The Pursuit of Happiness

For Khalil Jessa (Class of '07), happiness and success are the result of listening to your instincts, seizing opportunities, and approaching each day with excitement and curiosity.

"Tech entrepreneur, law student, and policy analyst, with a passion for making a difference," says Khalil Jessa, when asked to describe himself. An eclectic description, to be sure. Since graduating from Southridge in 2007, Jessa's journey has been guided by a spirit of exploration and curiosity, and an enthusiasm to seize opportunity when it knocks. He has built a diverse skill set, and is determined to apply his education, talents, and passions in his own unique way.

"I have a general direction that I am pursuing and I am excited to see where that path leads me. To me, success equals happiness, not money or achievement. And if you are excited about what you are doing every day, that is true happiness."

After graduating from Southridge, Jessa attended McGill University where he took Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science, with a minor in International Development. He credits Southridge for sparking his passion for social justice and international relations. "I would not have had the confidence, depth, or excitement to pursue these fields without being exposed to the courses, teachers, and programs at Southridge. I felt so well prepared for university because of that." Specifically, Southridge Model United Nations (Model UN) – a co-curricular program he pursued outside the classroom – inspired his program choice at McGill.

Model UN provides an opportunity for students to learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations. Inspired by his participation in Model UN, Jessa started his own Surrey Model UN conference. He was then recruited by Canadian High School Model UN and held the role of Chief of Staff during his first year of university. He later served on their Board.

After graduation from McGill, Jessa returned to Vancouver. He worked for a financial institution for a short time, but ultimately decided that banking wasn't for him. It was during this time that an opportunity presented itself. "I ran into Senator Mobina Jaffer, who I had invited to speak at a Model UN conference years prior, but we had not seen each other since. She ended up offering me a job as a legislative assistant. I jumped at that chance! It later led me to Ottawa where I started working on Parliament Hill."

This serendipitous encounter changed the course of Jessa's career. During his two years as a legislative assistant, Senator Jaffer became his mentor, encouraging him to pursue law. "Interestingly, in Grade 12, I wrote down that I thought I would become an international lawyer someday. It's funny how when you put something down on paper, you often end up going in that direction."

In 2015, as Jessa was studying for his LSAT, the seeds of another idea started to grow in his imagination. He wanted to start a business combining everything he had learned about feedback politics, behavior economics, and his studies of the Muslim community. "I wanted to find a way to use all of my diverse skills and passions my own way." That idea grew into Salaam Swipe.

Salaam Swipe is a Muslim matchmaking app, aimed at helping Muslims find and connect with other Muslims who share similar interests and values. "I saw the rise in dating apps and realized there was a gap in the market for the Muslim community. Muslims have a unique circumstance – we have more divided communities, gender segregation, and people who are spread out across the country. There are all these divisions among us, and we can only reach out as far as our own personal networks. We like to say that we're no different from traditional matchmaking, except we've taken your aunty out of the equation!"

"The response has been amazing. We have thousands of users, hundreds of thousands of swipes, and overall it is a very well-used application. We are launching a new version of it in late-2018, and I hope to travel to India for the launch."

While he plans for the launch of the new version of Salaam Swipe, Jessa is also balancing law school and policy work. "The diversity keeps things interesting," he says.

Jessa says the pull between law and entrepreneurship allows him to have the best of both worlds. "While they seem like completely opposite sides of the spectrum, the skills I have acquired actually all come together in different ways. While I am learning legal skills, I am also using those skills to help write legislation that comes through the Senate. When I am learning to be creative or detail-oriented in school, I am using those skills in my business as well."

When asked what advice he would give his Grade 12 self, Jessa says "I would say to take things as they come, and don't worry so much about the future. Whatever is meant to happen will happen. Every experience that you have, your true self will come out. There are a lot of pressures from parents and school, and pressures we put on ourselves – these can lead you to fulfilling a duty, instead of a path of self-discovery."

From the Spring 2018 Spirit Magazine