Calgary isn’t all oil and gas and cowboy hats. The fast-expanding city already nurtures some of the trademarks of a bona fide big city: a thriving arts scene; condo towers popping up left, right and centre; and an increasing homeless population.

Similarly, there’s more to Ramandeep Banga, a senior financial advisor at Calgary’s Infinity Capital Management Corp. who recently started Project Forward, an initiative aimed at helping the local homeless population.

Working out of the Calgary Drop-In Centre, the program focuses on identifying and removing some of the financial obstacles to getting individuals off the streets. Such limitations span from more material needs to plain old misinformation, all of which Banga has taken into account as he has shaped the program.

“I started the project because I had a lot of questions,” Banga recounts. “I was on my way to see a client, and along the way I saw five ‘Help wanted’ boards in just one block. Yet there’s a homeless crisis. I went to the drop-in centre. I felt either I could walk away or I could do something.”

Project Forward has started at a time Calgary’s economy is booming. Many people wonder how anyone could stay unemployed in the midst of a labour shortage. That is the same thinking that brought Banga to the drop-in centre.

“It was something I’d never done before,” says Banga, who spent the bulk of his 10-year career at CIBC, filling every position from teller to senior financial advisor, before moving to Infinity. “Usually, we think that in order to give financial advice, people have to be making money. But when I went to the drop-in centre, I found there were so many misconceptions.”

Banga says some people believe they don’t have enough money to open a savings account, while others worry that being in debt limits employment possibilities.

Says Banga: “When the people next to you are pimps and prostitutes, the financial advice you’re getting from them can’t be that good.”

By bringing in accountants, lawyers and police officers, Banga brings the participants in the program information they otherwise wouldn’t have and gives them access to accurate financial advice.

A lot of the work Banga does at the centre is teaching. Participants in his workshops are missing skills that generally are taken for granted. For instance, Banga finds that many participants lack basic time-management and scheduling skills.

Banga’s workshops focus on topics such as establishing goals and how to achieve them, even if the goal is merely to start reading more. He also emphasizes the importance of building a “success structure” to help keep on track to achieve any aims. This structure cultivates communities and mentorships, as well as a sense of accountability, asking that participants in the program work on and hopefully fulfil a different 1% of their goals each day.

The success structure is a tool Banga feels is useful to anyone, whether it’s a client he sees in his office or at the drop-in centre.

“Everyone who comes to me needs financial advice,” he says. “We’re all in the same situation, but there are different circumstances. We each have different obstacles to overcome and goals to reach.”

Although the bulk of Project Forward is about education and information, there are needs that knowledge alone can’t satisfy. Sometimes, says Banga, simple problems keep people down.

“You need identity cards to work,” Banga says. “But if you’ve been living on the street, it’s not unexpected that your driver’s licence or other photo ID card might have been lost or stolen, and it costs money to replace it. You get stuck in a vicious circle because you can’t get a job without ID, but you can’t get new ID if you don’t have a job to pay for it.”

Project Forward has a fund to address such issues. The fund will meet program participants halfway on expenditures such as new ID cards or workboots, expecting them either to have saved up some money or to pay the fund back once they start work.

The hope is that one day the fund will be self-sufficient, but for now Project Forward is looking to build its capital.

“Calgary is full of people with huge hearts, especially corporate Calgary,” says Banga, adding that many of his clients have joined the cause. In fact, Calgary’s business community has announced its intention to eliminate homelessness after a recent count showed the city’s homeless population stands at almost 3,500.

@page_break@Project Forward also has cultivated a beneficial relationship with the National Pardon Centre, a nonprofit organization that arranges to have individual’s criminal records removed from public files. The latter group has opened doors for individuals with past records.

Banga has high hopes for the success of Project Forward — and of its participants. In the next three to four months, he expects about 100 program participants will be off the streets and back in the workforce. Furthermore, he has set that as one of his personal goals — and he is well known for following through on his goals. It’s one of the reasons his clients, both from the drop-in centre and his day-to-day business, keep coming back.

Banga credits his success to a passion for his work. His attitude suggests he would be more than happy to be called to the office at any time of the day or night — and be thankful for the opportunity to be there. His enthusiasm is a driving force in his career, continually pushing him to improve in terms of designations and client service.

He already holds his financial management advisor designation, among others; he is completing his Canadian investment manager designation and plans to get his chartered financial analyst designation. But, he says, designations alone won’t keep you ahead of the game.

“A lot of clients tell me I’m really passionate,” Banga confides. “Really, loving the business sets good advisors apart. Some days I wonder at being paid to do this.”

With Banga’s infectious enthusiasm and hard work, it is no surprise he’s accomplishing much in his business and volunteer work. As a young advisor with good ideas and lots of gumption, he exemplifies the Calgary ethos — minus the cowboy boots. IE