We All Do Play for Canada

JC-circleAs the television ad for Canadian Tire says: there is no such thing as an unassisted goal.

Our Olympic and professional athletes benefit not only from targeted funding from Own the Podium and national sport organizations, but also from decades of support from the backbone of the Canadian sport system — committed hockey dads and soccer moms, local business sponsors and fundraisers, and volunteer coaches and officials.

Photo courtesy of True Sport

Photo courtesy of True Sport

With 34,000 organizations across the country, most of them run by volunteers, sport and recreation make up a significant portion of the community sector in Canada. But good community sport programs, based on values Canadians believe in, are under-appreciated as tools for making our kids healthier and for developing skills that will serve them well in life, long after they have hung up their cleats.

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Trust and Traceability

The other day my husband dashed off an email to a dozen friends and neighbours titled ‘meat, eggs and parsnips’. Our farmer friend Kathleen was coming to town and had offered to deliver some food. He included Kathleen’s answers to his questions about how the food was produced:

we do nothing to the cattle; they are born and stay with the herd their entire life (until their one bad day). The cattle have only pasture and hay, nothing else (no finishing on grain). The chickens are truly free-range and are fed certified organic grains. They also have happy days with no other inputs from us (well I do pat them and our son hugs them). The vegetables are from organic seed if we can source it, and we only fertilize with manure from our animals. No herbicides, no pesticides, just lots of mulch and weeding.’

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Experiencing the shock of the possible in uncertain times…

Note: This article is cross-posted from the MaRS Discovery District and Social Innovation Generation (SiG), with permission from the authors. 

Guest post by Social Innovation Generation’s Tim Draimin, Executive Director and Kelsey Spitz, Communications and Research Associate.

Indeed these are uncertain times that we live in… ~Stephen Huddart

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.15.42 AMSpeaking to an over-200-person audience at MaRS Discovery District on November 24, Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, challenged the growing contemporary narrative that our future is bleak and looming ahead with daunting uncertainty.

Reminding us of a long history of Canadian precedents for testing systems-level innovation, and of the new big experiments underway today, Stephen invited us to experience the shock of the possible (a term coined by Eric Young).

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Investing in Food Security: Opportunities for Canadian Investors

Note: Originally posted on the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) website.

Guest post by Peter Chapman, Executive Director, SHARE

Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, was released by the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), a leading Canadian responsible investment organization. The report was funded by Canadian philanthropic foundations including the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Dried corn plants in Nebraska. Source: AP.

Looking outside at the last few hardy frost-rimed vegetables in my garden, the forces at work are easy to comprehend: freezing temperatures and failing daylight hours. But for institutional investors, the risks and opportunities embedded in our food systems are less obvious. So too are the connections between long-term investment returns and the resilience, sustainability and accessibility of food systems. Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, a new paper from the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), takes aim at broadening our understanding of these issues.

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Carbonated Food

Beth-2014-1The contribution of food production, processing, distribution, and consumption to our global carbon emissions has been a matter of concern and debate since we began worrying about climate change. And more of our food is ‘carbonated’ than Coke and Pepsi: food systems are responsible for somewhere between a fifth and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions[1].

Much of these emissions come from agriculture, although the contribution of transportation, refrigeration, consumer practices, and waste management is growing. Food companies can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint – and many are. A recently released report by Foundation grantee Climate Smart highlights what 77 food companies in BC have done to cut carbon, including Left Coast Naturals (a distribution company), Van Houtte coffee, Recycling Alternatives (biofuel recycling) and Tacofino food trucks. Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing the McConnell Blog!

Two people talkingBrigid-Shea-AuthorWith the holiday season almost upon us and 2015 just around the corner, we naturally begin to reflect upon the year we’ve just had and the new one about to begin. And so in this spirit of reflection that we find ourselves in, we thought it would be the perfect time to launch the McConnell Blog.

The blog will provide us with a unique opportunity to regularly and openly share learnings and insights, essentially reflection pieces, about the Foundation’s work and that of our partners and grantees.

In our blog, you will not only be able to hear from our President and CEO, Stephen Huddart, but also from our staff, as they reflect on the specific areas that they work in and the initiatives and projects they are leading – whether that be in the world of food, social finance, social entrepreneurship and higher education, or child and youth mental health, to name but a few.

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The Dance of Deception

Beth-2014-1
“Each side is playing a role – the ultra-lean NGO that somehow is changing the world on pennies, and the benevolent philanthropist who always bets on the right horse.”

~Laurie Michaels (individual philanthropist, board chair Aspen Institute)

Horse Race. Photo by Sheree Zielke, 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Horse Race. Photo by Sheree Zielke, 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / https://flic.kr/p/AbUi2

At the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network annual conference this past spring, I facilitated a session with Devika Shah of the Pembina Institute which was provocatively titled Interrupting the Dance of Deception. The panel was made up of two funders and two ‘fundees’, and their reflections kicked off an animated discussion, which has stayed with me many weeks later.

The term dance of deception was coined by former McConnell Foundation CEO Tim Brodhead, referring to a dynamic that occurs when groups pretend they can solve a huge problem, and funders pretend to believe them. As Tim has explained, this deception is not intentional or malicious in any way. Rather, it refers to a tendency among organizations and funders to jointly develop funding agreements and relationships without fully acknowledging that the best laid plans are often derailed by power and politics. Recognizing that as funders we do sometimes ‘bet on the wrong horses’, and that grantees often operate in a complex and unpredictable landscape, a reflection on the session seemed an apt way to begin this blog.

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Reflections on the 2014 Evaluation Roundtable

Last week, the Foundation co-hosted [1] the Evaluation Roundtable in Montreal. This Washington DC-based network of some 30 US and Canadian foundations meets every 18 months to study a case in philanthropic strategy and evaluation, and this time the subject was Social Innovation Generation (SiG), the Foundation’s seven-year partnership with the University of Waterloo, MaRS Discovery District and Plan Institute. Its purpose is to foster a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada.

By many measures, SiG is a success.  Through a happy convergence of intent and circumstance the term social innovation is in wider use, and the partners, along with SiG’s national office, have contributed individually and collectively to Canada’s ability to address complex and persistent systemic challenges. Examples include SiG’s role in introducing impact investing and social labs; the first Ministry of Social Innovation, in BC; teaching and research into the nature of systemic change; the introduction of new philanthropic platforms such as Innoweave; and many more.

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Social Innovation Nation

Recent events suggest that the field of social innovation is maturing to the point where it is possible to envisage adaptive, evolutionary shifts in our social, economic, and environmental systems.

Consider: May 25-27, MaRS Solutions Lab (MSL) hosted Labs for Systems Change—the world’s first gathering of practitioners leading this type of work, with individuals from 30 countries. In her remarks to the gathering, Frances Westley— J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo—described how our understanding of psychology and group dynamics; design thinking; and complex adaptive systems theory—together with data analysis and computer modelling—affords us new ability to examine and improve institutional behaviour, and to generate testable solutions to wicked problems.

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