that you can take your dog to a restaurant or café here, which is usually not possible in Canada.

Walking around with the dog is always a great opportunity for me to connect with people and hear their stories - and this was particularly true during the pandemic. In all my postings, I have always loved hearing human stories, and in Czechia I’ve come across many people from various professions with powerful stories of events from 1968 or 1989 and from the present day.

Your husband is a professional chef Cameron Stauch. How do you find Czech cuisine? Is there something that perhaps inspired your husband? What is your favourite Czech food?

Food plays a big role in our family. The first thing that comes to my mind about Czechia and food is your amazing local farmers markets. They are active and vibrant, with a lot of producers and a great variety of local seasonal food. My husband even has his favourite farmer there, and he always buys mushrooms from him. As for me, I have fallen in love with Czech koláče. I love all varieties – with seasonal fruit, cheese, and even poppy seed. There’s nothing like Czech koláče with a good cup of tea!

Ayesha Rekhi was interviewed by Daniel Libertin

Photo credits: Ayesha Rekhi

Celý článek si přečtěte v tištěné verzi TRADE NEWS 4 / 2022 na straně 10-12.

Štítky Kanada

Za obsah inzerce zodpovídá inzerent. Žádné části textu nebo fotografie z Trade News nebo www.itradenews.cz nesmí být používány, kopírovány nebo jinak šířeny v jakékoliv formě či jakýmkoliv způsobem bez písemného souhlasu vydavatele.