Supporting Early Years Development: A strategic business
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
"Community Champions for Kids" Breakfast
The Cutten Club
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Thank you David...and good morning!
I was especially pleased to receive an invitation from the
Early Years Steering Committee in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph
region to participate in this breakfast - and equally pleased
to visit "The Royal City" once again. Given a career
with one bank, you won't be surprised with my affinity to
Guelph's place name. Since the city is a vibrant, entrepreneurial,
technology-driven community, strongly committed to the future,
not to mention celebrating its 175th anniversary this year,
it's a special treat to join you today and to share some business
perspectives on a topic that is close to my heart - supporting
early years development.
As I look around the room, you're a near perfect audience
for a discussion about the strategic investment in early childhood
development. That's because I'm speaking to a group of leaders
who will push the envelope on this investment - who will spread
the word in the community - who will continue to lead the
call to action. From David Huson and Ashley Knight-Kron, to
Kim Warner of the County of Wellington, Dave Worthen of Connect
Tech, Mike Annable of Linamar, Debbie Bowie of The Co-operators,
Ken Hamill of the Guelph Community Foundation and Barbara
McKee of the Wellington Early Learning Centre, plus members
of the Early Years Steering Committee and the Children's Foundation
(I wish there was time to name everyone here), you're a high
profile group that can make a difference and in many cases,
is already doing just that. And special thanks to your Community
Coordinator, Alayne Langerak, who helped me learn more about
the early stages of this Project.
So yes, the near perfect audience... Now the question becomes,
how do we all become more engaged? How can we convince the
business world to become truly engaged? How can the public,
private and voluntary sectors work together more effectively?
Thinking about the scope of the early years agenda brings
to mind a story about Angelo Patri, an expert on child behaviour.
One day, he looked out of his window and saw three children
walking on a wet cement sidewalk. He became angry, and was
going to chase them off, when his wife said: "But Angelo,
you love children." "Yes," he replied, "I love them in the
abstract, but not in the concrete".
That's like the challenge we face when discussing the early
years. In the abstract, who can argue against the need to
give our children a great start - intellectually, emotionally
and socially? Ensuring that kids - our own kids - receive
positive early influences simply makes good sense. But we
need more than words - we need concrete action.
Let me start by telling you about my personal involvement
in supporting early years, also referred to as, 0-6, development.
A few years ago, I served on the Ontario Government's Early
Years Study. We looked at ways to prepare children for scholastic,
career and social success - from all socio-economic groups,
not just at-risk youth or those with special needs. The study
co-chairs were the Honourable Margaret McCain and Dr. Fraser
After the McCain-Mustard study, Dr. Mustard and I assembled
a group to look further at how the private sector can become
involved in the early years challenge. This included groups
like the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the
Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Auto Workers, and
several other businesses.
This was a tremendous consciousness-raising session. People
willingly volunteered to look at tough issues - the possible
need for tax reform, incentives to build child care facilities...the
need to develop broader-based community networks...and how
the provincial government's Early Years Challenge Fund can
be structured to encourage matching non-government support.
I continue to champion the early years, through Ontario's
Promise: The Partnership for Children and Youth...rather than
steal Karen Chan's thunder, who's up next, I won't say another
word about this initiative at the moment. Recently, my involvement
has been through the Early Learning and Child Care Commission
for the City of Toronto. The Honourable Margaret McCain and
I were appointed co-chairs of this new Commission last October.
I must tell you that we're energized about raising the profile
of Toronto and other cities as centres of human and economic
development, proud to be supporting the need for increased
funding to early learning/care services and determined to
help advance national/provincial policy and action on the
early years/children's agenda. We've met and consulted with
over 100 federal, provincial and municipal officials, business
and community organizations as well as addressed the federal
government's National Children's Agenda Caucus Committee and
a Sub-Committee on Children and Youth at Risk. Our report,
to be published in March, will contain recommendations for
all three levels of government and the community. It will
hopefully be beneficial to communities at large as well. That's
We've all heard much about the "brain drain" - about how
corporate Canada is concerned with the exodus of many talented
professionals. In my mind, it's time for all of us, especially
the private sector to think about another kind of brain drain.
The report of the Ontario Government's Early Years Study,
released in 1999, was called "Reversing the Real Brain Drain".
What did we mean? It's clear that society bears a great cost
if it fails to provide our young people with the learning
and development needed to succeed - not just at work, in life.
We all know that learning is shaped by early childhood experiences.
Because of the great work in studying and publicizing the
links between early childhood education and subsequent success,
the business community is much better informed about the early
years challenge, or should I say early years opportunity,
than ever before.
Clearly, a lack of investment in the early years can contribute
to behavioural and learning problems. Dysfunctional relationships.
Academic failure. And all of the associated problems... juvenile
delinquency and criminal behaviour...teen pregnancy...substance
abuse...chronic unemployment...poverty...health risks.
All of these can be related to conditions set in the early
years of life.
All are costs that we share as a society. Research from the
Child Care Education Foundation, says that today, it costs
Canada $2.5 billion every year for remedial education because
of delayed interventions or negative early experiences. Work-family
conflicts cost businesses another $4.7 billion a year.
That's the kind of language that business understands. It
says that we all bear a burden for failing to provide the
"right start" to our children. We bear it not only as parents
but also as taxpayers and as businesspeople.
Quite frankly, I don't hear enough of my corporate colleagues
talking about their support of early childhood development.
Perhaps more would, if we framed this discussion in a language
that the business community can relate to.
As Dr. Mustard says, if you want an idea of what your economy
will look like in say 20 or 30 years...if you want an economy
that's vibrant, citizens who are productive and not a drain
on taxes - think about the investment you're making in very
young people today. And if you want to know about return on
investment, consider this. Research also shows that for every
dollar spent on quality early education services, two dollars
comes back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social,
education and health costs.
So what are some of the tangible steps business can take?
First, it starts with having a point of view on early years
At RBC Financial Group, the underlying goal of all our corporate
citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada and her people.
To achieve this, we simply must support education and learning.
We must support our young people - our future. There really
is no option. We believe wholeheartedly that ongoing prosperity
depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination,
ingenuity and innovation.
That's the payoff. When we invest in our young people - in
the early years - we're really investing in keeping our economy
strong and competitive. By investing in our children, we're
investing in a strong and healthy Canada. Investing in youth
simply makes sense.
Any business can encourage efforts to expand the body of
knowledge in childhood development. The more we know about
the impact of the first days, the first months, the first
years on human development, the better we are as a society
to encourage efforts to ensure healthy starts.
RBC wholeheartedly supports groups like the Canadian Institute
for Advanced Research. Over the past 13 years, a large part
of our funding to the CIAR, some $2.5 million, has been aimed
at research into early childhood development - that's how
important we think research is.
Corporations can also support policy development. For example,
we fund the Canadian Institute of Child Health. It's done
key work in encouraging government to create the right policies
for childhood development, and creating material to help parents
give their kids the best start.
And we must support partnerships that work towards these
ends. I can't say enough about the value of partnerships between
business, community groups and government. I firmly believe
that when it comes to making a difference for our youth, we
all have a shared responsibility, and corporations can play
an important role.
Partnerships - it's amazing what can happen when the private,
public and voluntary sectors put their heads together...when
a business can be a catalyst for change. What a great way
to build a civic and civil society, plus promote social development.
We must do the same with the early years challenge. We can't
say that investing in children is the domain of the public
sector. For one, governments don't have the resources to do
That's not to say that governments aren't committed. In the
fall of 2000, the federal government announced new investments
of $2.2 billion over five years for early childhood development,
as part of the National Children's Agenda. And this provincial
government is also committed. A few months ago, the third
phase of the Harris government's Early Years Plan was announced
for 2002 - the locations of the first 41 Ontario Early Years
Centres in 15 communities across Ontario, with an additional
62 Centres to open in 2003.
However, that's why partnerships involving the private sector
are so essential. Corporations are part of the community.
And the best solutions are community-based. When it comes
to the early years, let's open our minds and talk about all
sorts of possibilities.
Let's talk about how companies can create early child development
and parenting centres for their employees and receive a tax
credit for opening them up to the community. Let's talk about
ways to ensure that all families have access to child development
and parenting programs.
Let's talk about child-care centres that are supported by
employers. These can be either on-site or near site, in a
local school or community centre. Not only do the best centres
offer kids great support, their convenience alleviates the
stress of the company's employees. A number of major Canadian
organizations, from CN to Ontario Hydro, offer this option.
Let's talk about broadening family-friendly arrangements
in the workplace. Here's our approach at RBC Royal Bank. A
family friendly program doesn't just mean maternity or parental
leave - which, in our case, has always exceeded the minimum
- but a host of other policies. Job-sharing, flex hours, and
paid leave for family responsibilities are all ways that we
help our people meet their personal needs, including the nurturing
of young babies. We have more staff in job sharing arrangements
than any employer in Canada (about 1,000 people). Many are
mothers with young children. We know that helping employees
deal with the challenges of the early years, through family
friendly programs, is a sound business strategy. We also take
pride in knowing that our programs help attract and retain
employees across the country.
Let's talk about how the private sector can serve as a resource
for questions/concerns on family issues. For example, at RBC,
our staff can access professional consultants who provide
information and referrals regarding various work/life issues.
This includes support with: child development, effective parenting
skills, childcare arrangements, school selection, and special
services for children. This information is available over
the phone, online, or face-to-face.
Let's talk about private sector advocacy for financing of
early child development initiatives. We need to make the link
between the financial well-being of corporations, shareholder
value, and the need to invest in the early years.
Let's talk about corporate and government support for social
entrepreneurs. Like other entrepreneurs, they act as intermediaries
between capital and labour - in this case to create social
institutions and instruments to build our child development
And there are several ways to track or measure genuine progress
- one is the degree to which we devote resources and time
to our children's social, emotional and intellectual development.
Now let's take a quick look at what's happening in this Region.
Although the Early Years Steering Committee was just announced
in September 2001, the momentum is impressive. Whether it's
fund-raising/marketing plans, community information forums
and parent surveys throughout the Region, or development work
with the Early Years Challenge Fund and partnerships with
the Centre for Research and Education in Human Resources as
well as the Upper Grand District School Board, it's clear
that your Early Years strategy, Community Inventory and implementation
of the Early Development Instrument (starting this afternoon
I believe) is nothing less than leadership in action. I also
understand that further partnerships with other networks and
Projects, will result in a solid base of Early Years data
(available on an interactive web-based mapping system), for
future community programs and evaluation.
And there's no doubt that partnering with the YMCA-YWCA of
Guelph, Family and Children's Services of Guelph and Wellington
County, the Action Read Community Literacy Centre, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph
Health Unit, the United Way of Guelph/Wellington and many
other agencies/associations, is another leadership in action
model of mobilizing resources to support the health and well-being
of our children.
Speaking of partnerships and working together, one can't
help but be impressed with the teaming up of the Early Years
Steering Committee and the Children's Foundation of Guelph
and Wellington. It's gratifying to see that by hosting events
such as this Breakfast, you're generating increased interest
in the Project and helping to promote the need for ongoing
commitments of dollars to the community contribution requirement
of the Challenge Fund.
In closing, early childhood development shouldn't be a controversial
notion. Given the economic benefits down the road, it's very
much a strategic initiative. It's in the national interest
to do more. It's in the business interest too. At RBC Financial
Group, we'll continue to make youth one of our priorities
and give even greater focus to the early years.
I urge my colleagues in business to look for ways to partner
with the public and voluntary sectors and to speak out on
the importance of early childhood development. I also urge
Dan Cremasco of BDO Dunwoody, Doug MacMillan of Barrow Communications,
Suzanne McKloskey of Adecco, Marilyn Benson of the Credit
Union and Paul Aquilina of Petrona Associates to help the
private sector see the light. Make yourselves visible at events
that include the business community, to do your networking
and lobbying. Remind people in the private sector of the strategic
importance of this issue - not once, but over and over again.
The more we all invest in our children - not in the abstract,
but in the concrete - the better off we are as a society.
It's a marvelous feeling to be among dedicated champions of
early years initiatives this morning - people like Ron Asselstine
of Guelph's Wish Fund for Children and Dr. Nancy MacDonald
of the McNeil Consumer Health Centre - and everyone in this
room. So let's act. Let's make sure that all of us - whether
part of the government or community groups, social agencies,
or the corporate community - put the children's agenda on