Fiona Pinto-de Souza: Serving the Goan community in Toronto




Fiona Pinto-de Souza traces her roots to Olaulim-Goa and to Kenya. Leaving behind her parents, brother and a comfortable home in Nairobi when she finished school at 18, she left for post-secondary studies in the USA. Her father Felix Pinto who was a Sydenham College Bombay, B.Com. from the class of the 1950s, had always wanted a good education for both his children. Her mother Melba was a teacher at St Mary's in Nairobi and quite a few Kenyan politicians' sons and students who later became eminent in their own right, passed through her class. Melba's cooking skills inherited from her mother Arminda and passed to Fiona, were legendary. When the time came, Fiona had no hesitation in choosing a Graphic Design course of study due to her natural artistic and creative bent.

Enrolling in the Ivy League Philadelphia College of Arts and Design, she completed a 4-year undergraduate programme and was immediately offered a position as a Junior Designer by her former professor who now owned a creative boutique firm in New York's trendy Manhattan. Fiona was good at her chosen profession and in the small but powerful world of advertising in the Big Apple, she became well known in the trade, working with computers in design which to the rest of the world was still an alien concept.

Growing up in the Goan community in Kenya, among friends (she hardly had any relatives there), life revolved around the local club. She fondly remembers the soft skills she learned there with organisation, public speaking, selling and networking, skills that would stand in good stead in her future business and personal life.

Her father, an auditor in the Kenya colonial government's agricultural department, was later seconded to the Washington DC based World Bank as Disbursement Officer in charge of funds for WB's loan portfolio to Kenya and surrounding African countries. 

While Fiona was still studying in the US, her father was diagnosed with cancer, necessitating her return and it was the start of a nightmarish documentation adventure which she pulled through, thanks to good luck and an understanding Portuguese consul in New York City. 

The problems arose with Kenya withdrawing citizenship arbitrarily to Asians then living outside the country, rendering her stateless. Since her father had a Portuguese passport, she contacted the local Portuguese official in NYC who gave her an “off-book” Portuguese passport and helped resolve all complications that arose even after she returned and until she finally left for Canada.


Fiona saw an opportunity to immigrate to Canada. Computer Graphic Design was a relatively new profession and with her computer skills acquired in the American market, she had no problem at all with finding a good job. Canada to her, would also provide a good future home for her mother and brother Brian for whom she felt responsible. Brian also graduated from a US school, fulfilling Felix Pinto's wishes.

In Toronto, Fiona's first job was with the giant Canadian insurer Manulife. She learned about the Canadian marketing and publicity scene and was soon offered a position in Dynamic Mutual Funds then an important and high-profile part of Ned Goodman's diversified financial interests. Fiona earned her spurs with Dynamic's well designed and eye-catching quarterly financial reports and it was inevitable that she came to the notice of the big man himself. The group's 200 million dollar marketing budget was soon recalled from a NY firm and brought under Fiona's control.

When these challenges soon dulled, she took up an offer of starting a marketing department in a private high net worth wealth management firm where she continued to impress.


At the time she was new to Canada, Errol Francis was the President of the Goan Overseas Association (G.O.A.) Toronto and he encouraged Fiona and Brian to actively participate in the

association. That was the start of Fiona's long and faithful service to the Goan community in Toronto. Brian also worked hard for the Association until he died prematurely. At the 25th anniversary of the founding, Fiona was in the thick of the activities that accompanied the celebrations. It was then that she met her husband. Ralph de Souza of Saligao and Tanzania roots, is a mostly quiet unassuming person and a senior financial executive in the Toronto Catholic Archdiocese office. Like Fiona, Ralph is devoted to service to the Goan community through the G.O.A. for many years.

I asked Fiona what was her reason for her consistent and loyal tenure in the G.O.A.

Reminiscing about her early life in Kenya, she said that it was the community that nurtured her childhood and growth. If it takes a village to rear a child, the Goan community in Nairobi was that village. She lived for many years in Philadephia, Washington D.C., and New York City and later realised that compared to the Goan cultural desert in those cities, we in Toronto have a tremendous advantage many Goan Diasporas would envy. 

We have a large Goan community and the ability to remain in touch with our culture if we want to, through the G.O.A. Toronto that makes it possible. She mentions how this body has over time become the mother organisation that Goan associations elsewhere look up to for guidance and past experience. Fiona feels the value in this is worth keeping and carrying forward and it is what guides her through the many frustrations that beset anyone who is willing to serve. Not everyone like Fiona leaves their ego at the door.

[The writer resides in Toronto and likes to observe and write.] 

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