Meeting Minutes - Jim Estill - Sponsoring Syrian Refugee Families in Guelph - Jan.11, 2018
The first meeting in January was called to order by Vice-President Martin Alderwick at 10:00 am with 47 members present. He welcomed everyone to 2018 with a special welcome to today’s guest speaker, Jim Estill.
Announcements Julian Sale announced that the Speakers Committee was seeking a replacement for Normand Genest who is retiring from this committee. Thank-you to Normand for his several years of service and for being a significant contributor to the committee, especially in finding and contacting speakers involved in the agriculture and food industry. The Speakers Committee meets two to four times a year to determine and schedule speakers for the following year. If there are members interested in joining this committee, please contact someone from the committee or contact Julian Sale at email@example.com .
Activities Committee – Ray Biffis - The Valentine’s Dinner is now booked for February 14th @ 6:00 pm at the Mandarin Restaurant with a maximum of 30 people. Tickets are $26 including tax and tip. Drinks are additional. Please sign-up at the greeting table.
Coffee Club – Martin Alderwick The coffee club will meet next Thursday at both the Symposium Restaurant or the Airpark Café @ 10:00 am. ************************************************************************************************ Len Johnstone introduced today’s guest speaker, Jim Estill, speaking on Doing the Right Thing Re: the Syrian Refugee resettlement in Canada.
Jim Estill is the CEO of Danby, an appliance company with annual sales of $400 million. He got his start reselling computers out of the trunk of his car in the late ’70s in Waterloo. He eventually took over as CEO of Synnex Canada, an information technology firm, where he grossed more than $2 billion in sales each year. In 2015, he came out of semi-retirement to take over as Danby’s CEO. Estill is both pragmatic and dogmatic, spreading his no-nonsense business gospel at every opportunity. He even has a Ted Talk—it’s called “From Zero to $2 Billion.” In 2015, after Labour Day Estill called a slew of local religious organizations—including three churches, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a synagogue—and aid agencies like the Salvation Army. On September 29, 10 civic leaders sat down in Estill’s boardroom at Danby. He’d made a PowerPoint presentation titled Refugees: The Right Thing to Do. Muhammed Sayyed, the president of the Muslim Society of Guelph, was amazed that so many faith groups were participating, even though most of the refugees would be Muslim. When he met Estill, he was filled with gratitude. “I thought, Wow, there are still people like him,” he said. An hour after the group sat down, the project was launched. The Muslim Society of Guelph would create the infrastructure, handle the paperwork and lead the volunteers. Estill would sustain the program with monthly donations. The group partnered with the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, which was a sponsorship agreement holder. This meant Estill could choose which refugees he wanted to sponsor. On November 24, 2015, a story about Estill’s project appeared in the Guelph Mercury. Within days, the article had been translated into Arabic and circulated in the Middle East. Refugees who’d spent years trapped in limbo in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey were suddenly seeing Estill’s face in their social media feeds, along with the promise of a quiet life and stable employment. Soon, they started emailing him directly, pleading with him to bring them and their families to Canada.
Jim Estill Mr. Estill explained that the displaced Syrians lived in refugee camps designed to house 100,000 people but there were 200,000 to 300,000 people in them so that they were massively overcrowded.
Mr. Estill said that he could not standby and do nothing so as a businessman he determined the goal as to what he personally could contribute to solving the refugee problem. He wanted to help some refugee families move to Guelph but he did not want to create a ghetto of Syrian families. He wanted to have them integrated into the city. His idea was to bring entire families including their extended families. In total he has brought in 58 families with four more families still to come which are all part of 200 families needing our support network.
He did not want to bring them in to be dependent on welfare so he organized this like a business. He set it up so that he has a director of jobs, a director of education, a director of housing, a director of health and every family is given an Arabic-speaking mentor family and four to five English-speaking mentor families. The mentor families have a checklist of things to accomplish to integrated the refugee families such as to help them set up a bank account, get a doctor, get a dentist, register the kids in school, get into an ESL class, get a library card, ride the bus, etcetera. A score card is kept to see how the new family is integrating.
Mr. Estill spoke about being able to “pivot” in the process of integrating the families to Canada. He was sensitive to being viewed as bringing in slave labour so he didn’t initially plan on hiring any refugees. He originally referred any of the refugees who needed a job to business acquaintances but soon learned that they were not job-ready. So, he put into place a program that he called, “Ease into Canada.” This was primarily focused on learning English in the workplace. The workers do an ESL class, learn an English word-of-the-day, English coaching such as watch an hour of English television per day. From this the new refugee was re-directed to an area of coaching that met with his or her specific need or difficulty.
Although some of the refugee workers may have been in a profession of some sort in Syria, they were encouraged to work in Mr. Estill’s factory so as to learn how to master the language and culture of being in the workforce. Even some of those new refugees that were not directly sponsored by Mr. Estill ended up working at Danby because many of the sponsoring church groups did not have the depth to provide the job experience that could be provided by working in Mr. Estill’s factory.
In this program the refugees are taught resume writing, coaching interview skills and are assigned a job coach. From this the person is steered into the type of job to match the skills or training that they have. Of the families that Mr. Estill has sponsored, 49 of them are working. About one-third of them are working at a little bit below their level but this is just the start. There has been a high success rate in employing pharmacists who are working toward becoming re-educated and re-certified as pharmacists. There has been a 100% success rate with any blue-collar person or anyone in a trades industry.
As an example of one successful family with four workers, three of them work in trades and one works as a labourer. That family has saved $100,000 in one year and are they are buying a small townhouse. The refugee families manage their money quite well.
Mr. Estill finished by saying, “That's the story” and then answered questions from the membership.
During Mr. Estill’s response to questions he informed us further that: - A very small percentage of these refugees will never go back to Syria. By the time that they arrive in Canada, they have usually spent four to five years in a refugee camp before getting here so they have no place to go back to because their home has been destroyed and they have probably lost most of their relatives and friends. - There is a lost generation of 16 – 19 year-olds that have probably been out of school for several years and have no interest in going back to school to sit with a bunch of 11 – 15 year-olds to complete their normal years in school. - Most of the refugees brought in are Muslim and they are mostly secular but there are Christian refugee families as well. - One hundred percent of the 800 plus people involved in assisting the refugees are all volunteers who were provided cultural training in order to assist the refugee families.
For anyone interested in working with or sponsoring a refugee family, Mr. Jim Estill can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Julian Sale thanked Jim Estill for his presentation and presented him with a token of the Club’s appreciation.