by Deirdre Kelly

photography by horst herget

While an undergraduate at York University, Alamgir Khandwala (BAS ’17) woke up one day paralyzed from the waist down. A rare inflammatory disease called polymyositis had unexpectedly taken over his lower limbs, incapacitating him to the point that he had to temporarily drop out of the School of Administrative Studies, where he was a student in the accounting stream. He spent four months in hospital and another two recovering at his family’s home in Thornhill, Ont., concentrating on walking again and repairing the disease’s impact on his mental health. He did it by relying on the support and care of others, and by determining that, once he was better, he would give back and become a helping hand to those also affected by disabilities. “I focused on the positive,” he says, “on what I could do, as opposed to what I couldn’t. I decided to use my setback as a catalyst that would push me forward and make me rethink my priorities.”

Top 30 Alumni under 30 logoKhandwala already had some community experience to draw on by the time he returned to campus as a purpose-driven individual in the fall of 2015. In his teens, he had been a volunteer sports leader in a downtown Toronto immigrant neighbourhood and participated in youth programs at his mosque. A whiz at numbers from a young age, he also served as president of his high school’s investment club, where he first learned how to use business to invest in socially responsible causes. He redoubled his extracurriculars at York, joining Student Council and becoming a student member of Senate, the University’s highest governing body, while managing a disability alongside his coursework. He also threw himself into research – unusual for a commerce student – by contributing to a peer-reviewed paper on living with a chronic health condition and associated disabilities.

My philosophy is to never give up or lose willpower. This is something I want to share with others in the hopes they too can excel, despite the setbacks and hurdles life sometimes puts in our way

He led by example, emerging in 2016 as York’s choice of student representative at the annual UN-sponsored University Scholars Leadership Symposium, held that year in Hanoi, Vietnam. As one of 700 students from 69 countries (and one of only six Canadians), Khandwala participated in discussions and action plans centred around such social justice issues as eradicating world poverty, stopping human trafficking and improving educational outcomes for youth in marginalized communities around the globe. In 2017, the year he graduated, York bestowed on Khandwala the Murray G. Ross Award, one of the University’s most prestigious honours, citing his “academic strengths, professional accomplishments and unconditional generosity when it comes to serving fellow students and the University.” But his commitment to helping others didn’t stop there.

Alamgir Khandwala seated, smiling, looking to his right

Post-graduation, after having secured his first job as a staff accountant with Deloitte, Khandwala followed up on a piece of advice given to him by one of his York professors and became a volunteer treasurer at Success Beyond Limits, a youth empowerment organization in the community located at the intersection of Jane Street and Finch Avenue, near York’s Keele Campus. Simultaneously, he did volunteer advocacy work for Lime Connect, a global not-for-profit connecting post-secondary students with disabilities to scholarships, internships and full-time careers offered by its network of corporate partners. Khandwala knew the organization well, having been a two-time Lime Connect scholarship recipient before returning as a community ambassador. “My philosophy,” he says, “is to never give up or lose willpower. This is something I want to share with others in the hopes they too can excel, despite the setbacks and hurdles life sometimes puts in our way. Even if I’m just sitting down with someone for a 15 minute coffee and letting them know they’re not alone with their struggle, it gives me the feeling that I’m having an impact. That’s important to me.”

Today, at age 28, with his mobility almost fully restored, Khandwala’s mission is to bring some of that community activism into the financial sector. At Moneris, the fintech company he joined in 2021, Khandwala took a leadership role in guiding the firm’s Disability and Diversity Awareness Month activities. He also helped to implement and monitor its environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies, experience he hopes to build on in his new position as finance manager at Uber in San Francisco.

“I want to do more than just numbers,” he says. “I want to invest in a company’s purpose and drive progressive change.” For Khandwala, this isn’t just a slogan. It’s a plan of action for creating sustained prosperity on humanitarian principles. Invest in people and the yield will grow. It’s what he is counting on to build a better future. ■

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