Constantin Mugenga came to Canada from Rwanda in 2013 with two master’s degrees he had earned in India. Settling in Kingston, he started looking for employment. But the only job he was able to secure was as a cashier at Costco. Disappointed, he sought help from the Kingston Community Health Centre’s immigration services.
“They said you have to go back to school, you can’t just get a job because you have a master’s (degree),” he recalls. “I thought, are you kidding me? So everyone that comes to Canada, they think they’re going to help … but how are they going to raise their families if they have children?”
He chewed on that for a few years, earning several promotions at Costco, and in 2017 went back to school. He enrolled in the social service worker fast-track program at St. Lawrence College and, since he was there, completed a leadership and communications diploma as well.
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With those credentials, he landed a job at KCHC immigration services in 2018. What he saw there continued to trouble him.
“I noticed that people who are immigrants are suffering. They don’t get a good job, they don’t even get a chance,” he says.
Mugenga wanted to do something to change that narrative. He looked at a variety of options and settled on the idea of opening a business himself that would enable him to hire people, give them positions of responsibility as well as training, and expose them to leadership skills while offering them Canadian experience.
“I didn’t have much money and I didn’t have anybody to assist me, like to give me loans and stuff, so I was like, I can use my skills to start a business and I started the cleaning business,” says Mugenga.
And so Imperial Cleaning KFLA (Kingston Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington) opened its doors in 2019, offering commercial, industrial, office and residential cleaning services. When the pandemic arrived a year later, it didn’t hurt the business as people were looking for thorough cleaning services, especially in hospitals and commercial establishments.
Today, Mugenga employs six staff between Imperial Cleaning KFLA and its spin-off company, Imperial Painting KFLA. At both businesses, Mugenga pays employees above minimum wage.
“Working with Imperial Cleaning has been good for me because this opportunity gave me a chance to improve my English as I sometimes meet with customers and it also gives me experience. This job helped me to earn money to pay my bills and gives me a flexible schedule for working after school,” says Deiudonne Mutuyimana, a recent immigrant from Rwanda who is studying health information management at St. Lawrence College and is one of three managers at Imperial Cleaning.
Imperial Painting came as a natural progression from the cleaning business, says Mugenga, 32. While cleaning, he says he couldn’t help but observe that people often needed paint touch-ups indoors, pressure washing outdoors, and windows and siding repainted. He jumped on the opportunity as it seemed like a natural extension of the customer service philosophy he believed in.
“You don’t go into a business only to make money, but because you care about what you are going to be doing or you won’t make a difference at all. That is my goal, to make a difference in people’s lives and create jobs as well,” says Mugenga.
“As an immigrant and Black person, you have to put in mind that you won’t change things in 10 years,” he adds. “If I make too much noise today, then I am going to break the bridge and nobody else is going to be able to cross. If I know what my goal is, I’m going to achieve it and until I achieve it that’s when I can change things.”