Award-winning social entrepreneur Rochelle Prasad says it all starts with an idea

September 11, 2020

Political science major and education minor Rochelle Prasad made international news this summer when she received the Diana Award for her social activism and volunteerism. Established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, the award is considered the most prestigious accolade a young person can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.

“For me, it’s never about the award,” Prasad says. “It’s about the network and the resources that come with it, but to get the recognition, especially in Princess Diana’s name, that was incredible.”

Prasad continued her regal summer when she took over the British royal family’s Instagram account for the 2020 International Youth Day along with five other young people. She posted about the COVID pandemic and the COVID relief projects that her non-profit SPARK Foundation is running to help frontline workers and low-income families.

“We provided 200 meals for frontline workers in Surrey,” she says. “We partnered up with City Dream Centre and gave away 100 care packages to low income families that really needed them during this time. We also highlighted frontline workers in Metro Vancouver in an online campaign. This involved photographing essential workers in our community in action and posting a recap video on our social media channels, along with a thank you message.”

Prasad has accomplished more in her 21 years than some people achieve in a lifetime. She launched the SPARK Foundation (then called Camp We Empower) in 2014 with grade 10 classmate Amandeep Boparai. The non-profit organization trains youth to be leaders in their schools, local communities, and the world stage.

Prasad’s parents taught her that community service is key to personal development. She also credits an inspirational teacher she had in grades three to five for setting her on the path to community service: “Her name was Miss Dhillon. In her class, we baked cookies for firefighters, went on recycling campaigns and learned what it means to be a committed citizen. That’s where I truly harnessed that passion for volunteering.”

Prasad learned a lasting lesson about community activism when she boarded a school bus to go to Science World with her grade four class.

“As we were getting on the school bus, I noticed that there were no seat belts,” she says. “For me, that was a problem. That year, there were news stories about buses flipping over and car accidents. So, in my young mind, I thought, ‘this needs to be dealt with.’ I made a big scene about it and my teacher decided not to take me on the field trip, which was totally fine.”

Prasad launched a petition to get seatbelts in school buses, collecting 1,500 signatures from students, teachers and staff. With her mom’s help, Prasad mailed the petition to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He replied and connected Prasad with local community members with ties to the federal government who educated her as to why it was safer for school buses not to have seatbelts.

“That taught me that I liked asking those hard questions and I liked figuring out what’s best for not only myself, but the people around me,” she says. “From there, I jumped from the seatbelts to becoming a mini activist in grades six and seven, closing down gun stores in Surrey. And it just kept going.”

In 2018, Prasad transferred from Trinity Western University to SFU, a move spurred by SFU’s Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection program, which began supporting Camp We Empower.

At SFU, Prasad’s political science courses have shown her how political theories go hand in hand with her community work. She’s also connected with different political science and entrepreneurship groups. She’s using these connections, and the knowledge she’s gaining to help her achieve her dream of working as the Canadian representative at the United Nations.

For other students who are also looking to make a positive difference in the world, Prasad advises them to find their “why”.

“As soon as you can find out why you are really passionate about something, research which organizations are doing something connected to your why,” says Prasad. “If there’s nothing, start your own. Remember, it all starts with an idea.”