When Alison approached me in March about needing to do something to help Ukrainians at the beginning of the war, I was on board – but certainly trepidacious. The war had only just begun, we had no idea what sort of turmoil or even duration this could be going on for. What could we possibly do as a tech startup in Canada?
Alison Anderson (SuccessionMatching Founder and CEO), a Saskatchewanian with Ukrainian roots, naturally found herself deeply called to move quickly on helping in any way she could. It only made sense. As she poignantly laid out her ambitions to me, I could see not only the potential, but also the new purpose this project would breathe into our entire team.
It wouldn’t be a straightforward path, however, and true to SuccessionMatching form, we were going to try and get the federal government to shift policy before anything else. It didn’t work, but I will get to that in a bit.
SuccessionMatching has been working in the immigration landscape for over 5 years now. Alongside important partnerships like Fragomen Canada and Community Futures offices across the country, we have successfully matched a number of small, rural business owners to individuals looking for a new life in Canada. It has been a joy to bring these individuals into a new life-one that they fully participate in activating-and then watching them settle and thrive in new communities.
The idea of doing the same for Ukrainians looking for a reasonable ‘out’ from the chaos in their home country wasn’t too far-fetched of a plan. But I saw the immediate barriers as she spoke, and my heart sank:
- Immigrants need to put in at least $150K for most of the provincial nominee programs – not everyone fleeing a war torn country is going to have that sort of cash on hand.
- Immigrants need to prove to the federal government that they have a personal net worth of up to $1M. If $150K is going to be audacious, a million dollars is going to be terribly out of reach (not to mention, we don’t want to only help the wealthy leaving the country).
- Not everyone leaving the country is necessarily ready to give up on going back. To buy a business in a new country (as much as that solves some of our domestic problems surrounding succession) is a big ask of anyone who is arriving weighed down by trauma and likely without half of their family.
Alison, of course, had a plan for attacking all of these hurdles-and a row boat to a new solution for anything that couldn’t easily be jumped.
“We will get investors to front the cash, and we will convince the federal government to waive the personal net worth.”
Ok, investment capital is a great solution, and luck have it we had recently been introduced to a young, hip, and forward-thinking investment firm passionate about addressing the succession crisis in Canada. They were looking for small, rural businesses that fit the exact bill we were quickly putting together. Enter stage left, Cassiar Partners (aka the classic hero-type).
On the topic of convincing the federal government, however, we didn’t get as lucky. Our request to make an exception on personal net worth verification policy was, shall we say, politely declined. But, as these things tend to roll out serendipitously, the dissolution of this problem meant that we were able to solve for the last one-’what if they don’t want to buy?’-in one genius fell swoop.
We had to think now of how to structure this program in such a way that individuals did not need a cool mil in the bank, but also offer something somewhat non-committal.
Enter stage left, Skilld Jobs. Here is another new, young, and hip tech start up hungry for a project such as this. Similar to SuccessionMatching, Skilld Jobs is a matching service, but instead focused on matching immigrant workers to employers looking to hire skilled immigrants.
We also have another player in the game, Talent Beyond Boundaries. This organization is fundamental in the world of helping displaced individuals from all over the world land in Canada. Upon their energetic enthusiasm for this project, informed us that they were quickly amassing an extensive database of Ukranians looking to find job placements.
So here is the plan, and so far, we are seeing some serious interest:
- SuccessionMatching sources businesses right for the campaign; the right location, size, readiness to sell, and community.
- Cassiar Partners buys that business.
- Skilld Jobs and Talent Beyond Boundaries brings employees to sed business, specifically skilled workers coming out of the Ukraine looking for work so they might support themselves past our government support.
- Cassiar employs them through their new business acquisition with a transparency around the underlying intent to one day have them take it over through a management buy out. This gives the Ukrainian worker not only a future opportunity to remain in the country, but also the chance to learn the business that might help them to get their PR.
One of the things many immigrants struggle with when landing in Canada is finding employment that actually utilizes their skill sets. That is a layered problem I won’t get too much into here, but it should be recognized that it is hard enough as is to try and make a new life in a new country, with a new language, a new community, a new set of social rules. In April, the CCIS brought over 600 displaced Ukrainians into Calgary alone, and is predicting thousands more by the end of August. While the province might be welcoming these people with open arms, the funding just isn’t there to take them much past initial hotel stays, food, and clothing (all great starts, but not long term fixes). What SuccessionMatching (and Co) are hoping to do is provide them with a reasonable, long term opportunity should they choose to stay.
Canada is also facing two major problems that this helps to solve:
- There is a skilled labor shortage, ESPECIALLY since the pandemic.
- Our aging population is suffering to find their ‘succession’ opportunities, causing integral businesses to close and leave gaps in their local communities, and economies.
While SuccessionMatching has endeavored to solve for number 2 as a lifelong mission, we see economic health in general as a problem that impacts everyone on all levels.
When you take a step back and look at how the initiatives and talents of many can come together to provide compelling solutions, the reality can be excitingly disillusioning. These are not simple problems we are trying to solve, quite the contrary, they are martyred in red tape and politics. But if we can help even a handful of people find themselves a peaceful life-an autonomous life-then we can all agree the effort is worth it.