Interview Gabriel Bran Lopez: THE FACE OF A FLOURISHING MONTREAL
As Gabriel Bran Lopez bursts into the photographer’s studio, you can immediately sense his alert steps and lively regard. The face of a flourishing Montreal, he expresses his enthusiasm to speak about his vision of entrepreneurship: one that mobilizes all generations and all social classes alike.
Originally from Guatemala, the president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Montreal (JCCM) is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his arrival in Canada. “With a single suitcase!” Having grown up in a housingproject in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the themes of immigration and underprivileged neighbourhoods are at the heart of his projects. In 2008, these concerns led Lopez, at the age of 25, to create Youth Fusion, a charitable organization that counteracts the phenomenon of school dropout with the help of intergenerational partnerships.
Today, from its headquarters in Place Ville Marie, Youth Fusion employs and mobilizes 200 university students who help develop projects in art and science, as well as environmental projects, in collaboration with teachers and 15,000 students from 96 schools across the province.
His dream? An educational system that offers an equal chance to everyone, in which young people from all social classes can access the kind of experiential learning that will develop their talents and their entrepreneurial spirit. “Immigration is a project that has not been completed here in Quebec. We are losing future entrepreneurs, engineers, creators.” He considers himself lucky to have been able to travel and to attend university, and to speak three languages.
His indispensable support network
His recurring theme when it comes to Montreal’s future? Investing in education and entrepreneurship and, above all, favouring intergenerational exchanges. “A good leader is someone who surrounds him- or herself with people of all ages. Let’s create projects with baby boomers!” At his side, there are quite a few leading figures, like Jacques Ménard, president of the BMO financial group. “Without Jacques, I never could have launched Youth Fusion the way I did,” he asserts. Laurent Beaudoin, president emeritus of the board of directors of Bombardier, is also a mentor. “More than a mentor,” claims Lopez, “he has built up a wonderful robotics project with me that brings together 5,000 students every year and that has inspired other businesses throughout Quebec to invest in school retention.”
Other initiatives inspire him as well, like Adopt Inc., led by entrepreneurs Nicolas Duvernois, Anne Marcotte and Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien III. This contest, which functions through a unique entrepreneurial immersion, aims to give the next generation of business leaders a helping hand, both financially and strategically. Lopez also mentions the platform Devenirentrepreneur.com, sponsored by National Bank, Desjardins Business and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), which offers advice, supplies and contests for young people ages 5 to 16, as well as to upcoming entrepreneurs. “If we multiply these kinds of projects, imagine the impact that it could have on Montreal and throughout the whole province!”
His term at the JCCM will end in January 2017. A representative of his generation, which he considers to be “beautiful, free-thinking and truly invested in making change happen,” Lopez was invited to sit on the Council of Governors created for the celebration of Montreal’s 375th anniversary. In this context, JCCM is giving a legacy fund. In collaboration with the Council, the objective will be to finance projects instigated by young entrepreneurs who don’t yet have access to capital, and who are in need of a helping hand at the start. “The $4,000 of start-up capital that were given to me to test my project in social enterprise at the age of 25, have turned into $15 million over eight years,” he proclaims.
When asked if he plans to jump into politics, he responds that he wants to refrain for the moment. Already sitting on the boards of Québec Cinéma and Concordia University, he wants to stay present for Youth Fusion, which is opening a second office in Toronto, and keep up with preparations for the 6th edition of the Festival de Robotique, of which he is the co-founder.
Most importantly, he would like to participate in joint efforts to make Montreal a more connected and more brilliant city. “You should never underestimate the power of young people’s ideas,” concludes Lopez. “And we’ve got to work hard so that citizens of the next generation will have no doubt about their future possibilities and their capacity to become great entrepreneurs!”
Texte: Mélina Schoenborn/ Photo: Jocelyn Michel