An Interview with Salmaan Moolla - Student Volunteer for Operation Entrepreneur
Every summer, 80 Canadian Armed Forces veterans or transitioning military members get the skills, knowledge, confidence and networks needed to start and grow their own business by attending one of our seven-day intensive business boot camps.
The boot camps are held on university campuses and run through our Operation Entrepreneur program. Since its inception in 2012, the program has helped veterans launch over 300 businesses across Canada.
Its success relies heavily on student volunteers who are often members of Enactus, a global non-profit and community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives.
Student volunteers help plan and organize the logistics of the week. They are also paired with a veteran to provide one-on-one coaching to help develop their business pitch and identify important next steps.
In August 2018 we sat down with Salmaan Moolla, a student volunteer from the University of Regina, to discuss his volunteer experience.
When did you first volunteer for the Operation Entrepreneur program? How did you hear about it and what kept you coming back?
“I first volunteered in my 2nd year of university just after I joined Enactus. I’ll be honest, a large part of why I got involved was because I thought it would be a great resume builder. It also seemed like a nice program to be part of and a great way to test my knowledge and skills in business.
“At my first boot camp in 2015, I really fell in love with it. I’ve volunteered every year since.
“It was amazing to be interacting with veterans and hearing about their passions and fantastic ideas. Up to that point, I had never interacted with a veteran and my only exposure to the military was at Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“I loved the business mentoring aspect and helping someone grow and develop their business. Over the course of the week you develop a bond and a friendship, so there’s also a personal relationship aspect, which was more valuable than I expected.
“It’s funny, during the mentoring sessions I felt that I was mentoring them, the rest of the time, they mentor you. You end up learning so much.”
Tell me a little bit about your experience with the program. What kinds of things did you do?
“I mentioned the mentoring and coaching, so that was part of it. But I did a lot of different things like I helped with logistics, organizing events, transportation. One of my tasks was picking up veterans at the airport, which was awesome to meet the participants firsthand and give them a warm reception.”
What did you most appreciate? Do you have a great moment or memory from the program?
“The best moment of the whole week is the grad ceremony. There are really two parts to that. At the end of the week everyone does their business pitch. They stand in front of the class and you get to see what they’ve gone through – the progress they’ve made.
“At the reception in the evening, everyone is happy. They know they’ve accomplished something. Everyone is smiling. A bond has been built over the week and no one wants to leave, it’s amazing.”
What is one aspect of the volunteer experience that surprised you?
“I was surprised by how inspired I felt. The drive, passion and energy that every veteran has when they walk in that door is contagious. It’s what made me realize that no matter what happens in life, you have to do what is passionate for you. Their resiliency is also so inspiring.”
Did you learn anything about yourself? About the military?
“I’m a first-generation immigrant born in South Africa and came to Canada when I was young. I had never had a connection with the military and had been exposed to certain negative stereotypes. After volunteering at boot camp, I saw the military in a new light. I saw passion and dedication to country and it made me happy to say that I’m Canadian.”
What would be the advice you would give to someone thinking about being a student volunteer? Why should someone volunteer?
“It really is a great and fantastic resume builder. But then, way beyond that, the program changes you. It’s an experience. A fun experience. An emotional experience. An all-around incredible experience. I’d say to take the time to immerse yourself in the participants’ back stories and soak up their knowledge. In my opinion, it’s the most fulfilling thing someone in their university or college career can do.”
Salmaan is still working towards finishing his degree at the Hill School of Business at the University of Regina. He’s now an entrepreneur himself and is busy putting some of the lessons he learned during boot camp to good use as he develops his own start up called Financial Foundations which aims to bring financial literacy to the masses using technology and digital education.