30 Under 30: Cheralyn Chok is levelling the playing field for youth in finance and innovation

The North Vancouver native's nonprofit organization has trained 140 young people and completed 44 internships across Canada.

Cheralyn Chok of Social Innovation Academy

Credit: Social Innovation Academy co-founder Cheralyn Chok

Cheralyn Chok, 27

Co-founder + executive director, Social Innovation Academy

Life Story: Cheralyn Chok credits a community-oriented upbringing for her decision to work in social impact. Volunteering with her family, plus the values instilled in her at home and at school, “made me want to do something good,” recalls the daughter of Singaporean immigrants. 

North Vancouver–raised Chok also wanted to study design at university, but her accountant parents wouldn’t permit it. So she attended UBC Sauder School of Business, where she found she had little interest in pursuing a career like finance, accounting or marketing. In the first term of her BComm with a specialization in operations and logistics, Chok started a necktie company. While selling her products across the country, she learned about the environmental impact of fast fashion and the poor treatment of garment workers in the Global South. Although Chok didn’t know the term “social enterprise” at first, she shifted to a zero-waste model and donated to the Clean Clothes Campaign, which aims to improve working conditions in the garment industry. “I realized that there was this entire world out there that I could pursue in terms of a career that wasn’t just entrepreneurship.”

After graduating in 2018, Chok became the first product manager for ChopValue, a Vancouver-based company that makes office furniture, housewares and other products from recycled chopsticks. With Bruno Lam and James Tansey, she founded Social Innovation Academy (SIA) the following year. The nonprofit, which grew out of a long-running UBC internship program, works with Canadians aged 18 to 30 to give them the skills, training and experience they need to join the social finance and innovation world. “A big focus for us is to branch out of business school,” says Chok, who has led the startup’s development. “We try to provide training that brings everyone to the same playing field.”

Bottom Line: SIA runs a fellowship program that so far has trained 140 young people and provided 44 full-time internships with its 12 partners across Canada, including impact investment funds, accelerators and consulting firms. It’s also done research and consulting projects for close to 140 social ventures, nonprofits and charities. To become less reliant on grants, SIA is looking at other revenue sources, from developing a university certificate program to offering corporate training.