For the past decade the McConnell Foundation’s mission has been to “help Canadians to understand and adapt creatively to the changes affecting Canadian society”. Change, or perhaps more precisely, the accelerating pace of change, can be disorienting, even disempowering for many people. Things we value may seem at risk; yet there are opportunities for positive adaptation and the release of new energy. We cannot predict the future with certainty, but we can assess trends, measure risks, spot opportunities and develop our individual and collective capacity to cope and create.
The term that best describes this combination of flexibility and continuity is resilience. A resilient system is one that remains healthy and successful while responding to shocks or disturbances. In other words, without losing its essential qualities, it adapts. This goes beyond simply coping, or ‘bouncing back’ to a prior state; it involves learning and the integration of new and old in a fresh synthesis.
Like other societies, Canada faces multiple challenges: growing economic competition and a shift away from reliance on natural resources and manufacturing, an aging and increasingly diverse population, disparities in wealth and opportunity in different regions of the country, significant numbers of citizens marginalized by poverty, disability, lack of skills and other factors, and the threat of climate change. These strain our institutions and create anxieties about our future wellbeing.
For the Foundation, increasing resilience is a matter of investing in the capacity to handle challenges at multiple levels. Our concept of resilience links social and ecological systems, people and nature, and can be addressed locally at the level of the individual, family or community, and nationally or even globally.
Individual resilience can be enhanced by acquiring skills, confidence, leadership abilities, and access to knowledge and social networks. Communities can be strengthened by developing their social capital, by supporting a dynamic civil society and by encouraging a culture of active citizenship.
Among the diverse programs funded by the Foundation to achieve these goals are the following:
- The training of citizen-volunteers by the Quebec Red Cross, support for informal home-based caregivers and for people with disabilities, and a special emphasis on the use of new communication technologies.
- Institutional strengthening of United Ways and community foundations, as well as the development of community leadership programs, have created an important resource to meet local needs.
- Encouraging environmental stewardship and influencing consumer behaviour have been the goals of grants to organizations as varied as Natural Step Canada, the Toxic Free Canada Society and the Sierra Youth Coalition.
- Finally, an array of grants to youth-led organizations, including some that are campus-based and others at the secondary school level, have focused on encouraging active involvement by young people in the issues that matter to them.