A humanitarian crisis
In the summer of 2015 there was a humanitarian crisis in Syria that captured the attention of the world. Millions of Syrians were trying to flee their war-torn homeland as the nightly news reported disturbing stories of their plight. Following closely was Danby Appliance CEO, Jim Estill, who was concerned that the world was not doing enough to help. The stories and images broke his heart. As a successful entrepreneur, he knew that he had the means to make a difference, so he took a business approach and devised a plan to personally sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families and coordinate a community-wide effort to help settle them into a new life in his hometown.
An ambitious plan
To help achieve his plan, Estill was able to utilize his own organizational skills and the corporate and community contacts he had developed. He brought together faith-based community groups and aid agencies that wanted to help those affected by the Syrian civil war. The Muslim Society of Guelph quickly became a close collaborator in the initiative and helped to lead the project’s volunteers. Jim proceeded to organize the operation as any CEO of a start-up business would, by scaling up and achieving targets and goals. Arrangements were made to set up workplace and community committees to help with the newcomers’ health, education, housing, and employment needs.
The word spread quickly. By the time the resettlement plan was up and running, more than 800 local volunteers had offered their time to the cause. As the refugee families began to arrive, the citizens of Guelph came together, and local storage spaces began to overflow with their donations. Through his business network, Estill arranged to help the refugees find jobs. Many of them were offered steady work through a program at Danby, where they could also learn English on the job. Estill helped others establish their own small businesses.
Doing the right thing
One of Jim Estill’s personal mantras for both business and life is “Do the right thing.” He was one of the biggest single participants in the Canadian government’s commitment to offer 25,000 Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. He was invested into the Order of Ontario in 2017 and into the Order of Canada in 2019, and he has received many international awards for his ongoing humanitarian work.
A Canadian story
Today the City of Guelph is a richer community because of Estill’s bold and generous initiative. By the end of 2016, 47 Syrian families had resettled in the city, with that number rising to 89 families from multiple countries by the summer of 2019. Many are flourishing in their new homes and schools—their personal journeys of hardship and hope have helped shape a heartwarming Canadian story.
I have seen time and again how Ontarians view engaging with people and places beyond our borders as both an opportunity and an obligation. No matter where we have come from, we have made significant social and economic contributions to our new homeland. There is so much to learn and to contribute.
Stories like Jim Estill’s demonstrate the very best of who we are as a nation. Through his drive and determination, he has galvanized an entire community to respond authentically as Canadians, opening their doors, hearts, minds, and wallets.
As a refugee sponsor, he has shown remarkable generosity. He represents a proud legacy of private refugee sponsors—a unique Canadian model—and is a shining example of how we build both inclusive prosperity and social cohesion in Ontario.Sustainability