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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Patience, Persistence, and Paperwork: Reflections from my Cities for People internship experience

Cities have become the new black.

All over the world, people are awakening to a sense of global urgency – that the biosphere has had enough of our anthropogenic footprint, and we’re all in this teetering boat together. As urbanists have been voicing loud and clear, what better place to start tackling the beast than in our own homes, streets, and neighborhoods.

But as a technophilic society, we have boiled sustainability down to a science and are used to applying high-tech band-aid solutions to complex and long-term societal issues. In the context of climate change, the term urban resilience has become sadly synonymous with building dams for flood control.


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Reflections on Social Finance and Impact Investing

PhilipauthorSocial-FinanceblogThe exposure I am receiving during my internship at the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, to the engaging and exciting field of Social Finance, has left me with a different world view – revealing the significant impact investment decisions made throughout a lifetime can really have. One of the quotes that has stuck with me from the 2014 Social Finance Forum that was held in Toronto at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, is a question that Joel Solomon from Renewal Funds asked: “What is your money doing right now?” What I take away from this quote is the importance of being aware of the impact corporations and organizations have on society, and how this will shape the future. Read the rest of this entry »

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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