CEO message: From vulnerability to value

June 16, 2022

Who can forget that tragic image? It was September 2015, and Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old refugee, had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while his family was escaping Syria, hoping to seek a safe new life in Canada. That photo galvanized many Canadians to open their arms to Syrians – to sponsor a family, collect clothes and food and donate to charities at home and abroad. Here at Windmill Microlending, we launched a special loan program for refugees to make it easier for them to repay their loans.

The image of Alan Kurdi was powerful because it captured the vulnerability and desperation of refugees but obscured an equally important truth. Refugees are also skilled, resilient and can be tremendous contributors to the countries that welcome them.

Here at Windmill, we have learned a lot about our refugee clients’ skills and resilience in the five years since we launched our Refugee Loan Program. In that time, we have made 540 loans, totalling more than $5.25 million in loan capital, to refugees from 53 countries, the top three being Sudan, Iraq and Syria. What have we learned?

On average, Windmill clients increase their incomes by about 3.4 times. Our refugee clients have an even higher average income increase than our non-refugee clients. At learning plan completion, our refugee clients earn, on average, $66,612, which is 4.1 times their average income when they applied for a loan. The most common professions for our refugees are dentistry, information technology, truck driving, engineering and pharmacy.

As this suggests, Windmill’s refugee clients arrive in Canada with valuable skills and a high degree of self-efficacy. With a little support and guidance, they quickly fill skilled labour gaps and attain an income level that exceeds that of the average educated Canadian born in Canada ($66,612 versus $61,131 for Canadians born in Canada with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, as reported in the 2016 Census). Their skills and resilience are a lasting boon to Canada.

In this newsletter, I would encourage you to read about one of our recent refugee loan clients, Diala, who took advantage of one of our new resettlement loans. It is a reminder that while tragic images are important calls to action, even more important are the years of productive life refugees gain when we welcome and integrate them appropriately.

Read on to learn about the transformative partnership between Windmill and Scotiabank, which will help us scale up to help thousands of more refugees and other newcomer women thrive in Canada. We couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to help more immigrant women integrate and contribute their valuable skills to their communities from coast to coast. Thank you, Scotiabank!

Claudia Hepburn, CEO

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