University of Alberta grads contribute $250B to global economy

Survey shows the impact of U of A grads, including creating 560,000 jobs in Alberta — more than 22 per cent of the province’s total workforce.


Research associate and biomedical engineering graduate Quinn Boser works with a prosthesis user in the Bionic Limbs for Improved Natural Control (BLINC) laboratory at the University of Alberta. (Photo: Alex Pugliese)

University of Alberta grads contribute $250 billion to the global economy every year — roughly the equivalent of the GDP of New Zealand. 

That’s one of the findings of a 2024 survey by professional services firm Ernst & Young that demonstrates the impact of U of A grads in economic, cultural and social spheres around the world. 

According to the survey, U of A alumni have founded more than 75,000 companies and employ 922,000 people worldwide. Together, they have invested $8.7 billion in 59,000 startups and $12.1 billion in 122,000 established businesses varying from health care to arts and entertainment. 

“Alumni represent the best of the U of A in every corner of the globe. Now we can quantify just how large a footprint they have in the economic, intellectual and cultural arenas here in Alberta and around the world,” says Bill Flanagan, president of the University of Alberta. 

Engineering grad Nizar Somji is a compelling example. He currently leads the Jaffer Group of Companies as founder and CEO. Under Somji’s leadership, the Edmonton-based group has invested more than $130 million in Alberta’s economy, he says, through ventures in construction, staffing, information technology, realty, hospitality, petroleum and property management. 

Over the course of his career, Somji has founded multiple successful businesses, including Matrikon Inc., a leader in industrial automation, which he grew from a one-person venture to a global company operating on five continents. But he hasn’t done it alone, he adds. 

“The key is being surrounded by good people,” says Somji, who will be installed as the newest University of Alberta chancellor on June 21. “My job is to inspire, motivate and hold them accountable, while also giving them the autonomy to be creative and achieve what they want to achieve.”

Alberta impact

Somji is one of the 71 per cent of grads who work for Alberta-based organizations. Of those, about 922,000 people are employed worldwide by alumni-founded companies, with roughly 560,000 of them in Alberta – more than 22 per cent of the province’s workforce. Grads employ 220,000 folks in the rest of Canada and 141,000 around the rest of the globe.

The alumni impact survey shows that every year U of A alumni-founded companies contribute $136.4 billion to the Alberta economy — equal to 41 per cent of Alberta’s GDP. For comparison, Alberta’s top three industries combined — oil and gas, real estate and manufacturing — make up 41.3 per cent of the province’s total GDP. 

Alumni-founded companies contribute $64.6 billion to the rest of Canada and $48.8 billion to the rest of the world.

The alumni impact survey findings follow the U of A economic impact report released in April 2023, which demonstrated that the University of Alberta itself generates $19.4 billion a year for the province’s economy. 

Combined with the impact of alumni-founded companies in Alberta, the total economic impact of the institution and its grads to the provincial economy is $155.8 billion every year. 

"The findings of the alumni impact survey demonstrate how U of A grads are changemakers,” says Ashton Rudanec, president of the U of A Alumni Association and director of sustainable investing at Alberta Investment Management Corporation. “It’s one of the many reasons I’m so proud to be part of this community. I truly believe that, when we work together, we have the capacity to shape the world.”


I think my biggest impact has been on the people who have worked for me or with me. I look at their successes, wherever they have landed, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to guide and shape them.

Nizar Somji

(Photo: John Ulan)

Social and cultural impact

But grads make a difference in ways that are beyond economic measure. 

The alumni impact survey found that 86 per cent of U of A grads have volunteered in the last 12 months and have given a collective $979 million in charitable donations over the past year. And 65 per cent of grads are committed to careers that make substantial contributions to the social and economic welfare of the wider public. Plus, half of all U of A grads are actively engaged in mentoring activities — a practice that has been a defining part of Somji’s successes.

“The world tends to tell us to focus on ourselves and forget the people around us,” says Somji. “When I started my first company, I would have problems or questions, and I could call on my friends, and we would help each other. That concept of building up your community is integral to success.”

Somji credits the U of A’s Sirish Shah and Grant Fisher, professor emeriti of the Faculty of Engineering, as his most influential mentors. When he arrived in Canada, they took the time to hear his story, correct administrative errors and, ultimately, connect him with the teaching assistantship that allowed him to stay, study and grow roots at the U of A.

“They recognized my talent and my value,” says Somji. “They were very important to my transformation.” They are also the reason he has included mentorship in his own business ethos throughout his career.

The next generation of impact

There are currently more than 300,000 U of A grads around the world, each making an impact in their community. And every year around 9,000 students receive their degrees and make the transition to the alumni community. Each one is ready to make a tangible difference in the world — improving the quality of life for all.

As the U of A prepares to grow its student population from 40,000 to 60,000 over the next decade, the potential for future alumni impact is unlimited. 

“A natural goal of the university is to be one of the best institutions. But at the end of the day, our fundamental goal is to create the next generation of leaders, researchers and people who are going to move us forward,” says Somji. “Our pride is in their accomplishments, what they do, what they say, and what they end up being.”

His advice for tomorrow’s leaders? “Make your decisions with the intent to create, to build, to develop and to serve. If you continue to work hard in that way, you don’t have to worry about the results — success will take care of itself.”