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Sandra Odendahl talks about Scotiabank’s transformational partnership with Windmill

Published July 15, 2021.

“Windmill is an organization that is continuing to grow and could benefit from a keenly engaged partner like Scotiabank, who can amplify their impact."

On June 10, Windmill Microlending and Scotiabank announced a transformational partnership. Through the ScotiaRISE program, Scotiabank will provide $2.5 million over three years to support 2,000 immigrant women in achieving career success in Canada. Windmill Associate Director, Corporate Partnerships, Shannon Townsend, met with Sandra Odendahl, Vice President, Social Impact and Sustainability at Scotiabank. They talked about Scotiabank’s landmark commitment to Windmill, one of the largest donations of its kind in Canadian history.

To learn more about this partnership, read Scotiabank’s news release.

Why is community investment important to you? 

I always knew I wanted my career to have a positive impact on people and the environment. I’m an engineer originally, and engineers are problem solvers – there are a lot of problems in the world to be solved! Early in my career, I worked on environmental and social impact assessment of development projects. I saw that to do good in the community, you also need development, commerce and businesses of all types. As for my commitment to ScotiaRISE and this partnership with Windmill, it felt very close to home. My parents were both immigrants. My dad came to Canada from Germany when he was 18 with 50 bucks in a leather bag. He was a pastry chef who got on a ship and ended up in Ottawa. My mom was a professional seamstress before coming to Canada from the West Indies. Both my parents were lucky because they had trades. Now, I live in Toronto, and I’m surrounded by immigrants from every walk of life. There are so many barriers and prejudices to face, and they simply don’t have the networks. I have a sense of duty and an obligation to give back. Part of my role at Scotiabank and one objective of ScotiaRISE is to make those immigrants feel at home faster.

You were at Scotiabank for about a year before the launch of ScotiaRISE. Can you share a bit about the development of that program? 

As we began to reformulate our social impact strategy, we focused on three areas: 1) How can we have the most social impact? 2) How do our employees want to be engaged? 3) How do we position Scotiabank’s role in the economy and in the communities that we serve? It was important that we positioned ourselves in such a way that we could make a difference. We created three focus areas that contribute to economic inclusion:

  • Increasing high school graduation and post-secondary participation. 
  • Helping newcomers feel at home faster. 
  • Removing barriers to career advancement for disadvantaged groups. 

I believe this is the largest donation that has been made through ScotiaRISE. What was it about Windmill that made you confident in our ability to deliver impact and live up to the expectations?

For the past 15 years, Windmill has built up a track record of success, which has only been accelerated since Claudia joined as CEO. Windmill has a history of delivering impact with intention. We had many different teams at Scotiabank who reviewed the growth trajectory, the increase in clients served and capital dispersed. This is clearly an organization that is continuing to grow and could benefit from a keenly engaged partner who would be able to amplify the impact. The competence of the Windmill leadership team was clear, and we had confidence in management to deliver what they said they were going to.

What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about Canadian immigrants while you’ve been working on this program?

I did not appreciate the impact that access to credit has on one’s ability to succeed. Perhaps one of the largest social benefits of banking is access to credit; this allows immigrants to become part of the fabric of Canadian society. I was surprised when I saw the correlation between credit and success in this country.

What are the most significant benefits of partnerships between corporations and not for profits? 

Problems are best solved when diverse perspectives are brought to the table. These two sectors often have a different lens on the crux of the problem and how to solve it. I believe that collaboration will help us create solutions. 

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