Community at the Centre as Corporate Canada Welcomes Refugees

This post was provided by Tina Barton from Community Foundations of Canada as part of our refugee series, Leaving Home: A Series Exploring the International Refugee Crisis. The multi-part blog series features stories from those on the ground, as well as the response from charities and Canadians across the country.  In this edition of the series, we take a look at how the for-profit world is working with the non-profit world to welcome refugees to Canada.   


Just because a company is large doesn’t mean it loses its human touch. Manulife, for one, is all about the people. In chatting with employees, it soon becomes clear that community values are central to one of Canada’s largest financial services groups, and these values are basically what led to the concept of the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees. The idea was hatched at the end of a cold winter day between two partners at Manulife and Community Foundations of Canada, intended to help address the gap between government assistance and the cost of monthly accommodation and household expenses, which was particularly strained for large refugee families.

Sometimes it takes just a single seed to grow a towering tree. Since its establishment, the Welcome Fund has become a tour de force, growing into a partnership between three of Canada’s corporate greats; the $500,000 seeding by Manulife was followed by $5 million promptly donated by CN, Canada’s largest railroad, with General Motors then contributing $50,000 to the fund. In addition, local community foundations have been doing their own fundraising, boosting the total value to more than $6 million.

“CN has a great history of helping those arriving at our shores settle in places across our great country,” said Sean Finn, executive vice president and chief legal officer at CN. “As this financial contribution reaches charitable organizations across the country, CN is proud to support refugees with their transition to a new home, filled with the same dreams for their families and children that all Canadians share.”

Impacting Communities across Canada

Community Foundations of Canada is working closely with its community foundation network to identify local charities best positioned to receive and implement contributions from the Welcome Fund. Local organizations are ideally suited to understand the context and needs of their communities, and deliver solutions that will have the greatest impact. More than $4 million has been distributed among ten communities to date, including: Calgary, London, Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Peterborough, Ottawa, Red Deer and Kitchener-Waterloo, with further contributions reaching Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon, St. John’s, Charlottetown and other communities across the country in the coming weeks.

“We have taken a data-driven approach, which means we invest the money where it’s needed most, typically based on the number of refugees entering communities,” explained Sara Lyons, Director of Strategic Initiatives with Community Foundations of Canada. “In partnering with our pan-Canadian network of local community foundations, we can leverage their on-the-ground eyes, ears, and community knowledge and relationships, to ensure the funds go to where they’ll have the most impact.”

Ottawa - 22

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as decisions are community-driven. In fact, use of the Welcome Fund has already varied greatly, reflective of Canada’s diverse communities. For example, the Welcome Fund has been used to:

  • subsidize housing for refugee families in Calgary;
  • subsidize housing and support the purchase of necessary medical supplies for refugees in Halifax;
  • provide essential household items, such as bedding, linen and toiletries, in Winnipeg;
  • provide housing allowances to help families move into sustainable homes, and offer emergency funding to support housing stability and prevent evictions; and
  • create a “double your donation” incentive in Greater Peterborough

It is through these examples listed above, that makes it clear the Welcome Fund has already made a big impact for thousands of families.

“It has meant the difference between being able to afford monthly rent or not,” said JP Bervoets, Vice-President with Community Foundations of Canada. “We have some important questions ahead of us: How can we as a country continue to build the engagement of the corporate and philanthropic sectors in the next phase of settlement? How can we continue to provide this wave of newcomers with opportunities to build a future in Canada?”

These very questions are ones that GM hopes to address. Already the company has begun offering entry-level jobs to refugees from Syria to gain critical Canadian experience and begin new career paths.

London Welcome Fund announcement - version 2

“Community Foundations Canada is turning the outpouring of community support across Canada into actionable housing for Syrian refugees,” said David Paterson, Vice President of Corporate and Environmental Affairs, General Motors of Canada. “In addition, GM employees and our dealers across Canada are pleased to offer support, work, skills training and apprenticeship opportunities to support these new Canadians.”

The Welcome Fund for Syrian refugees is again demonstrating the generous side of Canadians, and that out of tragedy can come a rallying community and corporate spirit — different “worlds” coming together to support newcomers in this new phase of their lives.

“On behalf of the community foundation movement, thank you to our partners for stepping up and significantly contributing to make all of this a reality,” said Bervoets.

To learn more about Community Foundations of Canada, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page >>>



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