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The Globe and Mail

Home builder engineers a path to higher education

Ignat Kaneff, founder of Kaneff Group of Cos., says he believes that higher education is more important than ever for young Canadians.

TIM FRASER/The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Ignat Kaneff

The Gift: $5-million

The Cause: York University, Toronto

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The Reason: To finance a new engineering program

When Ignat Kaneff came to Canada in the early 1950s from Bulgaria, he had little education, no money and few prospects.

A friend got him some construction work around Mississauga, and he soon began building houses. That eventually led to the creation of Kaneff Group of Cos., a major Canadian home builder.

Mr. Kaneff always regretted not being able to attend university. And he believes higher education is more important today than ever for young Canadians, given the increasing competition from Asia and elsewhere.

"We have to be prepared for big competition," he said in an interview. "The Germans and Japanese and Chinese do not sleep. They are working hard. We have to be prepared to compete with other countries, to be able to sustain the living standard we have today in this country."

He and his wife, Didi, made sure their daughters had every opportunity to attend university and both – one a lawyer, the other an MBA graduate from Harvard University – now work for the family business.

"It's 62 years since I came to this country with no education," he said. "Now both of my daughters are very well educated. … If they hadn't gone to school, they wouldn't have been able to help me in the company to the degree I am looking for, because the world has become very competitive."

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A few years ago, Mr. Kaneff began donating to York University and helping with fundraising, first for a major expansion of Osgoode Hall Law School and more recently to finance a new entrepreneurial engineering program.

He has donated $8-million in total to York, including $5-million to the engineering school.

"People were very good to me when I came to Canada," he said. "I didn't have an education, so this is my way of giving back."

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