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The donors: Mary Louise Cohen and Bruce Cohen

The gift: Creating Talent Beyond Boundaries

The reason: To find jobs for skilled refugees

A few years ago, Mary Louise Cohen and her husband, Bruce Cohen, decided to leave their high-powered jobs in Washington and spend a year at Harvard University developing a concept for a new charity.

Ms. Cohen had spent 25 years as a lawyer specializing in whistle-blowers while Mr. Cohen served as legal counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’d spent years working with other charities, but the Harvard fellowship gave them a chance to come up with their own idea. They soon discovered an intriguing challenge related to the Syrian refugee crisis; refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere were full of highly skilled people with nowhere to go. “I knew there are countries around the world that desperately needed talent,” Ms. Cohen recalled from her office in Washington. “Why isn’t somebody moving these skilled people?”

They came up with Talent Beyond Boundaries in 2016, a non-profit organization that matches employers with refugees. The group has compiled a database of 10,000 skilled refugees and the employers do the hiring. They interview candidates over Skype or in person in Beirut and put many through tests to assess their skills.

Most of TBB’s initial funding came from the United States government but visa problems made it almost impossible to work with U.S. employers. So the Cohens moved TBB to Toronto and found that Canadian businesses were eager to participate. “Canada made it clear that your country believes they are in a global talent competition and is really out there looking for talent,” Ms. Cohen said. Last month, a Syrian refugee arrived in Canada from Beirut to start work with a software developer in Kitchener-Waterloo. He’s the first refugee to arrive in Canada under the program.

“We’re really trying to create a new solution,” Ms. Cohen said. “Our goal is to match people with jobs to prove the concept.”