Together Project

Meet Farah Kurji, Our New Steering Committee Member!


An Interview with Farah Kurji

Tell us about your background and your interest in newcomer communities.

My parents came to Canada in the 1970s as part of the wave of East African Ismailis who immigrated due to growing instability in the region. This wave of immigration represented the first mass migration of non-European refugees and newcomers in Canadian history. Growing up as a second generation Canadian, I watched my parents not only grow and scale a successful business, but also build a life for our family in Canada. I can’t imagine the challenges they faced, leaving everything they had ever known behind and navigating life in a new country.

Although Together Project did not exist, my family was able to tap into informal social networks within the community to build connections as they made Canada their new home. At the same time, they also looked for opportunities to volunteer and serve as community leaders. I saw my parents pay it forward by assisting other newcomers over the course of my childhood.

My family’s firsthand experience with settlement and community volunteering, as well as my own journey working in post-conflict and emerging contexts, have fueled my interest in supporting newcomer communities in Canada.

Why is it important to foster social connections between volunteers and refugee newcomers in Canada? 

Social connection is a critical element of individual and community well-being. If you look at the latest Toronto Foundation Social Capital Study, 1/12 Torontonians (more than 200,000 people in the city) have no close family members they can call for help or to talk to, and a similar proportion say they have no close friends. Social isolation is a growing issue across Canada and has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Research shows that newcomers are often at risk given they have to navigate cultural differences, language barriers and reduced social networks.

Fostering social connections between volunteers and refugee newcomers creates a stronger, and more inclusive Canada. For refugee families who find themselves in unfamiliar and new contexts, building connections with those who have local knowledge is invaluable in establishing roots. For volunteers, it improves understanding and appreciation of different lived experiences, and builds more empathetic communities.

Do you think volunteer engagement and corporate engagement in refugee integration is helping to build stronger, more integrated communities?

The private sector has a unique role to play in supporting refugee integration and success in Canada. The sector has tremendous reach and can support newcomers in various ways from developing products and services, and creating pathways to economic inclusion, including job creation and training. It can also leverage its financial and human capital through philanthropy and employee volunteerism and engagement.

I had the opportunity to first get to know Together Project when I led the Canadian Philanthropy portfolio at TD Bank Group. I was deeply impressed by the project’s vision and ability to help refugees and newcomers build meaningful connections in their local communities. Through TD’s partnership with Together Project, more than 160 TD volunteers have served as Welcome Group volunteers.

What I love most about the program is that both the families and the Welcome Group volunteers learn and benefit through the experience, catalyzing stronger, more resilient communities. It’s truly a mutually enriching opportunity for learning and growth. In speaking with several of the Welcome Group volunteers at TD, it is clear that the experience has given them an opportunity to make a tangible impact, sharing their knowledge, but has also broadened and expanded their perspectives.

What drew you to volunteering with the Together Project steering committee? 

About a year ago, I started thinking about how I might contribute my time, knowledge, and capacity. As I reflected on the issues I care deeply about, I knew I wanted to work with an organization serving refugees and newcomers. Together Project instantly came to mind. It is not lost on me that much of the success I have had in my career is attributed to the support my family received in coming to Canada, and I want to pay it forward.

I wanted to join an organization whose values align with my own, where I could leverage my skills and experiences to drive meaningful impact and play more of an active role. I am excited to join Together Project as it scales its impact and I look forward to contributing but also learning from those around me.

What is your big dream for Together Project over the next five years?

I have big dreams for Together Project. I hope to see the organization continue to expand and scale nationally and even internationally in some capacity. The United Nations estimates that nearly 90 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. The refugee crisis is only accelerating due to many issues, including conflict, violence, human rights abuses and climate change. Canada has a history of welcoming those seeking refuge and safety, and my dream is that Together Project continues to help newcomer and refugees create a sense of belonging. As settlement services are stretched, and demand for support grows, Together Project’s reach becomes increasingly important.

The work that Together Project is deeply personal in nature. There is so much care placed on understanding a newcomer family’s needs and ensuring they are paired with volunteers who can support them, taking a trauma informed, culturally appropriate and collaborative approach. As Together Project evolves, it is critical that this culture of care continues to be at the forefront.

I also hope that over time we’re able to track the impact on both families and volunteers to better understand how the program has driven impact over the long term. Ultimately, I see the Together Project and Welcome Group model expanding and adapting in many more countries around the world as a way to support refugee integration and success.


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