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CEO Message: October 2019

Published October 14, 2019.

Claudia Hepburn Windmill Microlending

A few weeks ago, I took an Uber to Windmill’s Calgary office and struck up a conversation with the driver, a new Canadian named Ashraf. Ashraf was an articulate, funny and outgoing man, with a heart-breaking story.

For 17 years, he ran dental clinics in his home country of Sudan, practicing as a dental implant surgeon. Because he openly opposed the dictatorship, his clinic and savings were confiscated by the government and his life was in danger. He was forced to flee with his four young daughters and pregnant wife, and they were grateful to have been welcomed into Canada as convention refugees.

Their life was tough right now, he said, because his baby son had been born with a heart defect. Ashraf spent every night in the ICU with him, and then left the hospital to drive Ubers by day. But, he wanted me to know he was so happy to be in Canada, and to feel safe. “The only two things I know how to do are dentistry and driving,” he laughed, “so I don’t have a lot of choices about how to make money!”

“Are you planning to recertify as a dentist here?” I asked.

“Yes, but the costs are daunting,” he told me.

“Have you heard of Windmill Microlending? We offer loans for skilled immigrants and refugees like you!”

 “Yes, I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think I qualify,” he said. “I’m not a permanent resident.”

“But as a convention refugee, you don’t need to be!” I told him with delight. “We offer interest-free loans to convention refugees!”

“Interest free loans for refugees?” Ashraf couldn’t believe he’d heard me right.

“We’re on our way to the Windmill Calgary office right now! Come in with me and start your application!”

“Yes!” Ashraf said, now as excited as I was, “I’ve cancelled my next ride. My papers are all with me in the back of the car. Today is my lucky day!”

A week later, Ashraf was approved for a Windmill loan to pursue accreditation in dentistry. Nobody was more thrilled by the news than I was.

Heading into the last quarter of 2019, Windmill is experiencing rapid growth. In the first six months of this fiscal year we originated more new loans than we did in all of 2017-2018. Our innovative model for social impact was recently recognized in the news, with The Logic citing Windmill as one of Canada’s 10 most innovative non-profits.  

While it’s wonderful to see our new loan numbers rising fast, and external recognition for our innovative model, I have to admit, meeting Ashraf and introducing him to Windmill was particularly gratifying. Over the next few years, all of us at Windmill will be crossing our fingers when Ashraf sits his exams, encouraging him through any setbacks and cheering him on when he succeeds. We’re rooting for him and the thousands of others like him among our community of clients.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our mission, and of new Canadians like Ashraf who need to get back into their professions. And, the next time you take a taxi or an Uber, make sure you ask your driver what they did before. You may be able to recruit our next client!

Claudia Hepburn, CEO

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