Today, our communities need us more than ever

A message to our movement and global partners

Yesterday morning seven international delegates at the Council on Foundations conference in Cleveland shared our experiences in community philanthropy‎ and offered up ideas for how we might work better, together.

Avila Killmurray of the Global Fund for Community Philanthropy reminded us of the many roles that community foundations play and of the importance of context, a lesson she knows so well from peacemaking efforts in her Northern Ireland.

Amongst many great stories, Janet Mawiyoo from Kenya described the way her community foundations offered protection to children as they made their way to and from school‎. We were inspired by Ansis Berzins from Latvia who shared the key milestones of the Valmiera Community Foundation and his aspirations for its future. Beata Hirt took us full circle on Slovakia’s twenty-year ‎history of innovation in creating a civil society ethic of participation.

Indeed, this is how we change the world, concluded Anderson Giovani da Silva of Florianapolis, meeting people where they are and freeing up their voices and contributions, safely.

My remarks focused on the Canadian experience in community foundation development and the potential we see in working together as a movement.

During the Q&A session a colleague from the Ukraine spoke about the challenges and struggles in her region of the world. As she spoke, I’ll admit to thinking that if a similar question came my way, I would have felt hard-pressed to answer eloquently. Such a long way from the Canadian experience, I thought.‎

As the plenary session ended, I turned my BlackBerry back on and discovered, in an instant, the tragic events that were unfolding in Ottawa. A gunman had shot a serviceman standing as an honour guard at Canada’s national war memorial and then raced into our Parliamentary buildings, while the Prime Minister and his caucus were just steps away.

Our Ottawa team, located in the middle of the Parliamentary precinct, was told to stay away from the windows, draw the blinds and stay off the streets. My colleagues told me that bridges to and from the downtown were closed. Outside our office was a ghost town, the usual passersby that clogged the sidewalks replaced with armed police.

Today we know that two families are mourning a loss, even as things return to normal for us. Our office, which was evacuated yesterday, is now back in business. The streets are bustling again. And as the CFC Board prepares to meet this weekend in a nearby hotel, I’ll be thinking about the role our movement plays in these turbulent and sometimes troubling times.

We’ve seen how critical our work becomes in times of distress, whether it’s flooding in Alberta or Burlington or wild fires in BC or the challenges of reconciliation in a place like Temagami. Our value in those moments in undeniable.

At the community foundation centennial conference in Cleveland our opening speaker, James Joseph, the former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, asked us to consider a compelling question: “What does it mean to make a community more of a community?”

Today I believe it means we must not lose sight of how our day-to-day work builds resilience in our communities. It’s those daily actions that provide the stability we rely on when the unexpected hits. It’s found in the strong relationships that we build within our community. The values that we live in those relationships. The causes that we support and the new efforts that we encourage and nurture.

In our solidarity, we know that Ambassador Joseph is right. “Charity is good, but justice is better.”

Today let’s be sure to live our ‘all for community’ beliefs and think about how we are contributing to what we value the most in our communities. Are we encouraging understanding instead of anger, offering comfort instead of inviting fear? And what more can we be doing to help us come together in good times and bad?

Take good care of you and yours – and your community.


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