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Meet Jim Estill, The CEO Who Put Up $1.5 Million To Give 200 Syrian Refugees A New Life

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In November 2015, a Canadian entrepreneur decided to help 50 Syrian refugee families relocate to Canada. Jim Estill calculated that each family would require about $25,000 to $30,000 to survive their first year of settlement in their new home. Using this formula, he realized he would need to donate $1.5 million in cash.

For Estill, donating this amount is simply "the right thing to do." The idea to lend help stemmed from the fact that "things were so slow and that nothing was happening. It needed to be done so that's why I'm doing it."

Who Is Jim Estill?

Estill is a former director of Research in Motion, a telecommunications company known for producing a line of BlackBerry devices. The entrepreneur started his career by reselling computers from the trunk of his car in Waterloo during the 1970s.

From this humble beginnings, he founded EMJ Data and turned it into a wildly successful company which he sold off to Synnex for $350 million. He also became the latter's Chief Executive Officer for five years.

Estill came out of semi-retirement in 2015 when he became the CEO and president of Danby, a home appliance company that makes $400 million sales per year. Estill is known for his pragmatic and no-nonsense personality, and likes to dispense business advice whenever her can-this can be evidenced from his Ted Talk, his Twitter account, and his blog.

How It All Started

In the summer of 2015, images of families fleeing Syria filled the news. Estill called up local religious groups and aid organizations to set up a meeting regarding the refugee crisis in Syria. On September 29, 2015, he made a presentation titled "Refugees: The Right Thing to Do" and enlisted the help of those who were present during the meeting.

Hundreds of sponsors came streaming in and volunteered their support after Estill's cause was reported in the media. Some of the volunteers were Vietnamese boat people who arrived on Guelph as refugees themselves during the 1970s and wanted to give back.

How Does One Choose Whom To Save?

One of the biggest challenges that Estill faced was getting to choose which Syrian family to help move to Canada. Estill has a short profile and description of the many Syrian families who are applying for his assistance. From these profiles, he will have to choose which families to sponsor.

Estill focused on applicants that he think would have a shot at succeeding in Canada, focusing on families that have members who were capable of earning an income.

Those who were old and single were not as fortunate.

"I had to play God," Estill said in an interview. "It was like encountering a thousand beggars. Who do you help? How do you choose who starves?"

Despite this setback, the Canadian entrepreneur remains steadfast in providing assistance. Estill has been awarded with the Order of Ontario in recognition of his extraordinary generosity.

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