Immigration matters in philanthropy

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Canada’s charities and non-profits play a crucial role in supporting our high quality of life and delivering important services. Canada’s 220,000 registered charities and non-profits employ about 2.4 million people (Statistics Canada, Non-profit organizations in rural and small town Canada, 2021; Canada Revenue Agency, Report on the Charities Program 2020 to 2021).

Impact of immigration

  • More than 1 in 4 people employed in the social assistance sector were born outside of Canada, as were nearly 1 in 5 working in social advocacy, civic, social and giving-related organizations.
  • Between 2016 and 2021, there was a 15% increase in the number of foreign-born social and community service workers.
  • Newcomers are also giving back. On average, immigrants donate more to charity than Canadian-born citizens.
  • When asked why they make financial donations, immigrants said the top 3 reasons were: compassion towards people in need; personally believing in the cause of the charity; and to make a contribution to the community.
  • Hundreds of thousands of immigrants volunteer their time to charitable causes across the country each year.
  • In fact, nearly 40% of immigrants aged 15 and older are volunteers. On average, these people will volunteer 162 hours each year (Statistics Canada, Giving and volunteering among Canada’s immigrants, 2012).

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from the Statistics Canada 2021 Census.

Percentage of immigrant workers in social services and charitable organizations:
Increase in the number of immigrants employed in social services and charitable organizations - Text version below
Text version: Percentage of immigrant workers in social services and charitable organizations
  • Canada: 26%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 3%
  • Prince Edward Island: 8%
  • Nova Scotia: 9%
  • New Brunswick: 6%
  • Quebec: 21%
  • Ontario: 31%
  • Manitoba: 24%
  • Saskatchewan: 17%
  • Alberta: 36%
  • British Columbia: 30%
  • Yukon: 23%
  • Northwest Territories: 21%
  • Nunavut: 7%

Some famous Canadian immigrants

Michael Lee-Chin

Michael Lee-Chin is the Jamaican–Canadian billionaire founder, President and Chairman of Portland Holdings, a privately held investment company that manages public and private equity and has an ownership interest in a collection of diversified businesses operating globally. The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is named in recognition of his $30 million gift. His donations to Canadian universities, such as McMaster University and the University of Toronto, and hospitals, such as the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation and the Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation, have made a lasting impact. Among his many personal accomplishments, he is a recipient of the Order of Jamaica and the Order of Ontario, as well as numerous honorary doctorates.

Aditya Jha

Aditya Jha is a successful Canadian entrepreneur from India, and makes philanthropy a large part of his life. He founded the POA Educational Foundation, which funds multiple projects focused on education, entrepreneurship and good governance. For instance, he has funded post-secondary scholarships and promoted education and entrepreneurship in First Nations (Project Beyshick). He is a Member of the Order of Canada.

Andrew Harper

Born in Romania, Andrew Harper lived in Israel, Cuba and the United States before coming to Canada with his wife in 1954. Together, they built a successful fine foods business in Montréal, and then retired there. Upon the death of his wife, he created the Andrew and Carole Harper Tolerance Fund in her memory, and made many donations to benefit organizations in the city, including the MADA Community Centre, the Chez Doris women’s shelter and the Alzheimer Society of Montréal.

Djavad Mowafaghian

Born in Iran, Djavad Mowafaghian is the founder of the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, which funds projects to improve the lives of children globally in relation to health, wellness and education. In 2011, his foundation donated $15 million towards building a new centre for brain health research at the University of British Columbia. As a result of his philanthropic work, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Dalai Lama Humanitarian Award, among other distinctions. He was a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.

Immigrant stories in philanthropy

Breaking the silence around domestic violence

Winnipeg resident Zita Somakoko, a survivor of domestic violence, became an advocate for other victims after the death of a fellow Manitoba woman.

Keeping hunger at bay—and food out of landfills

These newcomers from Iran and Serbia were so shocked by food waste in their new country that they started redistributing food to those in need. Today, they feed more than 3,500 people every month.

Bringing communities and cultures together through Bhangra

By dancing Bhangra against the backdrop of beautiful Yukon, Gurdeep Pandher is celebrating life and promoting tourism to the territory.

Check out more stories of immigrants making a difference in Canada’s philanthropy sector.

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