Building a Better Tomorrow

"I’ll never forget the day I arrived in Halifax; I had packed everything I owned into two bags, and I carried them out of the airport into snow. It was the perfect welcome to Canada,” he recalls.  


Growing up in Nigeria, Ayo Makanjuola dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. He was passionate about the sport and loved how it brought people together and how it was easily accessible. As he grew older, he knew he needed to choose a backup profession. “Where I come from, you can be an accountant, engineer, lawyer or doctor. If you’re not any of those, you’re in trouble with your parents,” he laughs. There was an individual from his community that he looked up to. “I loved the way he dressed. He was stylish, always wearing a jacket and tie.” So one day, Ayo approached him and asked what he did for work. “He told me he was an accountant, and his suit was mandated at his job.” Ayo says that interaction was the catalyst for him to join the profession. “I decided then that if I wasn’t going to be a footballer, I’d like to be an accountant.”  

Ayo went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master's degree in finance. “I am one of the first in my family to complete my schooling and I want to be a positive influence and the best version of myself, for them,” he admits proudly. Ayo has worked as an Accountant in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and Canada, and is currently the Chief Financial Officer of the Black Business Initiative in Halifax. He has over 12 years of experience in public and corporate accounting and has provided business advisory, accounting, audit, and tax consulting services to industry sectors such as oil and gas, banking, manufacturing, and transportation.

How did an accountant from the large city of Lagos—with a population of over 15 million—end up across the world in a small province of one million? He owes it to self-determination and adhering to his three core values—career, family, and community.

As a young professional, Ayo was looking to advance in his career and with Nigeria’s economic difficulties and unstable political and physical living conditions, he started looking outside the country for opportunities. His decision to move to Canada was family-driven. “I was looking for more stability to raise a family. My lifestyle in Nigeria was similar to a Torontonian and I wanted something different. I was looking for somewhere that had a family feel, not too cosmopolitan but not too small. Halifax was the perfect balance,” he explains. So in November of 2015, Ayo quit his job, said his goodbyes to friends and family, and landed in Canada one month later. “I’ll never forget the day I arrived in Halifax; I had packed everything I owned into two bags, and I carried them out of the airport into snow. It was the perfect welcome to Canada,” he recalls.  

After arriving in Halifax, Ayo was eager to hit the ground running and start working. “I knew it would take some time to get my name out there and establish myself in my field. I had planned to give myself one month to find employment,” he said. However, life had other plans and that one month slowly turned into two and then more. Despite Ayo’s years of education and experience, he was unable to find a role that matched his skill set. One of the biggest barriers for him was having his degrees and diplomas evaluated and finding out they were not worth as much in Canada. “As an internationally trained accountant, I started in a better spot than many newcomers, and it still took me longer than I wanted to find a role,” he explains. Not one to give up, Ayo remained positive and turned to ISANS and YMCA Immigrant Services newcomer services for support. After six months in Canada, he landed a role.

Rather than putting the difficult experience behind him, he felt impelled to improve the process for other newcomers. He started volunteering with the YMCA as a board member in 2018. It is clear to anyone who has the pleasure of meeting Ayo that he remains true to his values and holds family, career, and community close to his heart. Along with his board role of the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth, he serves on the Board of Chartered Professional Accountants of Nova Scotia, the Not-For-Profit Advisory Committee of the Accounting Standards Board and as the Treasurer of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax. Using his CPA as a launching pad, Ayo was able to channel his passion for the community into a career. As a senior executive of the Black Business Initiative, he works towards addressing long-standing barriers and supporting the long-term success of Black entrepreneurs and business owners. His advice for fellow CPAs is this: “the designation offers you a solid foundation, but it is not a means to an end. What you choose to do with your life is up to you. It’s important to always look for skills to add to your toolbelt.” Ayo recently took on the role of project lead for the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative (SBCCI). The fund was created in 2020 to help increase the capacity of grassroots not-for-profit organizations serving Black communities across Canada. In 2020-2021, 129 organizations were given funds to strengthen their organizations and build further social impact in their respective Black communities.

As for deciding to take the courageous step and move his life to Halifax, Ayo says he has no regrets. Despite moving across the world and growing in his career, there is one thing Ayo has never forgotten. He remains passionate about football and every Thursday and Saturday; you can find him on the pitch—although he calls it "soccer" now.

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