A family putting values into action

“Talking about establishing a fund and the reasons why we are doing this may inspire others.” — Rasool Rayani

The Ismaili Muslim faith is bound by a profound sense of social responsibility.

In Victoria, Heart Pharmacy’s owner Naz Rayani and his family have embraced their faith’s deeply-held tradition of service to others and they have reached out to the Victoria Foundation to ensure that their philanthropy is a lasting gift to the greater community.

Naz and his wife, Yasmine, are establishing a fund at the Victoria Foundation that will allow the family to indefinitely support such institutions as the University of Victoria Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, Victoria Hospice and CanAssist, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities improve their quality of life.

Naz’s son Rasool, chair of the Victoria Foundation Board, and his wife, Laurel, are also establishing an endowment fund to support causes like the Victoria Cool Aid Society and the ALS Society of BC.

Sitting around the dining table in Rasool and Laurel’s kitchen, the family — including Yasmine and daughter Zahra — is gathered to talk about their collective desire to give back to the community.

Naz, now retired from the family pharmacy business, joins the gathering after his weekly piano lesson. He is wearing a “World Partnership Walk” ball cap and a Heart Pharmacy windbreaker.

Naz says, “words don’t come easy” because of two strokes he suffered four years ago, but his passion for giving and for service burns brightly.

“I wish we had participated earlier, but it is never too late. It is an honour to be doing this with the Victoria Foundation.”

It is immediately apparent that Naz’s zest for living is undiminished by his strokes. When he’s not learning to play the piano, Yasmine tells me, he “is learning to play bridge, taking swimming lessons, playing ping pong or doing yoga.”

That evening he will be off to his Rotary meeting and later that week he will take 35 Maria Montessori Academy students to tour the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Mosque in Burnaby.

Since 1993, Naz has escorted more than 3,000 Vancouver Island students and adults to the mosque.

He says: “The experience of bringing people of different faiths together and showing the true colours of Islam has been profound.”

“I am extremely proud of my dad,” Rasool says. “He’s been a role model and a source of inspiration regarding philanthropy.”

Rasool now runs the five-pharmacy family business with Zahra, a pharmacist like her dad, and Zahra’s husband, Farhan Kanji.

“My parents have always been engaged in philanthropy. They wanted to create a sustainable, long-term fund that would support their causes. The funds will be a platform for giving. The Foundation’s ability to ensure the needs of the community are bubbling to the top in a vital way that is a powerful tool for thoughtful giving,” Rasool says.

Laurel, a nurse who established a travel health clinic in Heart Pharmacy at the Fairfield Road location, says a huge part of the Ismaili faith is about volunteerism and paying back to the community.

“Naz has role modelled philanthropy for all of us. It feels so good to contribute.”

After the “9/11” disaster in New York, Muslims were often “painted with a one-stroke brush,” Laurel says. “Naz really got involved with the Centre for Studies in Religion as well as being an ambassador for Islam and educating people.”

Naz studied pharmacy at the Robert Gordon University of Aberdeen, Scotland and opened his first pharmacy in 1972 in Kenya where he was born. He came to Canada two years later to live and work in a more politically stable environment. In 1991, he purchased the small independent Cadboro Bay Pharmacy. In 2003, he opened his second drugstore in the Student Union Building of the University of Victoria. In 2011, the family acquired the Peoples Pharmacy locations at Shelbourne Plaza, Fairfield Plaza and Fairfield Road at Moss Street.

Recognition for his good works just keeps stacking up. In 2006, Naz was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada by her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, at the Order of Canada Investiture Ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. In 2012, he received the Leadership Victoria Lifetime Achievement Award at the eighth annual Victoria Leadership Awards ceremony.

As well, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is presenting a lifetime achievement award to Naz at its annual awards in May.

He “is being recognized as both a business leader and humanitarian for his work to end global poverty through the World Partnership Walk,” says Chamber Vice-Chair Al Hasham.

Naz’s daughter Zahra says: “My family has been giving back to the community for a long time. The fund will be a wonderful opportunity to continue giving to the community and make an impact in an achievable manner.”

Victoria Foundation CEO Sandra Richardson agrees.

“This is hugely important for the Foundation because when we talk about the next generation giving back to the community, this is perfect example of what we are doing in this generation. The Rayanis represent the qualities and values we want to pass to our children.

“To the Rayani family this is about investing in the future. It is all about family values. It is a wonderful illustration for others in the community to think about this as family and to appreciate how far you can reach.”

Rasool says the idea of sharing this initiative with the public was the subject of much family deliberation. This is not a family given to seeking publicity.

“But the idea of talking about the rationale for establishing the fund and the reasons why we are doing this may inspire others and illustrate how easy this is to do,” he says.

More on this story and how to set-up your own family fund: