Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in mental wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gary Thandi, Founder and Executive Director of Moving Forward Family Services, located in Surrey, BC, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I started an agency that is committed to supporting anyone in Canada struggling with mental health and/or addictions by offering low-barrier counselling and support: Moving Forward Family Services. Moving Forward is a non-profit, registered charity that is also focused on social enterprise efforts. The agency has a team of 15 Clinical Supervisors, 200 students on school practicums, and 100 registered therapists willing to offer services on a sliding scale.

The students are not paid but require practice hours to graduate, so revenue goes towards bringing in experienced supervisors to mentor these students. Many of the registered therapists are former interns who support our efforts to provide accessible counselling to anyone who wants it. Our low-barrier services make us one of the busiest counselling services in the country. Students come to us as they receive regular support, can work with a diverse range of clients, and receive regular training that goes beyond what they learn in the classroom. Clients come to us as they receive support in a timely fashion, and their financial circumstances are not a barrier to accessing service.

Tell us about yourself

I have my bachelor's and master's Degrees in Social Work and have worked for over 20 years in government, non-profit and academic institutions. In every position I have held, I have had the same observations: despite my and my colleagues’ best efforts, the needs of our communities as it relates to mental health and addictions continue to grow.

I was growing increasingly distressed having to turn people away who were desperate for help for no other reason than there not being enough resources to help them. This not only affects them and their loved ones, but it costs our economy billions in lost potential/productivity. It was then, in 2016, that I decided to start an agency that was driven by the skills and abilities of supervised and insured students on practicum and new counsellors willing to offer services on a sliding scale, to meet the needs of this large population.

I am motivated by the people we support – they came to us after having had many doors closed on them – I would venture to say that most people who struggle cannot access limited public and expensive private systems. It is their relief and gratitude that they won’t have another door closed on them that motivates me. I am also invigorated by being able to support them rather than being just one more person turning them away.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I have been called an entrepreneur on multiple occasions. Initially, I resisted that label as I saw myself more as someone who just wanted to help people who were struggling with mental health and addiction issues. Now I embrace both descriptions – and I am especially proud of being able to run an agency that is doing well fiscally while also making a huge impact socially. So, my biggest accomplishment is that I have been able to combine this entrepreneurial spirit with social justice - as well as garner support from the community who see the difference we are making.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

In my experience, the biggest hindrance to innovation is the tendency for people to want to maintain the status quo – even when they know the status quo isn’t really working. I used to get upset by such attitudes – as those that held these perspectives also actively resisted change – but now I look forward to such resistance – as Moving Forward, and our success is proof that change is possible. A colleague once noted that Moving Forward ‘innovates by simplifying’ – and I think that really encapsulates what we are all about.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Network: I didn’t plan on starting my own agency, but when I did, I had a large network to who I could reach out for potential clients. At the time, I networked just because I wanted to connect with like-minded people, so the benefits of those efforts went well beyond what I had ever expected.
  2. Never stop learning. Just because you receive a certain diploma, degree, or credential doesn’t mean you can’t continue to learn and grow. Be proud of your accomplishments but don’t use that as an excuse to stop growing on a professional and personal level.
  3. Practice self-care. This is something I need to stay on top of, as there is always lots to do and not enough hours in a day sometimes. I have learned the hard way that when I am not practicing self-care, I don’t sleep as well, my energy levels fluctuate, and ultimately the quality of my work will suffer.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I have my own struggles with mental health and have suffered significant losses. Frankly, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who hasn’t at some point struggled with bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, substance misuse, grief, and loss… I believe that everyone should be able to access mental health care with minimal barriers and waits and welcome dialogue with anyone who feels the same way.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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