Distinguished grad honoured for lifetime of giving
Esmail Bharwani honoured with the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to community and education
One of Athabasca University’s (AU) most distinguished graduates has been honoured for a lifetime of giving in support of post-secondary education.
Esmail Bharwani (Bachelor of Administration ’92) received the Association of Fundraising Professionals–Calgary Chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony on Nov. 15, National Philanthropy Day. The award recognizes more than four decades of generosity in supporting students from the Calgary region and Alberta.
A retired tax lawyer, Bharwani and his wife Safana have supported endowments at AU, Bow Valley College, Mount Royal University, SAIT, and the University of Calgary through the Esmail Safana Farzana Fayaz Bharwani Foundation.
“Over the course of my career, I have seen both good and challenging times, but one thing that has always been important to me is giving back. I learned this from my parents, they had big hearts and encouraged me to always be generous,” said Bharwani.
“Over the course of my career, I have seen both good and challenging times, but one thing that has always been important to me is giving back. ”– Esmail Bharwani (Bachelor of Administration ’92)
The making of a philanthropist
Bharwani’s dedication to improving the quality of life for others was engrained early on. He grew up in Tanzania, and after achieving Grade 8 education—the highest level available for children in his hometown—he went on to help provide for his family. In fact, once his siblings completed their general schooling, he made sure that they pursued their own post-secondary aspirations, rather than focusing on his own.
While helping his family, he made sure to make time for his own educational dreams. He completed some correspondence courses and gained experience through his jobs. Once his siblings went on to pursue their post-secondary education, Bharwani seized the opportunity to move to England to complete a three-year intensive accounting training.
As a student in England, Esmail experienced firsthand the challenges people face when they lack the financial means to pursue their educational dreams. When he encountered financial difficulties, a professor from his program helped him find a job at an accounting firm. This was one of the pivotal moments in Bharwani’s philanthropic revelation.
“What he did for me was a very small favour to him, but he had an impact on my life,” he said. “This is my way of saying thank you for what I’ve got, and what I’ve been gifted. Basically, this is a way of saying, I owe you. I owe back to the community. I owe back to the people.”
Following a dream to Canada
In the early ’70s, Bharwani and his family moved to Canada—arriving with only their suitcases and $3,000. His hard work and perseverance—and embrace of online learning—led him through a long and successful career that was not without financial ups and downs.
The challenges he experienced only reinforced his determination to help others. As a result, he has dedicated his life to volunteering on various professional and not-for-profit boards and committees at the municipal, regional, and national level. He has also financially supported numerous causes, including cancer and heart research, women’s shelters, the Aga Khan Foundation, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies.
“My wife Safana has also always been greatly supportive and influential in my efforts to help others. She has been the pillar of my strength and motivation throughout our five decades of marriage.”
Role of AU in Bharwani’s life and education
AU gave Bharwani the confidence he needed to further his dreams. Online learning allowed him to balance his schoolwork with an already busy life. Once he obtained his Business Administration degree from AU, he had the confidence to keep building on his educational goals and journey. He went on to receive an MBA jointly from Manchester Business School and the University of Wales, as well as a master of science in entrepreneurial studies from the University of Sterling.
“Athabasca University gave me a sense of how distance learning works and gave me the confidence to continue,” he said. “It gave me a big boost, to be able to say I can do it now.”
Philanthropist with a focus on education
Although Bharwani has supported various charitable organizations, he realized that the world would be fairer and more equitable through access to education and good jobs.
This realization ignited his passion to provide education for those in need. He chose to support students awards at several post-secondary institutions in Calgary and Alberta, including AU.
“My hope is that the many gifts our foundation is donating to support students will inspire others to give as well.”
The endowments that Bharwani has established provide permanent financial awards. Hundreds of students across Alberta have benefited from his generosity. His proudest achievement as a donor is seeing the impact his contributions have on the lives of students and post-secondary graduates.
In recognition of Bharwani’s commitment to student and to giving, in 2019 AU honoured him with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
“Athabasca University is proud that one of our most distinguished alumni has been honoured for a lifetime of giving in support of post-secondary education in Alberta and at AU,” said Dr. Alex Clark, AU president.
“Esmail and Safana’s commitment to students removes barriers to make university education more attainable. Their life-changing support not only has the power to changes lives, it also benefits communities and Albertans across our province. Congratulations, Esmail, on this deserving honour.”