Committing to responsible investing

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is announcing today that it is committing to implementing responsible investing practices across 100% of its endowment. These practices include a range of approaches—for example, targeted negative screens that remove specific industries from the portfolio; positive screens, through which portfolios are constructed with best-in-class companies; and shareholder engagement and activism on priority issues. The full responsible investment strategy will be developed over the coming months.

In recent years, there has been considerable discussion and activity on the broader topic of responsible investing, based on the belief that environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors affect shareholder value across industries and over time. Read the rest of this entry »

Granting and impact investment priorities for 2017


The following is for the benefit of any organization approaching the Foundation for support or collaboration in 2017. For more information about granting, please visit our Granting web pages.

In 2017, the Foundation will focus new granting on the following:

  • Cities for People (increasing equality of opportunity; strengthening the civic commons; supporting urban innovation labs and networks)
  • Indigenous-focused philanthropy (reconciliation as social and economic innovation)
  • WellAhead (school-based child and youth wellbeing)
  • RECODE (supporting social innovation in post-secondary education)
  • Energy and the Economy (shifting the economy to a sustainable state through changes to energy production, distribution and use)
  • Public Sector Social Innovation (catalyzing social innovation in government through partnerships with civil society organizations. McConnell funding can support convening, policy briefs and similar activities with grants of up to $25K).

The foundation’s Sustainable Food granting initiative is now focused on the Nourish initiative —  which seeks to improve the future of food in health care — and on food security in Northern Indigenous communities, and is not considering new unsolicited proposals.


 Two additional funds remain open to general application:


There are several other priorities that we will continue to support in partnership with other foundations, investors, and governments:

  • Integration of our impact investing and granting goals, including by developing program-related investments (PRI’s)
  • Amplifier Montréal — a multi-sector initiative to transform Montreal into a more inclusive and innovative city
  • National and global social innovation networks and exchanges.

Finally, at the end of the year, the Foundation will conclude its current funding relationship with Social Innovation Generation (SiG), while taking steps to ensure that the knowledge and networks SiG has developed are sustained.

Spotlight on new funding

The Trustees of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation approved funding for two organizations:


School Mental Health ASSIST ($300,000)

A grant to School Mental Health ASSIST will be used to share lessons from its evidence-based implementation science model across Canada and to build teach capacity in Ontario schools to promote mental health in their everyday practices.


Northern Manitoba Food, Culture & Community Collaborative ($500,000)

The Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Collaborative (NMFCCC) will use the funds to further develop projects and share approaches, including social enterprise, that focus on improving food security and building resilient local food economies in Northern Manitoba.

Walrus Talks Social Innovation: An open letter to the Prime Minister



(You can watch the video of this speech at the bottom of this article.)

Visuals: Adjacent Possibilities (featuring work by Carla Lipkin, Jennifer Phelan, Lenka Clayton and Kathryn Pinker)

Dear Prime Minister,

I’m writing to you from Walrus Talks Social Innovation in Toronto (also known as the traditional lands of the Haudenasaunee and Mississauga North Credit) in the era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is social innovation, and innovation is an Indigenous value. As Senator Murray Sinclair said at the 2015 Indigenous Innovation Summit: “Innovation is not just about new things. It’s also about bringing the past into the present to address our current situation”.


September 25th, 2015 was a hope-filled day, when you joined 150 world leaders in New York for the proclamation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the global action plan to reach a sustainable and equitable future by 2030.

Today the world is a very different place. Just when we most need concerted action on issues like climate disruption and international migration – populism, cynicism and insularity have trumped the political agendas of our closest allies. In the face of such formidable challenges, Canada has something new to contribute: our growing capacity for social Innovation.

Read the rest of this entry »

ENRICHES: Caring for the caregivers

By Alex Gillis

On a recent visit to the long-term care hospital, Filippo noticed that his brother hadn’t eaten all day. “He was with a group of people, drinking coffee and talking too much,” laughs Filippo. He’s in his seventies and regularly cares for his sibling, who’s recovering from a stroke. “I helped him to eat some fruit, and I collected his clothes to wash.”

As a primary caregiver, Filippo spends two or three days per week providing support to his brother, but he needs support himself, as do tens of thousands of senior caregivers in Toronto. A new collaborative called ENRICHES — supported by the Foundation initiative, Innoweave — is attempting to fill this gap.


Filippo, a senior caregiver, and Helen, who provides him with mentorship and advice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Letter in response to “Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda”

In early October, in collaboration with post secondary institutions, thought leaders, and partners, the following letter was sent to the Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism; and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. We invite you to read on and join the conversation.

Dear Ministers Bains, Chagger and Duncan,

We are writing in response to your call to action for Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda and specifically your question:”How do we work together to better equip our young people with the right skill sets for the economy of the future?”

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is a private foundation that works in Canada on systemic social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges. Through granting and investing, convening, and co-creation with grantees, partners and the public, including the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, as well as the undersigned colleges, universities, national charities, and the Royal Bank of Canada we support social innovation and social finance initiatives aligned with our mission.

Students graduating from our post-secondary institutions will inherit some of the most complex challenges our society has ever faced. They need academic and hands-on skills, collaborative capacity, critical knowledge, global perspective, and a drive to serve the common good.

We wholeheartedly agree that “The goal of education should be to make every Canadian ‘innovation ready’—ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, learn and grow.” Additionally, it is also our experience that, as you say, “support needs to be provided to entrepreneurs who aspire to turn their ideas into successful businesses that improve people’s lives and make the world a better place”.

Read the rest of this entry »

WellAhead update: Shifting Strategy and Ontario Expansion

By Vani Jain

For the past 18 months, WellAhead has been focused on improving child and youth mental health in British Columbia by helping integrate wellbeing into school communities. Using a social lab approach, we’ve been working emergently and experimenting with different approaches towards our vision of social and emotional wellbeing as a key role for all K-12 schools. In Year 1, we worked with six pilot districts to see if a set of core values, a participatory change process and a focus on everyday practices could deepen schools’ commitment to wellbeing.

Latest Theory of Change

After taking stock of our first year in BC, we’ve made some significant shifts in our strategy towards the integration of wellbeing in Canadian schools. Moving into year two, we have incorporated the following learnings into our strategy:

  • Working directly with schools and districts may not be the best role for us. There are many others that have more expertise in this domain. As a philanthropic foundation, we can add more value by supporting the work of existing organizations and networks – bringing our resources, skill set and national reach to enhance impact.
  • Integration of wellbeing into school communities requires action and change at multiple levels: practice, policy, structure, priorities, resource flows and more. We will pay more attention to the role we can play in the larger ecosystem to connect, amplify and inform work at the provincial level.
  • There is much to be learned from the experience of others. We will focus our learning and evaluation efforts on understanding not just whether an approach is effective, but how and why – harvesting the process learnings, success factors and systemic context to produce and share transferable knowledge from one jurisdiction to another.

Read the rest of this entry »

Amplifier Gamelin: ethnographers listening to Montrealers

By Anne-Hélène Dupont


“I want to understand the world from your point of view. I want to know what you know in the way you know it.”

These words from the late James P. Spradley, a leading American anthropologist, could be used to describe the motivations behind an ethnographic project that took place earlier this year in a park at the centre of Montreal.

Nestled between the Grande Bibliothèque, Montreal Central Station, Metro Berri‑UQAM, and a few office towers, Place Émilie-Gamelin is a square of greenery at the very heart of the metropolis. According to Karoline Truchon, Scientific Director of Amplifier Montréal, “It is a microcosm of Montreal.”

Last August and September, a team of ethnographers met with some of the people who regularly gravitate to the park to hear their stories about the area, as well as the vision they have of the city.

The project, called Amplifier Gamelin, is one of the many initiatives of Amplifier Montréal, which has amongst its goals to hear what Montrealers think of their city and what they would like to see developed. The testimonies heard will help philanthropists united behind Amplifier Montréal direct their financial support towards initiatives that meet the wishes and needs of the citizens.

“I’ve been in big cities where it’s really stressful. There is a lot of movement and also a lot of tension between people. Especially in Europe. I just arrived from Belgium and France. With everything that happened over there during the past year, you can feel the social tension between people. Then, when I got back, it was really something, this high level of stress just disappearing. In Montreal, faced with all sorts of people, I feel more serene walking around than in other comparable big cities.”  — Interview with Isabel, August 25, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

Spotlight on new funding

Funding has been approved for:

Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) ($340,000)
The grant will assist Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) Canada in expanding its program of providing farmers and ranchers with technical support and payments for ‘ecosystem services’ – conservation practices that protect wetlands and rivers while conserving biodiversity and sequestering carbon.

Canadian Association of Residential Options for Criminalized Women (CAROW) ($153,000)
CAROW will implement an innovative and proven approach to redirecting low-risk female offenders in Ontario from the remand system to a suite of community-based supports. The grant will enable CAROW to gather additional evidence needed to reform current remand policy and practices nationally.

Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning ($490,000)
This grant will be used to help Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning become an accredited university.

Discourse Media ($200,000)
These funds will help Discourse Media expand coverage of Indigenous reconciliation, cities and clean energy; employ interns, and help to shape solutions journalism curriculum in universities.

InWithForward ($450,000)
To support InWithForward’s work with leading charities in several sectors, including Community Living BC and West Neighbourhood House, to advance service innovation and social systems design in Canada.

MaRS Discovery District (up to $1,000,000)
MaRS will work with partners to develop a national platform for skilled volunteering in Canada, linking professionals with work with social change organizations to create social impact.

TakingITGlobal ($76,000)
TakingITGlobal is working with Cisco Canada’s Connected North program and the Child Development Centre on a trial introduction of the SNAP (Stop Now and Plan) to a school in the Yukon.

12 Lessons Learned: A visual reflection on a year of learning about philanthropy and social innovation


As a learning organization, we strive to innovate and experiment with new approaches in order to generate insights about social innovation. Earlier this summer we took stock of what we’d discovered over the course of the previous 12 months. The result? 12 Lessons Learned.


12 Lessons Learned is a compilation of some our most important recent insights that have been distilled by an artist into graphic form. We hope that by sharing them online we can contribute to conversations and reflections about how change happens.

View the 12 Lessons



What did you learn about social change this past year? Share your #12Lessons with us on Facebook and Twitter or send us an email.