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Partners 'Pay it forward' approach to business starts with a look back, say business leaders

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Albert Einstein once said, "The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving." It's a noble sentiment, but one that's generally more preached than practised.

Someone who belongs in the latter category is Isaac Olowolafe Jr., 26, the founder and owner of Dream Maker Realty of Woodbridge, Ontario. Born in Nigeria, Mr. Olowolafe came to Canada with his family at age four. An economics graduate from the University of Toronto, this year he donated $25,000 to establish an annual award for a student enrolled in the African Studies Program at the university's New College. The Ontario Trust for Student Support, an Ontario government program, matched the amount, bringing the total endowment to $50,000.

"I'm told it's the largest donation ever for an African Studies program at any Canadian university," he says. "On one hand, that's great. On the other, that's not a very large amount. I hope one day Dream Fund Holdings or someone else can make it $1 million."

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Mr. Olowolafe was taught the importance of giving back by his parents, who are devoutly religious. "When I had a job at UPS for $10 an hour and making $500 a week, they said I had to tithe 10 per cent to our church," he says. "That $50 was a lot to me at the time and it was hard to give it up at first, but it was soon easy to grasp the concept of giving, no matter how little."

Dennis Cojuco, the CFO of Rokmaster Resources Corp. and financial controller with Laurentian Goldfields in Vancouver, has also been inspired to give back by his parents. Born in Manila, Philippines, the 34-year-old chartered accountant came to Canada at age 16.

"My parents are active members of non-profit organizations that help poor sections of Manila," says Mr. Cojuco, who created Enspire Foundation in 1999 with four friends from the University of British Columbia. "Enspire's mission is to empower, educate and encourage individuals to help themselves and others."

Enspire supports local soup kitchens and charities, and also provides opportunities for young adults to travel and build houses for the poor in Bulacan, Philippines. "We are also active with the global perspectives program at Capilano University, in which some of their students go to Bulacan to work on our projects," he says.

Raising money is an ongoing and time-consuming demand. "It takes up a lot of my time," says Mr. Cojuco. "There are times when I work all day as a CA and then all evening and weekends on Enspire's projects."

While both Mr. Cojuco and Mr. Olowolafe began giving back to their communities at a young age, many young people do not. "People will help when asked," says Anil Patel, founder and executive director of Framework, a non-profit that runs Timeraiser, a unique program held in different Canadian cities to inspire young professionals to volunteer. "However, people in the early stages of their careers often feel like they don't know where to turn to find relevant and meaningful volunteer opportunities. Our job is to make it easy to get involved."

Begun in Toronto in 2004, Timeraiser purchases art from local artists thanks to corporate donations. The art is auctioned at a gathering where about 30 local and national charities attend. The winning bidders don't pay cash. Instead, they offer their volunteer time to a charity. When the volunteers have completed their hours, they get to take the art home.

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"You don't have to be a Bill Gates to be a philanthropist," Mr. Patel says. "But if you want your time and money to make a difference, you need a map to get there. Timeraiser is about getting people engaged."

For Dennis Cojuco, volunteering is a way of saying thanks to Canada, which he says has given him so much, and of helping those in his home country who don't have his blessings or opportunities. "It's the least I can do."

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