The Time to Change

There's no slowing down for Sameer Dhar - student, philanthropist, entrepreneur. And the scholarships he received at the University of Alberta meant he didn't have to

Lisa Cook - 19 December 2015

Some students are destined to make a difference from the moment they set foot on campus - some before. Sameer Dhar was co-founder of a successful charitable organization even before he started his first freshman class at the University of Alberta, and he wasn't through his first year before he had expanded that charity. He was named to the Top 20 Under 20 in Canada by Youth In Motion at the age of 18 and was chosen a Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Edmonton at the age of 20.

So what can an institution offer a student like this? Inspiring professors? Challenging classes? Networking opportunities? All of these, of course, but ultimately the most valuable thing Dhar received during his university experience was time.

The donor-funded scholarships he received throughout his university career meant he didn't have to work to pay his tuition. They gave him the freedom - and the time - to explore possibilities. The scholarships allowed Dhar the time to focus on building the second charitable organization he co-founded, this one during his first year of university. To date, Geomeer has raised more than $800,000 to support more than 300 families throughout Alberta with necessities - food, kitchen staples, toiletries, cleaning supplies and gifts. "I wouldn't have been able to start Geomeer if I had to hold a job for 20 hours a week."

The freedom has also given Dhar the space to think very carefully about his post-university path. The experiences he has had in running Geomeer, and the lessons he learned in leadership studies through the School of Business, have helped him hone his focus.

They have also helped him realize that his future lies in social entrepreneurism. Running Geomeer has taught him that, though he wants to affect change, he doesn't want to do it through the non-profit model. "[Social entrepreneurism] is a sustainable way to make an impact. You're not going hat in hand year after year to get donations."

As classes in his final year wind down, Dhar has dedicated much of his time to the project he's working on with Next 36, a program that nurtures the entrepreneurial potential of 36 students chosen from more than 1,000 across Canada. Dhar and his partner are developing a product that would help health-care professionals handle the challenges that come with managing incontinence - an issue nurses have told him is one of the biggest day-to-day problems in caring for an ever-growing aging population.

So in June, Dhar will convocate from the University of Alberta with a degree and a direction, more prepared than ever to make a difference thanks to philanthropic support. "Not having to worry about working to pay tuition allows you to take initiative and try new things. It allows you to perhaps one day change the world."