Windmill and Prep Doctors partnership featured in The Globe and Mail

August 16, 2023

NOTE: This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail’s July 31, 2023 issue and has been duplicated here for ease of access to the Windmill Microlending community. You can subscribe to The Globe and Mail to access the original article on the Globe’s website, found here.

See full excerpt below.

Microlender Windmill wants to solve Canada’s health care shortage, one loan at a time


As part of a push to solve Canada’s chronic shortage of health care professionals, charity Windmill Microlending and the country’s largest dental training program have teamed up to offer a new form of educational financing for immigrant dentists.

Last week, Windmill and Mississauga, Ont.-based Prep Doctors introduced a product called “Cost+ ZERO Financing” that helps internationally trained dentists pay for the courses needed to obtain a Canadian licence.

The “zero” reflects an advance that’s interest-free, a feature aimed at Muslim immigrants who cannot take an interest-bearing loan for faith-based reasons. Instead, over time, borrowers repay Windmill the principle, plus a fee. Founded in 2011, Prep Doctors has helped more than 7,000 dentists obtain licences.

By 2028, Canada is expected to face a shortfall of 5,000 dentists, according to the federal government-run Canadian Occupational Projection System, along with needing an additional 19,000 doctors and 117,000 nurses.

“Too many internationally trained dentists are prevented from restarting their careers because they cannot afford the costs of preparatory courses and licensing exams,” said Claudia Hepburn, chief executive at Windmill, in an interview. She said these financial issues are especially acute for devout Muslims. Ms. Hepburn said: “In developing this product, we see meaningful opportunities for dentists, and the opportunity to apply the concept in other sectors.”

Calgary-based Windmill started in 2005, when founder Maria Eriksen, a clinical psychologist, realized many of the janitors at the hospital where she worked were foreign-trained health care professionals, unable to practise owing to obstacles that included the cost of licensing. Friends and family of the founder contributed enough money to help six immigrants obtain Canadian health care certifications.

Ms. Hepburn said the program has proven it can lift immigrants out of poverty, as the average Windmill client triples their income after taking a loan and gaining certification in their field.

Ms. Hepburn became the Toronto-based CEO six years ago, and is half way to her self-imposed goal of a 10-fold increase in the scale of the operation – Windmill’s target is to make more than 4,000 loans annually, from a $200-million capital pool. This year, as the charity becomes better known and immigration surges, demand for loans is up by 45 per cent.

“The great satisfaction in what we do at Windmill comes from seeing clients regain their sense of personal identity, and their identity with their kids and community, and start contributing to Canada in the fields where they were trained,” said Ms. Hepburn.

Windmill is “profession agnostic,” lending to everything from health care professionals and IT workers to truckers. The average client borrows $11,000 and pays the money back within four years. Over the past 18 years, Windmill’s repayment rate has averaged 97 per cent.

On conventional, five-year loans, Windmill charges clients 5.95-per-cent interest, a rate it has held steady since the beginning of the year, despite Bank of Canada hikes that forced most other financial institutions to raise rates.

Windmill raises the money it needs to fund loans through donations and what are known as community bonds, similar to Guaranteed Income Certificates, which offer set interest rates that are slightly lower than the GICs sold at banks, along with the satisfaction of an investment with social impact.

In Windmill’s case, the social cause is relieving poverty with new Canadians, and the bond’s interest rate is 50 basis points below what’s offered on a GIC from a bank. (There are 100 basis points in a percentage point.)

“Recent immigrants face a multitude of barriers when trying to secure employment in Canada,” said Anne-Marie Pham, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, in an e-mail. She highlighted systemic issues such as the lack of recognition for foreign credentials and a lack of experience in working with immigrant talent.

Ms. Pham said: “Loans from organizations such as Windmill provide an important and innovative solution to remove a systemic barrier in the immigrant professional’s employment journey.”

In a 2021 study, Royal Bank of Canada found having immigrants who are underemployed, relative to their credentials and skills, costs the Canadian economy $50-billion annually. RBC said the roots of the problem, “including the thorny issue of assessing foreign credentials, and employers’ tendency to discount international experience – are well known.”

“New immigrants are very often educated for employment far beyond their current roles in Canada, they are tragically underemployed. This is a travesty for our country,” said Irfhan Rawji, founder and executive chair of MobSquad, which links immigrants to jobs in the tech sector.

In an e-mail, he said: “The fact that those who participate in Windmill’s programs triple their compensation highlights the substantial but often unrealized economic opportunity available for them – and the opportunity available for all of us, in the form of better access to in demand services such as healthcare.”


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