Students and entrepreneurs join a venture offering gift cards that will provide cash to small companies struggling under the lockdown.


Azra Popat
Azra Popat

It was not long ago many of us were sitting in our favorite restaurants enjoying a delightful meal. Then, we were greeted with the news that COVID- 19 was spreading across the globe at an alarming rate. Many businesses, including entertainment venues, athletic facilities, retail stores, and restaurants had to shut down to minimize the spread of the virus.

While local restaurants have tried to sustain their business by offering take-out and delivery only options, the extended lockdown has put a financial strain on these businesses that could lead to permanent closures.

In these turbulent times, many of us have found hope and a sense of satisfaction in helping those who are affected adversely. Entrepreneurs have been testing many ideas to increase traffic as the lockdown ends, and as restaurants and small businesses look to rebuild. One such idea that has taken shape is called “GIFTforward,” a Toronto-based venture that hopes to support struggling businesses.

Rahim Noormohamed, along with his wife Azra Popat, Kaiz Alarakyia, and a few others are the minds behind this idea. Their team consists of entrepreneurs with backgrounds in business, law, and restaurant management. Rahim and Kaiz are graduate students at the Harvard Business School.

What “GIFTforward” aims to achieve is to sell restaurant gift cards to the public at a discounted rate to allow restaurants to keep up with their overhead during these tough times and also help them bring back the needed business when the lockdown ends.

The way these gift cards work is that restaurants essentially receive an advance loan right now when you buy a gift card at a discounted price, and the


Kaiz Alarakyia
Kaiz Alarakyia

restaurants then repay that loan when you redeem your gift card when they reopen. This is much better than paying the loan back in cash. This initiative is no one’s full-time job, but an effort to give something back to the community.

Rahim says he is focusing on “[...] small restaurants because they lack the resources to survive for an extended period without cash coming in.” He also notes that small restaurants lack the resources to sell gift cards that big franchises can do easily. The hope is to raise community awareness that this initiative is happening, and have local restaurants sign up for this service in large numbers.

Although “GIFTforward” is based in Toronto, the team’s goal is to help restaurants across the globe. So far, they have sold more than $50,000 in gift cards, and have participating restaurants in Boston, Los Angeles, and Sydney. Now that this platform is live, the next steps are to monitor how restaurants and customers react to the service, collect user data, and reiterate with enhancements as needed.

Our world has changed drastically over the last few months and many of us continue to be uncertain of how the economic conditions will hold up through the remainder of 2020. As we forge through summer, let us try to look forward with a sense of hope, and work together to help our local restaurants survive and sustain themselves through these challenging times.