CEO Message: October 2020

Published October 14, 2020.


Claudia Hepburn Windmill MicrolendingCelebrating Women of Impact

October is Women’s History Month in Canada, and for this October newsletter, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the important women in Windmill’s history and to comment on the impact we’ve seen in the past six months on the immigrant women we serve. I’d also invite you to read about two outstanding women—one a client and one a supporter, champion and board member—in this October newsletter.

The Windmill Women

Windmill was founded by women and has been built largely through the efforts of women governors, volunteers and staff. 15 years ago, our founder, Dr. Maria Eriksen, conceived Windmill’s unique model to help skilled immigrants escape poverty by lending them funding and support, and recruited its first board members. Over its first decade, Windmill’s board and small team of paid staff were all women, women who met weekly around a kitchen or boardroom table to review the loan applications, share client stories and build the organization from the ground up. In order to grow their impact, this founding group joined forces with philanthropic leaders (of both sexes) and together they established a powerful funding model to help more immigrants.  The legacy of their work continues to build across Canada.

Today, while Windmill has welcomed many wonderful men to our board, staff team and list of supporters, we are still a predominantly women-led organization. Our board is about 50% women, our leadership team 60% women, and our staff about 70% women. While we strive for diversity and the inclusion of minority perspectives—including men’s—we are conscious of maintaining our strong and rare institutional history of women’s leadership in the decades to come.

And what of our clients? For most of the past 15 years, our clients have been women and men in roughly equal numbers, but this year has shown a short but marked drop in applications from women. During the first two quarters of this fiscal year (April to September), when schools and daycares were closed across the country, our loan applications from women dropped by about 26% compared to the previous two quarters. Loans from men were down only 2% during this period, reflecting the more severe impact the recession has had on the careers of newcomer women.  We hope that as the second wave of the pandemic unfolds across the country, that schools and childcares will not be forced to close again, and that the rebound in applications from women we have seen in the past month will continue. Our repayment rate from both women and men remains equally strong at 98.6% and 98.7% respectively.

I invite you to continue reading to discover a story about a Windmill client, Alexandra, who left a thriving dentistry practice in Columbia to restart in Canada, and an interview with a board member, Miyo Yamashita, the inaugural Director of Strategy and Operations at the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto.  People like Alexandra and Miyo form the basis of what Windmill is today, a thriving, entrepreneurial charity that has supported over 5,770 newcomers to date and that aspires grow.

As the CEO entrusted with that growth, I am inspired by the vision of our founders, humbled by the generosity of our supporters and—most of all—motivated by the courage and perseverance of our clients through these challenging times. I hope that you are, too.

Read on!

Claudia Hepburn

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