umeet Billan was feeling unwell when she arrived in Kenya for a work trip in 2009. Her face was swollen and her stomach was far from settled. But, she wouldn’t be able to meet all her commitments if she took some downtime — so she persevered. Billan made all her scheduled appointments over the next 10 days, even travelling along bumpy, unpaved roads to get to a few of them. People close to her weren’t surprised. Work is not just a job for Billan — it’s a passion.

While doing a degree in industrial relations and sociology, the Mississauga native worked part-time at Jobs in Education, an online job board that connects employers and job seekers in the education sphere.

She bought the company in 2004, while still an undergraduate student, and devoted some of the profits to building schools in developing countries in Africa and South America. Seeing the incredible impact these projects had on local communities was a life-changing experience for Billan and it encouraged her to do more. She made that memorable trip to Africa in preparation for the opening of a teachers’ college, which she funded. The Toor Centre for Teacher Education opened its doors in a southern Kenya in May 2010.

Education is transformative

While building her business, Billan continued her studies. At the University of Toronto, she did a master’s degree then pursued a PhD in higher education and leadership while doing a collaborative degree in the dynamics of global change at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Convinced of the transformative power of education, Billan now teaches leadership courses at a leading college in Toronto, encouraging students who “want to make a difference.”

Billan, who has twice made the Women’s Executive Network’s Top 100 list of Canada’s Most Powerful Women, introduces the students to social entrepreneurship, which she describes as “a marriage between the private and public sectors.”

She and other entrepreneurs in this space are able to generate revenue and make an impact, she says. As an example, she points to Embrace, a social enterprise that aims to help millions of premature and low birth-weight babies through a low-cost infant warmer.

“Social entrepreneurship is an inspiring space where the possibilities are truly endless,” she says.

Inside and outside the classroom, Billan drives home the point that continuing education is the gateway to a more enriching life. “We’re so privileged to have access to education and the ability to engage in experiences that can shape our perspective in a meaningful way,” Billan says, adding that she had taken several continuing education courses herself. “Regardless of where you are in life — learning doesn’t stop.”