Career continuity

HCF’s investment in microloan program builds a brighter future for skilled immigrants

The distance between Kaew Luerueng’s life in Thailand and life in Hamilton is better measured in dollars than miles.

That’s because finding the money to recertify as a nurse was the hardest part of her journey. “I was living paycheque to paycheque,” Kaew says of her time working as a personal support worker. “Whatever I earned, I sent back home.”

Thankfully, a low-interest loan from Windmill Microlending allowed Kaew to enroll in the Bridging for Internationally Trained Nurses at Mohawk College, and today she’s an operating room nurse at the Hamilton General Hospital. “That loan helped me the most. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money.”

Founded in 2004, Windmill is a registered charity that offers microloans to help skilled immigrants and refugees continue their careers in Canada. Loans of up to $15,000 pay for training, exams, living expenses and other career advancement costs. Client support coaches offer encouragement and resources, such as financial literacy training. Many Windmill alumni become mentors, helping current clients with professional networking. The loan repayment rate is higher than 98 percent.

Unemployment among Windmill alumni drops to seven percent from 40 percent. Even better, incomes are permanently tripled, says Sarah Stuewe, Windmill’s associate director of philanthropy. “That’s life changing. And it’s only the start, since the average age of clients is 36 and they’re likely to get promotions.”

Windmill currently approves more than 1,000 loans each year. By 2025, given Canada’s ambitious permanent residency targets, they’d like to quadruple that number. Money for loans comes from donations – such as The Young Fund at HCF –  as well as from investments in Windmill’s Community Bond Fund; in 2019, HCF invested $1.0 million in the fund, which was the largest single investment in Windmill to that point. “HCF’s investment helps open doors with other potential investors,” Sarah says. “The impact investing community is small, so those endorsements are important.”

Kaew is one of 73 alumni and current clients from the Hamilton area. Fifty-nine percent are recertifying for careers in health care and 18 percent in IT and engineering. “Our alumni are on the frontlines of this pandemic, helping Canadians through the crisis,” Sarah says. “But even before the pandemic, they were addressing acute labour market shortages.”


Excerpt from 2021 Annual Report

Paddle power

HCF leads national effort to invest in the Canadian Canoe Museum’s new home

A canoe can take you many places — and only some of them are on a map.

The Canadian Canoe Museum’s collection of 650-plus paddled watercraft helps visitors explore Canada’s culture, art, heritage and spirit, as well as find routes to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. It’s a journey that’s about to become more meaningful, thanks to a $40 million campaign to build a new, 65,000 square-foot home on the shores of Little Lake in Peterborough, a mere four kilometres from the museum’s current cramped, landlocked location.

Support has come from all levels of government, foundations, businesses and individual donors. As part of its commitment to impact investing, HCF invited community foundations from across Canada to pool capital for a loan to the museum. HCF arranged two guarantors for the loan, removing much of the risk. Five foundations joined in, including the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

“One of the goals of our impact investing strategy is to grow the capacity of other community foundations to participate,” says Annette Aquin, HCF’s Executive Vice-President, Finance & Operations. “We take on the due diligence and legal co-ordination to make it easier for them to say yes, particularly smaller foundations.”

The museum’s Executive Director, Carolyn Hyslop, says HCF’s involvement was key to bringing the community foundations together to support the project. “We needed someone on the inside to lead the process,” she says. “HCF’s experience with how to strategize, reach out and communicate — it’s magic.”

The loan provided much-needed capital and became a vote of confidence that helped the museum attract other investors.

The experience, which Carolyn describes as robust and thorough, felt different from traditional financing. “It felt good because it wasn’t just about our project proposal,” she says. “It was also about our intentions.”


Excerpt from 2022 Annual Report

Money matters

Indigenous impact fund is transforming businesses and communities

Cheekbone Beauty’s founder, Jenn Harper, wants to own the first Indigenous billion-dollar beauty company—but her dream is about more than money.

“This is about our communities. It’s about our people,” Jenn says. “I want every Indigenous kid across the entire planet to see our product on a shelf and say, ‘Another Indigenous person did that.’”

Jenn’s company is one of six Indigenous enterprises to receive between $250K and $2M in equity from Raven, the world’s first Indigenous impact fund. The objective of the fund is to support innovative, scalable, purpose-driven Indigenous businesses to reduce poverty, create employment and improve the quality of life of Indigenous Peoples across Canada, while generating a target return of six to eight percent for investors.

“The fund is about economic reconciliation,” says Paul Lacerte, managing partner of Raven. “We’ll know we’ve achieved it when Indigenous people aren’t managing poverty, they’re managing wealth.”

With more than 60,000 Indigenous entrepreneurs across the country, there’s no shortage of desire and drive. But lack of access to financing limits growth. So do structural inequities such as regulatory barriers, systemic racism, intergenerational poverty and a lack of financial literacy. Raven’s approach, which is based on the Seven Sacred Teachings and aligned with the UN’s Social Development Goals, provides more than just venture capital.

“We’re in business together,” Paul says. “All of the CEOs have said the cultural support they get is more valuable than the money.”

Raven is part of Hamilton Community Foundation’s impact investing portfolio—investments that deliver financial returns coupled with positive social and/or environmental outcomes.

“Raven exemplifies the kind of impact we want to make with our investments and the kind of systems change we believe is possible,” says Annette Aquin, HCF’s Executive Vice-President, Finance & Operations. “It presents a remarkable opportunity to change the way we look at ‘returns.’”

For Paul, the big dream is an Indigenous economy in the image of Indigenous cultures. “We’re replacing a capitalist and colonial mindset with a collaborative and regenerative mindset,” he says. “We’re transforming money from a force that hurts into a force that heals.”


Excerpt from 2021 Annual Report

ABACUS evolves

Equity, wellness and academic achievement are the three themes underlying the newest phase of ABACUS, Hamilton Community Foundation’s initiative to increase the likelihood that young Hamiltonians will graduate high school and access post-secondary opportunities.

“We learned a lot from five years of ABACUS,” says Rudi Wallace, Vice-President, Grants & Community Initiatives, “especially about the multiple influences on a child’s educational success. Transitions, mental health, sense of belonging and a host of factors beyond academic support all play an important part. This is the context for ABACUS Phase II.”

Since its 2016 launch, ABACUS has focused on the middle-school years as a crucial pivot point for students in going on to post-secondary education. Now, based on research and consultation, HCF has refined ABACUS to better achieve its goal. This includes:

  • An increased focus on the transition into and out of middle school, especially the transition into Grade 9.
  • Reading and numeracy in the earlier years.
  • Incorporating components of overall social and emotional wellness.
  • Addressing the needs of students historically underserved in the education system, including those who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ among others.

The pandemic interrupted learning for many students; ABACUS Phase II targets reading and numeracy where this interruption is more pronounced through a pilot for students in Grades 4 and 5. It also focuses on the transition out of middle school and into high school with support for students through Grade 9 and into Grade 10.

“ABACUS Phase II reflects the importance of continually adapting to changes in the educational landscape to serve Hamilton’s students,” says Rudi. “It’s deeper to address the overall wellness of students, especially those who face the most systemic barriers, and wider to bring in the ‘edges’ of the middle-school years and produce the best opportunities for graduation and post-secondary access.”

Learn more by visiting


From Spring 2022 Legacy newsletter

Crossing borders for impact

A recent impact investment from Hamilton Community Foundation will fund health technology companies that support women, children and adolescents, and help make health systems more resilient.

The Women’s and Children’s Health Technology Fund is an investment offering from Cross-Border Impact Ventures (CBIV), a Toronto-based impact investor in transformative health technology companies. Using a gender lens, it focuses on medical device, diagnostic and digital health companies based in North America, Europe and Israel, as well as on commercial stage companies in emerging markets with global technology transfer potential.

CBIV monitors progress and has set a target for its investments: 500,000 lives saved and improvements in the lives of 10 million underserved women and children in emerging markets.

Impact investments are public and private investments intended to create positive impact beyond financial returns. HCF invests in local, national and international funds as part of its impact investment portfolio and is one way the Foundation is working to align its assets with its mission.

“Not only does this fund support women and children,” says Annette Aquin, Executive Vice-President of Finance & Operations, “but it’s also female led, a rarity in private equity.”


From Spring 2022 Legacy newsletter

Getting the most out of LRT

Better transportation. Employment opportunities. Affordable housing. These are just a few aspects of a vision cast by Hamilton Community Benefits Network (HCBN) for how our city will make the most of Light Rail Transportation (LRT) when it comes to Hamilton.

A grant from HCF is supporting an HCBN-led community engagement program that will “carve out a voice for residents” and ultimately make a case to press for substantial gains as the city’s LRT project gets underway. This involves engaging with community members along the LRT corridor both to educate them about community benefits and to gather their feedback. HCBN is also focusing on communities that are often left out of the decision-making process including BIPOC communities and people with disabilities.

In February, HCBN distributed a survey and plans a variety of workshops and events to reach community members.


From Spring 2022 Legacy newsletter

Worth the wait

Tucked inside the Bernie Morelli Recreation Centre is a coffee shop with a name leaving no doubt that you’ll be welcome.

In 2019, a grant from HCF supported the Inclusion Coffeehouse as a social enterprise, but the pandemic created multiple delays in its opening. This spring, Inclusion Coffeehouse is officially ready to serve the public.

The Inclusion Coffeehouse is operated by the core members of L’Arche Hamilton, a local organization that celebrates the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities. The café provides an opportunity for the core members to engage in all aspects of the business, including procuring goods for sale, baking, setup, serving, cleaning and financial management.

Its broader goal is to create an accessible, affordable café space in the South Sherman neighbourhood where everyone belongs — and so far, the feeling is mutual. “We have been so encouraged by the outpouring of support the city has shown for this project,” says Marianne Mulders, Fundraising Advancement at L’Arche Hamilton.



From Spring 2022 Legacy newsletter

What the past teaches us

Understanding the past helps us face the present and frame the future. A recent series of grants from HCF is supporting the study of history related to Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC), Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ and Jewish communities.

As part of its consultations aimed at supporting equity-deserving communities, the Foundation heard about the importance of literacy and education through studying history. A grants call focusing on this issue resulted in funding for programs including:

  • Stories of the Black community in Hamilton using griot format (African drumming and dance in combination with oral storytelling) from Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association.
  • Learning at Glendale Secondary School about Hamilton’s Stewart Memorial Church and its vital role in the lives of Hamilton’s Black community.
  • Settler Reflection Series workshops that help participants understand the historical and current impact of colonialism in Canada from Righting Relations Hamilton Circle.

In total, 14 initiatives were funded through this program. A complete list is available at


From Spring 2022 Legacy newsletter

Community calls the shots

After almost 18 months of pandemic restrictions, members of Hamilton’s Indigenous communities came together at Gage Park in September to dance, heal and make an informed choice about vaccination.

The Indigenous Health Social featured food, vendors, door prizes, traditional singers and contemporary Indigenous artists, including Juno-nominated headliner DJ Shub, to attract a new crowd to an event that focused on strengthening body, mind and spirit.

The province’s mobile vaccination unit — the GO VAXX bus — was on site, but the focus of the event was not exclusively COVID-19. Recognizing the negative experiences that have led some Indigenous people to view the health care system, and vaccinations in particular, with fear and suspicion, event organizers Hamilton Public Health and Indigenous organizations in Hamilton promoted the health of the whole community. To further increase trust and decrease barriers, information was also translated into Anishinaabe.


Excerpt from 2021 Fall Legacy newsletter

Making the right connections

There is no overstating how the pandemic has increased both reliance on technology and the technology gap for those already facing systemic inequities. A new pilot program that connects McMaster University and community partners is working to address this need.

As part of its environmental stewardship plan, McMaster’s Academic Sustainability Programs Office was exploring ways to donate tech devices in the community. At the same time, community organizations working with racialized communities, including newcomers and immigrants, expressed a critical need for technology, particularly as the pandemic disproportionately affects these communities.

The Foundation helped connect McMaster with a group of local non-profits, including the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association, Empowerment Squared, Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, Immigrants Working Centre, Munar Learning Centre, and Refuge: Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health. Up to 100 high-quality tech devices will be available for re-use each semester. An HCF grant is also supporting Empowerment Squared to acquire software licenses and refurbish the donated devices for distribution.

“This pilot is an example of community coming together to address a significant challenge for many communities in remote working and learning environments,” says Rudi Wallace, Vice-President, Grants & Community Initiatives.


Excerpt from 2021 Fall Legacy newsletter