Megan Badenhorst moved from South Africa to Oakville in January 2020 with her family and a plan; to get settled, to requalify in Ontario as a lawyer and to be back in legal practice within a year. What she didn’t account for was the global COVID-19 pandemic that locked down the province, delaying and cancelling the exams necessary for her requalification.
“It just slowed everything down,” she said. “It was emotionally tough and you just ask yourself: ‘Have I made the right decision? When are we going to get our lives back on track?’”
Working as an attorney in South Africa, Megan was keen to practice law here in Canada. She applied to do her conversion exams to requalify but the increasing delay and the cost of the recertification put a strain on her family’s finances. As a new immigrant to Canada and with two young children at home, she searched for ways to help lessen the financial burden.
“Obviously it’s quite a big financial undertaking because there are two parts to the process – the exams for the Federation of Law Societies and then the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) bar exams to join the bar. There’s a cost to having your file assessed by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA), costs to buy textbooks, costs to attend courses if you choose to and then the cost of the, in my case, eight NCA exams. That’s before you even qualify to buy the law society materials and pay to write the bar exams,” Megan explained.
As she was studying for her NCA exams, Megan was put in touch with Windmill Microlending, which provides microloans to newcomers to help them attain Canadian professional certification requirements. Providing loans of up to $15,000, the money can be used to pay for exams, training, assessments, books and materials and other expenses related to advancing their career.
Since 2020, the Oakville Community Foundation has supported Windmill Microlending and its clients with a $50,000 Program Related Investment (PRI). PRI’s are made for more than financial return with a focus on supporting a solution to a social, cultural or environmental issue.
“Windmill immediately set up a call with a representative and asked me about my background, my interests and what I’d be using the funding for,” she said. “You don’t feel like you’re just another number with them. I felt like they really looked at my potential as a whole package, that it was more personal than just applying for a loan.”
Megan’s first set of NCA exams were postponed with the onset of the pandemic which she then had to complete online. Having passed those exams, she recently wrote her barrister and solicitor exams in November and received the happy news that she had passed them both.
According to Megan, the team at Windmill takes it all a step further. Right from the outset, Windmill offered support for networking in her field and for her future plans.
“There was no way I could have paid for the LSO material and exams and got to this point in the whole process without that funding,” said Megan. “I don’t know what we would have done. It’s made such a huge difference and it felt more human rather than just crunching numbers.”
To date, Windmill Microlending has helped more than 60 people living in Halton Region with microloans to fund their recertification. According to Megan, there are people willing to help if you ask.
“I would just say thank you to people who support programs like this. It literally would not have been possible for us to get here without it. It’s been amazing to get this kind of help.”