May 22, 2024

Class of 2024: Master of Management student aims to revitalize Calgary’s Chinatown

Caitlyn Kwong’s journey through Haskayne’s Propel Business Project
Two women smile at the camera
Caitlyn Kwong, left, and Judy Eng-Hum worked together to bring a fresh perspective to Calgary’s Chinatown. Yvonne Nguyen

In the heart of Calgary, Chinatown is not just a neighbourhood, it is a cultural treasure trove brimming with history, culture and community spirit. 

Through the Haskayne School of Business’s Propel Business Project (Propel), Caitlyn Kwong, BA’23, BEd’23, who will graduate with a Master of Management this spring, has been working closely with the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA), under the guidance of her project mentor, Judy Eng-Hum, MBA’94. 

Together, they are developing strategies to attract businesses, engage the community and breathe new life into one of Calgary’s oldest districts.

Launched in 2021, the Propel Business Project, supported by the RBC Foundation, is a program Haskayne graduate students can apply for that offers them real-life experience and networking opportunities through participating in paid externships with non-profit and startup organizations, focused on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), sustainability and innovation.

For Kwong, the journey began with extensive research into the history and current state of Chinatown. She planned, organized and facilitated a roundtable discussion with various stakeholders and analyzed her findings in a comprehensive report for the Chinatown BIA board.

A woman in a red shirt smiles at the camera

Caitlyn Kwong's Master of Management Propel Project is rooted in community.

Yvonne Nguyen

“One of my favourite parts of the project is all of the people I have gotten to meet; the Chinatown community is enthusiastic and welcoming,” says Kwong. “Chinatown is such a unique area because it combines history, culture, community, location and a mix of residential and commercial real estate.”

Kwong’s Propel Project-supported work was aimed at creating a plan to engage businesses and community landlord owners to attract desired businesses to the area. Some of Kwong’s recommended strategies include leveraging the new Chinatown website and digitizing information.

“By creating a centralized digital platform, we can effectively communicate this information to realtors and the public, making it easier for potential businesses to find available spaces and for the community to stay informed about new opportunities in Chinatown," says Kwong.

However, Kwong acknowledges the challenges. “The variety of opinions people have and the number of moving parts that exist may prove to be both the biggest challenge with the project and its strength,” she says. “I think that sometimes having conversations about inclusion and diversity can feel uncomfortable and messy, but it’s important to make space for them, nonetheless.”

Despite these challenges, her work is driven by a deep sense of connection to the community. 

“Previously, I perceived business primarily through the lens of subjects like accounting, supply chain management and human resources, viewing communication as a tool to facilitate business activities,” says Kwong. “However, this project has really brought to light the significance of relationship-building within business contexts.”

Mentorship through Propel Project

Programs like Propel are essential as they provide graduate students with opportunities to apply their knowledge in real-world settings, foster community engagement and promote cultural understanding. 

Eng-Hum has been a pivotal figure in this journey. Eng-Hum, who is deeply involved in the Chinatown BIA’s Revitalize Chinatown project, emphasizes the importance of Kwong’s work and research for her Propel project.

A woman in a black jacket smiles at the camera

Judy Eng-Hum own experience at Haskayne is what led to her mentorship with the Propel Program.

Yvonne Nguyen

“Caitlyn’s Propel project was to research and get to know Chinatown from the lens of a visitor, but also as a potential merchant and community member to see what was needed to make it an attractive place to visit, live and shop,” says Eng-Hum. “Caitlyn is thoughtful, capable and organized. It has been great to work with and learn from her.” 

Eng-Hum’s motivation to partner as a mentor with the Haskayne’s Propel Project stemmed from her familiarity with the program and the quality of its students. Eng-Hum believed it would be a great opportunity to find projects that would be interesting for the students and beneficial for the community. 

Importance of representation

Chinatown holds a special place in Kwong’s heart, as well as that of many Calgarians, especially when it comes to celebrating Asian Heritage Month this month and connecting with her own heritage. 

“As a fourth-generation Chinese Calgarian, I did not see a lot of Asian representation in western media or school curriculum as a kid,” says Kwong. “To me, Asian Heritage Month is an opportunity to spotlight the identities and celebrate contributions and accomplishments of Asian-Canadians.” 

For Eng-Hum, the neighbourhood is important for Asian representation. It is a place that exudes energy and is welcoming to all generations of Calgarians. Eng-Hum’s ultimate vision for Chinatown is for it to continue being a place where people can discover its treasures, culture, cuisine and community.

As Calgary’s Chinatown continues to evolve, the work of Kwong and the support of mentors like Eng-Hum will play a crucial role in shaping its future. 

"I’m proud of the work that I have done on this project,” says Kwong. “It has been so rewarding to contribute to the Chinatown community."

To learn more about Asian Heritage Month and the resources available, visit UCalgary’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website.

Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2024.

Graduates, as you prepare to transition away from student life, we'd like to also welcome you into the UCalgary alumni community. Learn about the programs, benefits and services available exclusively to UCalgary grads, and be sure to keep in touch. 

The Propel Business Project is generously supported by RBC. 

For more information on how you can support Propel or get involved, email, Haskayne graduate career and engagement consultants. Watch out for the application window opening in fall 2024

Learn more about the Haskayne Master of Management and MBA.

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