Toronto entrepreneur helps raise over $350,000 CAD in support of Afghan refugees

Sol Orwell

In five days, a Toronto tech entrepreneur raised $354,035.93 CAD for two charities supporting Afghan refugees.

Serial entrepreneur Sol Orwell, co-founder and director of strategy for Examine.com, announced the amount raised on his Facebook page, August 24.

Five days earlier, Orwell posted on Facebook, challenging his friends to match donations. At that point, he had already recruited donors who would match anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. Orwell himself matched a donation of $10,000.

“I’m living the immigrant dream. I know how much opportunity matters in terms of dictating your future as an entrepreneur or not.”

“When I first concocted my (overly complex) matching donation scheme, I thought we would raise $25k, with $50k as an upper reach and $75k as the dream,” Orwell noted in a Facebook post.

The single largest matching donation came from Jim Estill, the CEO of the appliance company Danby, who is well-known for sponsoring 50 Syrian refugee families to bring them to Canada. Danby contributed a matching donation of $50,000 to Orwell.

The funds raised went directly to the Afghan Women’s Organization Refugee and Immigrant Services, and Homes Not Borders. The Afghan’s Women’s Organization provides settlement services to newcomers, while Homes Not Borders aids refugees and asylum seekers.

“The crisis in Afghanistan has created a surge of refugee, special immigrant visa and asylum seekers who need our immediate support. Your contribution will help to provide household items, including necessities like sheets, cookware and furniture to ensure that families can thrive here,” reads the Homes Not Borders website.

“I’m an immigrant. I’m living the immigrant dream,” Orwell told BetaKit. “I know how much opportunity matters in terms of dictating your future as an entrepreneur or not.”

Born in Pakistan, and raised in Saudi Arabia and Japan, Orwell spent a year in Texas before immigrating to Canada at age 14. The founder was quick to note that he came from a relatively wealthy family.

“I can only imagine if you’ve lost everything. What is it like?” He said that question led him to take on the fundraiser.

With US forces pulled out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban assuming power, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are thought to be attempting to flee the country. The Canadian government has committed to resettling 20,000 Afghans.

This is not Orwell’s first charitable venture. In 2016, Orwell posted #cookielife on Facebook as the accompaniment to a chocolate chip cookie bake-off he’d cooked up with friends. The phrase went viral, and people began sending him cookies over the mail. Orwell received 200 cookies of every kind imaginable via the post.

That led to Orwell’s first cookie-off for charity. He limited the cookie-off, and all subsequent fundraisers until this one, to 100 people. Orwell recruited more than 27 chefs and bakers to make 34 different kinds of cookies, and then charged people who wanted to eat them $10 a ticket.

He followed that with a sausage cook-off, charging $100 a ticket. In New York, he mounted another cookie-off at $250 a ticket.

Back in Toronto, he raised the price to $500 a ticket for the next cookie-off. Finally, two years ago, he held his final cookie-off, charging people $1,234.56. “What’s nuts about the last cookie-off is we had 74 people come from as far away as Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and New Zealand,” Orwell said.

The collected food events raised over $400,000, according to Orwell. He said he spent time looking for non-profits that would actually do the work they described, and ended up donating to a select number of Toronto charities.

Orwell joked that his superpower is to relentlessly harangue his friends “until they’re like, ‘give this guy money, and have him leave me alone.’”

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.