June 2017: A shock wave reverberates across the country. According to the UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 14, Canada ranks 25th of 41 countries when it comes to children’s well-being. And the picture gets even worse when you take a closer look at the details: 31st in relation to the suicide rate, 33rd concerning neonatal mortality, and 37th in terms of food security…
A grim birthday present: 2017 marked the country’s 150th birthday.
Innocenti 14 confirmed many citizens’ and organizations’ observations, including those of the Foundation of Greater Montréal (FGM). Urgent action was needed. But what could be done?
At the time, the FGM was in the process of revamping the structure of Vital Signs of Greater Montréal, its biennial flagship publication for evaluating the health of Montréal’s communities. What approach would more effectively identify local issues and challenges? How could these issues be tackled in the context of Canada’s 150th and Montréal’s 375th birthdays?
Rather than dwell on a regrettable past, the FGM decided to focus on the future, making the well-being of children the central theme of the 2017 issue. It was modelled on the Innocenti Report Card, which integrated and adapted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in its assessment of the well-being of children.
“We have been accused of being against a lot of things: against homelessness, against pollution, against hunger,” explains Gauthier. “People were telling us: ‘But what are you FOR?’ The Sustainable Development Goals have become this affirmative answer to our efforts to improve the situation. We are for zero hunger, we are for healthy diets, we are for a sustainable environment, we are for quality education. We are for everything contained in the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Other advantages: comparative analyses. Based on the same method used in the Innocenti report cards, Vital Signs can now situate Greater Montréal on a Canada-wide scale, which also makes it possible to closely monitor the further development of the situation. We are right at the heart of the definition of sustainable development.
January 2018: The FGM’s Board of Directors adopted a SDG-oriented approach in its 2018-2021 strategic plan, which was deployed with immediate effect across all the organization’s activities, including its programs. According to Gauthier, the idea to join a planet-wide movement with shared goals also produced a “very stimulating” effect on the Board of Directors as well as all of the FGM’s staff.
Shared goals indeed; however, of varying degrees and in accordance with local realities. One example: The rate of food insecurity among families with children in the Greater Montréal area is among the highest in Canada: 11% against 8% country-wide. “This came as a shock to us and to the entire community. It became evident once we began to dig deeper into this issue.”
The FGM brought together all relevant stakeholders—governments, municipalities, health organizations, food banks, foundations, etc.—to focus on Montréal’s Zero Hunger Initiative. Based on an ecosystemic approach, an actual map showing the issue’s prevalence across the territory was elaborated. An overview of Phase 1 of this initiative, Métaportrait des publications portant sur la sécurité alimentaire à Montréal depuis 2006 [available in French only], was published in October 2018.
The publication of the overview is only the first stage in a concrete process being conducted by what Gauthier describes as a task force. “We want to be able to pinpoint the most pressing issues and undertake collective action and resource allocations to address them.”
In the same spirit of partnership, the FGM has taken a seat around the table together with eight other foundations active in Greater Montréal in connection with Collective Impact, a Centraide initiative. The project, with over $21 million in funding from partner foundations, aims to reduce the effects of poverty by enhancing skills development in local communities.
Regarding its own community action projects, the FGM likewise has integrated five Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) into its Community Initiatives Program. To be eligible for selection, a project must satisfy at least one of these SDG.
“We find ourselves implicated in mutually supportive work on a Canada-wide and international scale. It is very stimulating to work this way, to join in the push for real change on our planet.”
Does this set an example to be emulated by other foundations and community organizations? “It isn’t too complicated to take one or two or three goals and to say we are going to work on them in accordance with the concerns in our communities,” Gauthier points out, referring, among other things, to the wealth of available documentary resources.
Janey Harper loves the natural beauty of Whistler — the scenic mountains, lakes and evergreen forests surrounding it — but worries that constantly expanding ski resorts could put it at risk.
She retired to Whistler 16 months ago and says there’s a group of retirees like her who are concerned about the future of Whistler’s natural environment. “We’re living in nature, and that’s pretty darn special. We want to preserve that,” she said.
Although much of Whistler’s natural environment remains untouched, development of the area has led to some loss of diversity. Seventy per cent of the wetlands that originally covered Whistler’s valley bottom have been lost and 26 species were red-listed in 2016, meaning they are endangered, threatened or candidates for that designation.
Most of Harper’s information on Whistler’s environmental issues came from the town’s local newspaper, so she wanted to learn more about what was happening on the ground. That’s why she attended the Community Foundation of Whistler’s first Vital Café, an offshoot of their Vital Signs program.
Each month, a group of Whistler locals hash out an issue inspired by one of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So far, they’ve debated ecological thinking, poverty in Whistler, climate change and the benefits of collective learning.
Harper attended the Jan. 22 session at the Whistler Museum called “Thinking Like a Mountain.” The title was inspired by a piece written by the conservationist Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac in 1949, which described the consequences of eliminating wolves in a mountain ecosystem.
The rapid expansion of the resort season in Whistler — and the resulting flood of tourists — were major topics of discussion. Close to 3.5 million visitors came to Whistler in 2016-17, which was a new record high. “There was concern that the resort part of this community needs to be held accountable, and in check, so we don’t lose what we really value,” Harper said.
The United Nations SDGs are global and somewhat abstract, so the Foundation hopes to bring them down to earth for the Whistler community. “We’re looking at climate change and poverty and big issues that make people feel powerless,” said Carol Coffey, then the executive director of the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW). “We want people to understand that as an individual you do have power.”
“Thinking like a Mountain” relates to several UN goals, like creating sustainable cities and communities and sustainable consumption, while the second — named “Yes, there is Poverty in Whistler” — is based on the UN goal of ending poverty in all of its forms. The sessions start with experts providing insight into a topic, and then branch out into discussion between the participants.
The Foundation’s Vital Signs project is meant to inform Whistler residents about problems facing their community and, more importantly, what they can do about them. Coffey says the foundation asks attendees three questions at each session: their personal experiences related to the topic, how the topic relates to their community and what actions they can take.
“People like to talk about what the government should do but we also want to encourage people to think about they can do as an individual,” Coffey said. At the session on poverty, for example, participants realized they could mentor young people, share skills at workshops and create healthy work environments to prevent employees from feeling isolated.
Coffey hopes that the events foster a sense of belonging in Whistler. Their 2018 Vital Signs report that while the town has a vibrant local community, newcomers can struggle to form close relationships. About a fifth of the people surveyed (19 per cent) had a weak or very weak connection to the town. The transient population in Whistler likely plays a role, as ski enthusiasts often come and leave the town in a matter of months.
“We have a population of about 11,000 people. Yet at any given time, there are over 35,000 people in Whistler,” said Coffey. “All these visitors have a tremendous impact on the local community and the full-time residents of Whistler.”
The Vital Cafés are small — 15 people at most — to allow for an intimate and open conversation. The CFOW plans to continue holding the sessions on a monthly basis.
Janey Harper said the discussion she attended was “like a family reunion where you got caught up with people and found out what was really going on.” She liked that there was no beating around the bush. “You get right down to business. That’s pretty powerful.”
The Vital Cafés are held monthly at the Whistler museum. Visit www.whistlerfoundation.com/vital-signs/ for dates and more information on upcoming events.
London Community Foundation, once considered more or less a bank for local non-profits, is now becoming a catalyst for change in its community.
Like all community foundations, London pools donations into an endowment fund and uses interest payments to provide grants to local organizations. Recently, the foundation has begun using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — the big-picture, international ambitions of UN member nations — to guide the way it provides grants, conducts research and runs community events.
“I don’t think it’s something the Foundation would have done ten years ago, because we were so hyper-local,” says Martha Powell, the President and CEO of LCF. “What we define as a community is expanding its boundaries. We’re really part of the global community.”
Grants are the lifeblood of local non-profits in London along with dozens of other communities across Canada. In the past year, LCF’s funds have gone towards housing for homeless individuals, apartments for senior veterans, affordable dental clinics, crisis counselling at local colleges and dozens of other essential projects. Because the money that was originally donated still gathers interest, the foundation can continue to provide grants indefinitely.
Every two years, the foundation releases a Vital Signs report, which acts as a pulse check of the community. In their 2018 report, LCF used the SDGs to map London’s priority areas, which were to be healthy, sheltered, equal, employed, green (environmentally sustainable), educated and have a sense of belonging.
The report produced sobering results. Close to half of the population was spending over 30 per cent of their income on rent, and over 70,000 people in London were living in poverty. It also found that the labour participation rate was only 60.5 per cent, the lowest in Ontario. “We released the report just prior to the municipal election, so it was used for advocacy and civic engagement as well,” says Vanessa Dolishny, LCF’s communications manager. “It provides leadership to people in our community and allows citizens to use it as a tool for debate.”
Other non-profits took note and wanted to learn more about applying the UN Sustainable Development Goals to their own activities. “We had people calling us after we released Vital Signs, from Western University to small community churches, saying ‘how can we get on board with this?’” Dolishny said.
Since then, LCF has inspired the birth of more city initiatives based on the SDGs. The London City Symposium, a series of talks similar to TED Talks, are shaped around the UN goals, while the Pillar Non-Profit has started using the SDG framework as well.
The foundation has also started experimenting with novel ways of measuring social impact — all based on the UN goals. A group of MBA students at the Ivey Business School developed a system to measure the social impact of proposed projects.
Khahn Lam, a member of the Ivey team, says the indicator allows for a more objective assessment of a proposal. The foundation had robust ways of measuring governance and financial feasibility, but estimating social impact is more difficult, he says.
“The process they have to measure social impact, and investment decisions based on that, is largely done on an ad-hoc basis,” said Lam. He and the other Ivey students identified indicators behind eleven of the goals and then uses Statistics Canada data to estimate the projected social impact. With such granular data, he said, “we can start having more nuanced discussions about why we’re approving a certain project over another.”
LCF has also begun holding Vital Conversations on pressing issues in London based on the SDGs, including poverty, climate change, health and housing. The first Vital Conversation addressed what it meant to belong in London with talks from seven speakers, including Martin McIntosh, the Director of Community Relations at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC).
McIntosh spoke about the social isolation he felt when his family first immigrated from the Caribbean to Canada in 1978 and the marginalization he experienced as a gay man. “It’s a long story, but I’ll tell you where it ended. It ended with daily use of crystal meth,” he said. “It brought me to a very dark place…I wonder what it would have been like if I had an agency like the RHAC that fosters a safe place for youth, an open closet, to explore their sexuality and just be who they are.”
After the talks, event organizers asked each table what the community could do to tackle the most pressing issues, and what they, as individuals, could do on their own.
By linking the UN goals to the foundation’s research, their grant process and their public events, the LCF hopes to make Londoners aware that their community goes beyond the city’s borders.
“More and more, we know that to create change on a global level, we need to create change locally,” says Powell. “Our work doesn’t end with what’s happening in London, Ontario.”
From coast to coast to coast, community foundations have been engaging with the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge to help youth play a leadership role in addressing important local priorities.
The program is being brought to life by 81 community foundations, and media from all over the country is taking notice. Have a look to see what is happening in communities near you!
Abbotsford Community Foundation
Abbotsford Community Foundation offers grants for youth projects
Altona Community Foundation
$15K Made Available To Youth-Led Initiatives From Altona Cmty Foundation
Battlefords & District Community Foundation
Community Foundation joins national community challenge
Birtle & District Community Foundation
$15,000 available for youth-led initiative
Delta youth can get funding to support their bold ideas
Funding available for ‘bold youth-led initiatives’ in Delta
Dufferin Community Foundation
RBC Future Launch Community Challenge a call to action for youth
Glace Bay Community Fund / Community Foundation of Nova Scotia
Information session Thursday for people, groups interested in applying for youth-led project in Glace Bay
Community Foundation Grey Bruce
Community Foundation Grey Bruce joins national challenge
Youth-led projects will address urgent local priorities
Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation
Community foundation to support youth-led initiatives
Kitchener-Waterloo community foundation offering grants to youth-led projects
Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies
CFKR joins initiative to support local, youth-led projects
New fund to support youth-led projects in Cranbrook, Fernie, Sparwood, Elkford
London Community Foundation
Are you young, from a small town, and have a bold idea? There’s money to bring that idea to light
London Community Foundation to mange grants for youth-led community initiatives
Muskoka Community Foundation
RBC Community Challenge partners with Muskoka Community Foundation
Two MCF grants available for youth and mental health and wellness projects
North Thompson Communities Foundation
North Thompson Communities Foundations hold annual barbecue to celebrate giving
Osprey Community Foundation
Grants For West Kootenay Youth through Osprey Community Foundation
Oxford Community Foundation
Grants available to help youth in community
Community Foundation of PEI
Youth-led initiatives address P.E.I. needs
Community Foundation of Portage and District
$15k available for youth to improve portage
Prince George Community Foundation
PGCF joins grant program for youth-led initiatives
Quesnel Community Foundation
$15K on the table for Quesnel youth-led project
Quesnel Community Foundation accepting grant applications from local youth
Revelstoke Community Foundation
Bold youth-led initiatives address local needs
Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia
Youth-led initiatives revitalize rural Nova Scotia as RCF joins national community challenge
Sarnia Community Foundation
Giving youth a voice, and cash to back it up
Shuswap Community Foundation
$30,000 in funding for Shuswap youth projects available
Community Foundation of South Okanagan Similkameen
Up to $30,000 available for South Okanagan-Similkameen youth led projects
Funds for youth’s bold ideas
Grant funding available for youth initiatives
South Saskatchewan Community Foundation
Back to the future. Investing in youth
Westshore Community Foundation
Westshore Foundation and RBC to engage youth on urgent local needs
WindsorEssex Community Foundation
RBC gives $30K for youth-led projects in Tecumseh and Leamington
Winkler Community Foundation
$15,000 challenge looks to youth for solutions
RBC gives funds for future business ideas
Last year, CFC undertook what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging exercises for any organization: renewing our purpose. An organization’s purpose is its lifeblood, its raison d’être. It answers the questions: “Why do we exist? What problems are we here to solve?” Many minds, hearts and hands took part in this exercise. I want to take some time to personally share with you what we learned and where we’ve landed. My team and I are excited for what’s ahead and hope you will be too!
As many of you are aware, CFC was founded nearly thirty years ago to connect and support local community foundations working across the country. For close to three decades, we’ve carried out that mission proudly. The movement has grown considerably. Your impact is felt more each day.
Wherever you may be in Canada, I think we can all agree that our communities and world look quite different today than they did in 1992. In the last few decades, we’ve witnessed unprecedented technological and environmental change, a new and at times fractious road towards reconciliation and Indigenous rights, and greater diversity than at any other point in our history. Our future promises to be even more complex. It is my belief that the leadership of community foundations has never been more vital. Local solutions to global issues have never been more important. We are making a change because the world needs us to make a change.
When we set out to explore renewing our purpose, it was with these realities in mind. It was important for us to do it with the movement and our partners. We sought different perspectives on how CFC’s strengths might best serve, and where we faced weaknesses.
Hundreds of you have been instrumental in helping us get to answers. I want to express my thanks for the time that so many of you took to participate in this process. Your feedback — via surveys, interviews and conversations — has deepened and enriched our efforts.
Several things became clear for us along the way.
We saw, for example, how important it was to build on our shared history and to honour the deep (nearly centennial!) tradition of community philanthropy in Canada.
It also became evident that “belonging” is irrevocably part of our DNA. Since we began our belonging journey a few years ago, this concept has emerged as our north star, a framework for policy decisions and programming. A tool for storytelling and working with donors on the ground level. “Belonging” speaks to a wide range of issues across our collective work, ranging from economic and gender inequality, to reconciliation, to the social isolation of seniors or the exclusion of youth or culturally diverse populations, to name just a few. As we explored taking CFC’s purpose forward, we realized it was a concept we couldn’t abandon. It also tied nicely to another core priority, the Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is “leave no one behind.”
Yet we also saw the need to infuse “belonging” with fresh energy. A bolder, more ambitious and forward-looking frame. Nuances that might speak to the radically inclusive lens we want to adopt and the perseverance that is core to the work of community foundations. We began workshopping it. Thus emerged a refreshed purpose:
You might say: “that sounds an awful lot like words we’ve used before.” You wouldn’t be wrong! Yet, it’s also different. For some time, we’ve been witnessing a new spirit and ethos to “belonging” in our work at CFC, and within that of many community foundations. We wanted the new purpose to reflect that.
Let me explain.
Since Belong 2017, many of us (to your credit) have begun deep work around reconciliation, for example. Spurred on by the TRC and others, we started to take an honest, long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves tough questions. We began exploring the ways in which our own power and resources (and how we came by them) have perhaps contributed to the marginalization of others. Where, rather than supporting greater belonging, we have done quite the opposite and unintentionally furthered exclusion. We began exploring more questions like: Where might we shift the power into the hands of those who aren’t, and should be at the decision-making table? Are we representing the diversity of the communities we serve? If not, how might we do that better? Where else are we coming up short?
As philanthropic leaders in a relentless pursuit of belonging, this is our duty.
We’ve realized that creating meaningful, authentic belonging starts far closer in than we initially thought. It begins in our own individual lives, families, teams and organizations. We must acknowledge how our own privilege can and has tripped us up in a pursuit of true belonging.
We also realized that it’s time to state, unequivocally, that leading inclusively is no longer a “nice to have” but indeed, a “must have.”
Our earlier version of belonging perhaps didn’t push the boundaries quite as firmly as we now see is necessary. To that end, we’re refreshing the purpose and doubling down on it.
We’ve got to find ways to leverage our unique strengths and work across sectors to address systemic issues.
We’ve got to find ways to hold each other accountable and to support true innovation when we see it. We must open ourselves up to greater listening and allyship.
We must take principled stands when it’s called for, and step aside to support and amplify others when it’s not our place to lead.
CEO of Community Foundations of Canada