Painting the future: Opportunities for more healthy, local and sustainable food

Beth-2014-1Three years ago, a small group of senior staff from three foundations gathered to talk about our common efforts to support local and sustainable food development: helping farmers access markets, improving supply chains, protecting prime farmland, raising public awareness and informing public policy. What was missing, we mused, was the background to all this work that would help us and others understand the context for all these individual efforts: imports, exports, pollution, waste, taxes, and subsidies.

So we decided to jointly commission a piece of research that would paint this backdrop, engaging a team with a strong diversity of skills and experience, headed up by Atif Kubursi of Econometrics. The Econometrics team’s extensive experience in economic and transportation modelling would be complimented by Harry Cumming’s knowledge of rural dynamics and Rod MacRae’s food policy expertise. There was an on-going conversation between researchers and foundation staff as the work unfolded.

Unlike most artists painting a landscape, the researchers didn’t know what their painting would look like once completed. This made it very difficult to make a communications plan for the work, but kept the process exciting! The research set out to track major economic and environmental impacts of the food system in southern Ontario (a region where all three foundations were working). It found that local food impacts are largely positive — the food economy creates jobs and generates tax revenues.

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En route to Paris: A low carbon economy is emerging in Ontario communities


Guest post by Mike Morrice, Executive Director, Sustainability CoLab

“Why wouldn’t this work anywhere else?”

That was the question that inspired us to create Sustainability CoLab three years ago, followed quickly by the question that has kept us focused since: “And what influence could a whole network of these programs have together?”

CoLabTransSmallNow 15 months since CoLab launched—and as momentum builds towards Paris this December – we can begin to share how the low-carbon economy is taking root in communities across Ontario.

Today, the program that inspired us to create CoLab – Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) – continues to thrive. The RCI brings together a roster of unlikely players employing 14% of Waterloo Region’s workforce in a shared sustainability journey: learning from each other, connected to a network of support, and reporting back on results against targets to reduce their carbon impact.

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Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples will involve each and every one of us

Nicole_Blog author enThere are certain events that always stay with people, etched in their memories forever. For me, Wednesday, June 11, 2008 marks one such event. On that day, I was at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Saskatoon alongside hundreds of survivors of Indian residential schools, as they listened to the prime minister make a statement of apology for the abuse and neglect that had been perpetrated in those schools for over a century.

I had begun working with survivors from the schools the previous year. I have always been drawn to work that enables me to have an impact on people’s lives. I think that is the reason why I ended up working in the public service. My first job was at Service Canada, where I worked on implementing the Common Experience Payment as part of the Indian Residential School Resolution.

Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools

Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools in 2008

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En Route to Paris: Climate Change Conference (COP21)


Nicolina_blog photo enParis. Climate Conference. These words will be heard more and more often in the coming months, and by December 2015, they’ll be in every TV, radio, Internet and printed news report. This event will mark the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Expected to draw 40 000 individuals, government delegates, and civil society representatives, the conference aims to “reach a universal and binding agreement to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.

Post 2016, Paris will also be a name associated with worldwide political commitments to bring down the global temperature rise through carbon-reduction targets. As a result, many columns, blogs and analyses will discuss whether these targets are realistic and attainable, the short-term economic costs of reaching these targets, and the long-term economic costs of failing to reach them. Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Large-Scale Change for Ontario Youth: Innoweave’s Youth CI Program

Mary Rose blog photo enIn December, the Foundation’s Innoweave initiative launched Youth CI, an exciting new partnership with the Laidlaw Foundation and Government of Ontario. Youth CI builds on Innoweave’s Collective Impact module to help communities across Ontario learn about, develop, launch, and implement Collective Impact initiatives that directly improve outcomes for youth.

Across the community sector there is a growing recognition that large-scale change can’t be achieved by organizations working in isolation. Youth CI provides organizations facing complex challenges (like youth homelessness) the space and the resources needed to develop a collaborative plan using the Collective Impact framework.Youth CI


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Why Vibrant Communities? 10 Reasons Why Canada Needs to Reduce Poverty

The following are some notes drawn from a speech I made at the Tamarack Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa, May 6.

Stephen-Huddart-authorJohn Wilson McConnell, who in 1935 established the Foundation for which I am privileged to work, was born in 1877 to Irish immigrants who had arrived in Canada that same year, illiterate and bankrupt. Like many in those days, and millions more since, his family came hoping to find a better life here.

We now know that the promise of plenty that brought families like the McConnells to Canada – often with the offer of free or low-cost land – had devastating consequences for others. The colonial/settler era resulted in the systematic displacement and marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, it is striking to consider that, starting out from such humble beginnings, by the time he was 50, McConnell had become, in all likelihood, the wealthiest person in Canada. How did that happen?

The advantages of coming of age in the 20th century

McConnell attended public school, and even in those days, Ontario’s schools were world class. As his biographer notes, “At the Paris Exhibition of 1887, the Ontario Department of Education won awards in six categories – more than Britain and the rest of the empire put together.” When his family moved from their farm in the Muskokas to Toronto – from rural to urban poverty – McConnell found work in the bookkeeping department of a dry goods trading company. He also took night courses at the YMCA. In this way he learned about business, and he soon began trading wood, wheat and other commodities.


The Muskoka cabin where McConnell grew up would have been almost identical to this one. Photo courtesy of Walker and Kapya Riley, circa 1889.

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Pioneering investors of 21st century systems change infrastructure – who are you?

Guest post by Jennifer Morgan, Founder of the Finance Innovation Lab
Note: Originally posted on the Cambridge University Centre for Social Innovation Blog. 

Jennifer Morgan_ENCathedrals have been some of the most important infrastructure projects in the history of humankind. They have been places where people have come together for a higher purpose, to connect, to make sense of the world and to be together in community.

In many ways, they were unique infrastructure projects compared to projects of today: they took lifetimes to build; they were built with many generations in mind; there were no immediate or tangible returns on investment and they were built for a higher purpose that served the common good.

So what is the modern day equivalent of the Cathedral infrastructure? What is the intergenerational infrastructure that is needed for deeper rooted social innovation to evolve our values and cultures from ‘EGO’ to ‘ECO’?

Cathedral And Abbey Church Of Saint Alban In St.albans, Uk Read the rest of this entry »

Lost in the Woods

vani-authorFor the past one and a half years (ok, maybe two), I’ve been developing the Foundation’s strategy in the area of child and youth mental health. This part of the panarchy cycle is affectionately referred to internally as “walks in the woods” – time spent understanding the field and its players, the key challenges and opportunities, and the ways in which philanthropic involvement can have the greatest impact. This exploration phase is an important “time to reflect on the dynamics you intuitively sense so that you are able to accurately articulate the environment and the issues at play” before launching into action. For me, this stage of work was at once both inspiring and, well… uncomfortable. Let me explain.


I began my walk with no preconceived idea of where I would end up – a mindset that translated to lots of open-ended questions and a vast array of issues to consider. I spoke to many passionate people who had dedicated their lives to improving the mental health and wellbeing of our young people, and who, together, painted a complex picture of the system we were dealing with. Dedicating this length of time to research and consultation was extremely valuable to our process, and enabled me to see the system from multiple perspectives.

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Corporate Political Spending in Canada

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

Guest post by Kevin ThomasDirector of Shareholder Engagement with the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE)

Blogpost Corporate spendingCalls for disclosure of corporate spending to influence the political process have become the single most frequent subject of shareholder resolutions in the United States, where the amount of money corporations spend to achieve political outcomes is massive – and largely undisclosed.

Concern about political spending has been less prominent on the responsible investment agenda in Canada, however.

Part of this has to do with Canada’s campaign finance system, which places stricter limits on party financing and third party spending during elections in many Canadian jurisdictions. But before we get too smug, shareholders may want to take a closer look at just how active Canadian corporations are in the public policy sphere.

That may be difficult, however, according to a new discussion paper from the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE).

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Reflections on my experience with Indigenous Philanthropy

For two years, I had the incredible opportunity of working with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, initially as a Program Intern and later as a Junior Program Officer, working on Indigenous philanthropy related projects. The field of Indigenous philanthropy is still an emerging one and works towards creating partnerships between Indigenous peoples, organizations, and the philanthropic domain.

Leading-together-cover-300x300During my time with the Foundation, I worked on several notable projects in this area, including the development and coordination of a publication titled Leading Together: Indigenous Youth in Community Partnership. Leading Together illustrated 12 partnership stories between Indigenous projects and the non-profit and philanthropic sectors, with a particular focus on the learnings and failures of each project, and how to move forward. I also helped to organize a youth summit that brought together 25 young leaders from 14 organizations to discuss a potential joint collaboration on a youth reconciliation project—this project became the 4Rs Youth Movement, a national reconciliation youth movement.

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