Written by Vibhu Gairola
What does WelcomeHomeTO do and why did you start it?
We discovered there’s a great deal of interest in helping Syrian refugees; in past, people seem to be interested in donating money, but with this particular crisis, people want to bring their skillsets to the table instead of just giving money. From the sector side, settlement service providers have also had to scale up from serving a hundred people to thousands coming in at once. Me and my co-founders thought, why don’t we get together and find some way to make these different projects all work together?
What kind of responses have you seen from your target audience?
People love the service we provide. The report we wrote about Month 13 was reviewed by the federal and provincial government in addition to all the parties responsible for refugee settlement; it’s even been referenced in the New York Times. We get phone calls, emails, and messages all the time from people offering their services.
What’s your favourite part about working in the civic tech ecosystem?
Hands down it’s the excitement that people get when they see there are solutions for the challenges they face — when they realize they can actively be a part of this.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to do something similar to you?
Make sure you know what you believe in and what you want to accomplish, and don’t waver from that.
What can we expect from WelcomeHomeTO from the future?
My long-term goal is to create a global culture that recognizes refugees as valuable — one that recognizes that nobody is coming into “my” or anyone else’s space. We’re co-creating this space together.
What would you say is the most underrated thing about Toronto, and why?
In my experience, not enough people talk about our parks and green spaces. It’s amazing that you can live in a dense, urban area and very shortly — through public transit — be physically in the woods. Toronto provides an enormous amount of diversity in a small space, and that’s one of the biggest highlights this city has to offer.
If you had to describe Toronto as a food, what would it be?
Toronto at its best would be a salad bar — a buffet where you co-create out of ingredients different people bring to the table.