Founder & Executive Director

Samra Zafar is an award-winning international speaker, bestselling author, and social entrepreneur who advocates for equity, inclusion, and human rights.

After escaping a decade of abuse living as a child bride in Canada, she pursued her education as a single mother working multiple jobs and completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Economics from the University of Toronto with the highest distinction, winning over a dozen awards and scholarships.

The recognition and achievements prompted Samra to share her story to empower women to pursue their dreams and independence.  Samra has been a mentor to dozens of women over the course of her career in their journey to pursue their dreams and goals.

In spring 2019, HarperCollins published Samra’s memoir A Good Wife: Escaping The Life I Never Chose, which became an instant bestseller, and earned a spot on national bestseller lists for 12 consecutive weeks. The book will soon be published internationally by Penguin Random House, and has been optioned by Canadian producers Pier 21 to be adapted to a television film series for Canada and worldwide.

Samra is one of the youngest alumni serving as a Governor for the University of Toronto, and is a 2019 DiverseCity Fellow for Civic Action. For more information on Samra, please visit her personal website.

Board of Directors

Julie Oden is a dynamic, innovative and strategic brand marketer with over 17 years of success in building and elevating brands. She has a diverse background in Advertising, Marketing Operations, UX/Digital Experience, Change Management, and both Product and Project Management. She has a proven success record in driving teams and high profile projects to great growth, consumer awareness, and profit with major brands such as Yahoo!, AOL, MySpace and The Home Depot.

Aileen Virola has over 20 years of business marketing experience leading strategies or overseeing programs for top brands within North America. Aileen has held leadership roles at global agencies including GMR Marketing, Nurun, and JWT.

Aileen’s other specialties include career and life purpose coaching. She has volunteered her time as a Career Mentor for new Canadian immigrants.

Justin Schurman is VP Commercial Markets for RBC.  He leads a diverse and enthusiastic team of commercial account managers who provide tailored and advice-driven products and services to a wide spectrum of clients.

Throughout his 20 years with RBC, Justin is known as a strong collaborator, he has an upbeat style and can find and focus on the positive.  His professional expertise include: Managing competing priorities, leading change, prioritization for greatest impact, motivating others to achieve more and collaboration both on a team and across different lines of business.

Justin embraces diversity and inclusion.  As a member of the LGBT+ community he wants to give back and as a result, he is thrilled to be a part of the Brave Beginnings board and he also acts as Co-Chair of RBC’s GTA Pride ERG with over 500+ strong members.

Shelley Khaper is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA) and is currently Manager in the Investment Banking Business Management team at TD Securities in Toronto, Ontario, a role she has held since 2017. Shelley has over 9 years of professional work experience in the financial services industry, including roles of increasing responsibility in Financial and Regulatory Accounting and Reporting, Financial Planning and Analysis, and Internal Audit Services at the Co-operators General Insurance Company (a subsidiary of the Co-operators Group Limited) between 2009 and 2014. Shelley joined the Internal Audit Division at TD Bank Financial Group in 2014 until 2016, before joining TD Securities Investment Banking. Shelley previously served as Treasurer and Board Member of the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario from July 2015 to November 2016.

Sana Khohkar is an associate at a boutique law firm in Oakville, Ontario. Her practice encompasses all areas of family law including divorce, custody and access, child and spousal support, and more. Sana regularly appears before the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Sana has a special interest in domestic violence prevention and an understanding of the cultural stigmas associated with abuse, which helps her remain compassionate with her clients while still aggressively protecting their rights.

Sana is a member of the Law Society of Ontario, the Family Lawyer’s Association of Ontario, and the Peel-Halton Collaborative Family Law Group.

Nimish Bhatt is a Commercial Account Manager at RBC, where he manages a diverse portfolio of business clients and works towards helping them achieve their business goals.

Nimish has always been keen and curious towards understanding human emotions and behaviour. This interest quickly turned into a passion for coaching, mentoring, and helping individuals succeed in their professional journey which aligns perfectly with the mission and values of Brave Beginnings. Nimish believes strongly in giving back to the community and is also a member of the Executive Committee with Lymphoma and Leukemia Society of Canada (LLSC).

Operating Team

Jeremy De Mello is the Co-founder and Assistant Director of Brave Beginnings.

With experience at the intersection of business, finance, and non-profit, Jeremy currently helps to lead the Growth team at Zafin, a financial technology company that helps banks modernize their legacy systems.

Jeremy has previously led the marketing for Canadian P2P lending startup Lending Loop, advised on deals for venture capital firm Founders Circle Capital, and developed curricula for MaRS Discovery District. He is also currently the Co-Lead of Canadian Dream Summit, an annual conference dedicated to rallying resources to grow the next generation of Canadian scale-ups.

Other Operating Team Members

  • Dina Martinovic — Project Manager
  • Sheena Patel — Business Manager
  • Sophia Rondinone — Operations Manager

Our Sponsors

We are grateful for the help and guidance provided by some of our most generous supporters, including:

  • John Rothschild (Donor)
  • Juliet Kwan (Donor)
  • Karina Barker (Copywriting)
  • Nathan Snelgrove (Website)