The power of why: Looking at clients holistically to maximize their potential

In 2018, Windmill Microlending, a non-profit organization that offers affordable loans to skilled newcomers to support their career growth, began the process of transforming its client success strategy. Step 1: Revisit our “Why?”
Why is that cardiologist mopping the hospital floor?
In 2004, Windmill Microlending, then known as Immigrant Access Fund, was founded based on a pretty simple but important “why” question.
The charity’s founder, Dr. Maria Eriksen, a Calgary-based clinical psychologist, was frustrated why many of the janitorial staff, at the hospital where she worked, were internationally trained health professionals, unable to practice in their professions in Canada.
Together with her friends, Eriksen organized the first six “microloans” to support the costs of newcomer training and reaccreditation, enabling them to return to their professions and realize their potential. Today, thanks to our public and private-sector donors, Windmill Microlending has approved more than $50 million in low-interest loans and has supported nearly 7,000 skilled immigrants and refugees, across the country.
Why you need to get to know your client
More than a decade after its founding, Windmill’s leadership and board began to set its sights higher. The plan was to grow the number of newcomer clients served from approximately 400-600 per year to nearly 4,000 by the mid-2020s.
The organization brought in experienced settlement and newcomer employment expert, Paula Calderon, herself an immigrant to Canada, as its first National Director of Client Success. Calderon would lead the development and implementation of a new client-centred success strategy. She quickly recognized that in order for Windmill to successfully and sustainably scale its services, it needed to do more than transactionally offer microloans to its clients. Windmill needed to better understand its own and its clients’ “whys” in order to help more people achieve career success and maximize their potential.
One of the biggest changes stemming from the new client success strategy was the launch of a tool to holistically assess and get to know newcomer loan applicants. The assessment asked some key questions: What was their education level? What did their financial and life picture look like? What was their “employment readiness” or their ability to find and keep a particular job and manage transitions to a new one? Why do they need a loan and how do they plan on achieving their career goals? What role can Windmill play in empowering them toward their goals?
By better understanding clients’ why, formalizing its assessment processes and getting to know clients through a holistic lens, Windmill would be better positioned to support and serve more clients and manage the financial risk of doing so.
Why clients need to be empowered and engaged
Another key plank of the Windmill’s Client Success Strategy involved strengthening one-to-one supports in order to improve client outcomes. On average, Windmill clients now see their incomes grow 3.6x with unemployment falling from 41% to 8%. In order to reach these impact levels across thousands of clients, Windmill needed to provide expanded and customized supports to them.
The organization’s roster of client success coaches, many immigrants themselves, were redeployed and given portfolios of clients with a renewed focus on offering financial literacy information, employment and educational pathway advice. Coaches work with clients throughout their time with Windmill. Together, they focus on having meaningful conversations that keep clients on track toward their career goals.
In 2019, a Mentorship Program was launched to further support and empower clients. The mentorship program has become a platform through which former clients, now Windmill “alumni,” pay it forward, stay engaged with Windmill and support newly arrived Canadians and current clients. To date, more than 300 mentees have been supported, with approximately 3,000 hours donated by mentors through the program.
Why a client-centred strategy matters
The critical learning emerging from Windmill’s Client Success Strategy and our renewed emphasis on the power of why is that whether you are an independent consultant or contributor, a human resources professional or department, or the leader of a large-scale coaching operation or team, you too can reflect on the ways in which you can better understand the context of your clients. Similarly, based on that knowledge, you can ask yourself: are you doing enough to support them and looking at opportunities to engage them beyond the transactional work of your organization?
At Windmill, we have learned that by putting our skilled immigrant and refugee clients at the centre of everything we do – by listening, learning and understanding why and how we can optimally support them – we can truly convert their potential into prosperity, like never before.
To learn more about Windmill’s impact and to see the results of our client success strategy, read our annual Impact Reports.
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