CBC

'I don't think the community sees the important part that Indigenous people have to play in this day and age in the world of business and commerce,' says Ashley Richard, who was homeless but is now preparing to graduate from the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business.

‘I don’t think the community sees the important part that Indigenous people have to play in this day and age in the world of business and commerce,’ says Ashley Richard, who was homeless but is now preparing to graduate from the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business

At 16, Ashley Richard was homeless and living on the streets of Toronto.

A conflict with her mom forced her to move out on her own carrying only a garbage bag full of clothes.

During the next couple of years, Richard’s strength was tested on numerous occasions.

Richard was sexually assaulted while living on the street when she was 19. She also found herself living in numerous shelters and on friends’ couches whenever she could. It was during that time, she knew something had to change.

“I felt like if I was going to revitalize my spirit it would have to be there,” Richard said.

Grandma credited with inspiration

So Richard picked up her belongings and made the trip to Winnipeg. Her grandmother, Mary Richard, one of her biggest motivators, gave her the push she needed.

“She was, and still is, the reason I do everything I do,” Richard said.

Shortly after Richard got settled in Winnipeg, she applied in the Asper School of Business program. She said she’s always felt there aren’t enough Indigenous youth interested in the business world, so the school was the perfect place for her to make her mark.

“I don’t think the community sees the important part that Indigenous people have to play in this day and age in the world of business and commerce.”

‘Love feeling like I have a purpose in my life’

Richard was accepted in 2013. Five years later, she’s now set to graduate in a few weeks time. During her fourth and fifth year of schooling, she at times felt overwhelmed, but the sense of accomplishment gave her the push to finish her degree.

“I think when I went through all of that when I was younger, I think I can handle a lot more stress than if I had not gone through those things,” she said.

“For the past couple of years, I’ve been putting 12-14 hour days just to get things done. I love feeling like I have a purpose in my life.”

Turned motivational speaker

The resiliency that Richard has built over the years, she says, helped form her personality and who she is today. Since sharing her story, Richard has picked up numerous motivational speaking gigs to help others who might be struggling.

“When women come up to me and they share their story with me or tell me what my story mean to them, that’s the most important part.”

“To build a community of strength instead of communities trying to tear each other down, I think that was the most important thing to me,” she said.

After graduation, Richard plans on writing a prep exam before going on to start a master of business administration degree. Her dream is to have a thesis published and have undergraduate students quote her in papers about Indigenous economic development.

“I think that would be so cool.”