Irfhan Rawji: Tech entrepreneur and UBC Sauder alum wins 2023 Alumni Builder Award

Irfhan Rawji
Posted 2023-02-22

Irfhan Rawji has built an impressive career as a tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and powerful voice on Canadian immigration policy. The UBC Bachelor of Commerce alum is also a highly capable fundraiser for charitable organizations across the country. Despite the demands on his time, Rawji remains connected to the place and people that taught him what it means to be a responsible leader – the UBC Sauder School of Business.

Honouring 23 years of service to the school as a donor, fundraiser, student mentor, adjunct professor, and guest speaker, Rawji is a 2023 recipient of the UBC Alumni Builder Awards. The annual awards recognize alumni from different faculties who have made exceptional contributions to the university and improved the lives of others.

“I’m a big fan of UBC, so this award is very special,” says Rawji from his home in Calgary. “There was a lot that UBC gave me. As a student, the only way I could thank those who came before me was to pay it forward, to make the institution even better. As an alum I had time to give and then as my career grew I was fortunate to have the financial means as well.”

Building healthier communities as a youth volunteer

That fundamental belief in giving back is a cornerstone of Rawji’s value system, which he learned at home.

“My parents immigrated to Canada from Tanzania and they instilled in me at a very young age the value of charity. They said you must be engaged, not just for yourself, but for the community around you.”

Growing up in Coquitlam and Burnaby, Rawji began volunteering for the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual door-to-door canvassing. As a teenager, he was put in charge of fundraising teams then entire districts and by the age of 20, he was invited to join the board of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon.

“It turns out, if you volunteer and work hard, you get asked to volunteer more and more until you say no, but I never said no,” he says with a laugh. “I’m quite a patriotic Canadian, so the opportunity to make Canada a better country and its institutions stronger is something I’m committed to doing.”  

Rawji continued to step up when asked and in 2013, he led a campaign that committed $300 million to numerous research institutions across Canada, including the UBC Faculty of Medicine. It was the largest non-government commitment ever made to heart disease and stroke research in Canada.

Irfhan Rawji


Welcoming skilled tech workers to Canada

Improving the health of Canadians is one of Rawji’s enduring passions, but his vision for a better country doesn’t stop there. He’s also dedicated to increasing immigration to create more economic opportunity. As a member of the Century Initiative, he and fellow Canadians in business, academia, and the non-profit sector are on a mission to double Canada’s immigration levels and raise the country’s population to 100 million people by 2100.

“If you look around the world, there are fences being built, walls being built, cracks in society, fear of the other. These are terrible things,” he says. “I believe that anybody, irrespective of where they’re born, should have the opportunity to realize their full potential, and Canada does that for people.”

Rawji is helping in other ways. In 2018 he launched MobSquad, a technology talent company that hires highly-skilled foreign workers and helps them and their families apply for temporary work permits in Canada, permanent residency and ultimately Canadian citizenship. These experts in data science, cyber security, AI, and machine learning come from all corners of the world and many of them are recruited by Silicon Valley’s tech sector. When their U.S. work visas run out, MobSquad hires them and introduces them to Canada.

“We’re bringing the very best and brightest here and that’s going to help the future of our economy and society,” says Rawji. “I am privileged to see the children of our employees experience opportunities they wouldn’t have accessed in their own country and I know they will have a better future because of it.”

“For each of us, there’s a social cause that’s like a touchstone – whether it’s in healthcare, education, international development or something else. For students, there are so many volunteer opportunities right on campus, so think about what you really care about and then get involved.”

Irfhan Rawji

Cultivating the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs

While bringing tech expertise to Canada, Rawji is also supporting home-grown talent. He’s a board member at Venture for Canada, a non-profit that helps young Canadians build skills to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. In addition to offering education, mentorship, and networking, Venture for Canada provides a pipeline of young talent to Canadian employers.

“This work is very education-based,” explains Rawji. “We’re creating the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders to drive the innovation economy, which is critical to our country’s future success.”

Championing a new space for education and innovation to flourish

While juggling responsibilities as a prominent business leader, community leader, and father, Rawji remains a great friend to UBC Sauder. He’s thrilled to see the school making a bold investment in the future of education and entrepreneurship through the Powerhouse Project.

UBC Sauder is planning the construction of a $120 million building that will deliver versatile spaces, progressive programming, and increased opportunities for learning, research, and community engagement. This much-needed expansion to accommodate robust growth in the school will include a Technology Entrepreneurship Centre that will bring startups and students together – creating a reciprocal flow of talent and knowledge between industry and academia.

“The world is changing, so our educational institutions must change in order to keep up,” observes Rawji. “Being the best business school is not a static place. You need to be constantly improving. It’s amazing to see how far this school has come since I graduated 23 years ago, and I think the Powerhouse Project is going to take UBC Sauder even further.”