The Power of Youth: The spirit that
makes a difference!
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
March Honour Society Reception
March 6, 2002
Thank you for the introduction Peter...and
invitation to participate in this special reception tonight.
Buenas noches, bon soir, wahn an, kon ban ha, guten abend,
good evening everyone.
Whenever I speak to an audience that includes
young students (or as Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. says
"Generation I" - the first generation raised on the Internet),
I'm tempted to go with a topic that will help you understand
banking/bankers a little bit more - a topic that will leave
you on the edge of your seats! So I started out with technology
notes, sprinkled some bank history into the mix (RBC is
133 years old you know) and then added the most exciting
part - the bank's economic perspective. In any event, the
finished product begins with a short story that has absolutely
nothing to do with bankers or banking...I can actually see
many relieved faces in the room!
An impressive senior high school student in the U.S., Andrew
Wright, decided to visit three universities in neighbouring
states to help him make the right choice about his education
- his future. The first stop was the University of Michigan
in Ann Arbor. After Andrew talked about his academic
achievements/career aspirations, the head of recruitment
picked up a golden telephone and a couple of minutes later
said, "Thank you, God" and hung up. Andrew was informed
he would be a good candidate for Michigan. After
inquiring about the golden phone, he was told that the phone
is a direct line to God...that God advises the university
which students are good, very good and excellent candidates.
Andrew then asked if he might use the phone to contact God,
as he had a few questions of his own. "Of course you can",
replied the recruiter, "but it will cost you $300.00. Calling
Heaven isn't cheap." Andrew was disappointed, as he didn't
His next stop was Indiana University in Bloomington.
After the initial conversation about academic credentials/career
aspirations and work experience, the head recruiter
picked up a golden telephone and after five minutes said
"Thank you, God", then hung up. This time Andrew was told
he would be a very good candidate. Andrew mentioned
he had seen the golden phone before and asked if he might
use the phone to contact God. "Sure you can", replied the
recruiter, "but it will cost you $250.00. Calling Heaven
isn't cheap." Not having the money, Andrew left to visit
the Ohio State University.
Upon arriving at the recruiter's office in Columbus,
Andrew noticed the golden phone again. After chatting about
academic credentials/career aspirations, work experience
and all sorts of things, the recruiter asked him questions
about community volunteer activities...and then she
picked up the phone to talk with God. After ten minutes,
the Ohio recruiter said "Thank you God", and before she
could say another word, Andrew asked her what it would cost
to call Heaven from Columbus, mentioning that Michigan and
Indiana wanted up to $300.00. She smiled and said, "Nothing
at all. For one thing, it's a local call from here. And
for another, when God heard about your volunteer work in
the community, he wanted to chat with the excellent candidate
who has the right stuff and thank you for making
a difference - so I didn't hang up...God's on hold for you
This story isn't about whether each and every one of you
decides to attend university this fall or in the years to
come, it's not about what a university, college or employer
has to offer and it has less to do with what's written about
you on paper. It's about leadership, it's about initiative,
it's about attitude, it's about confidence, it's about speaking
up, it's about listening, it's about relationship-building,
it's about connecting and it's about giving...and the "it"
is your future.
I came across the story on the Internet last
month...and although it's a variation to the original text
of the author, Jean Cavanaugh, of Columbus, Ohio - the story
reminded me of the Pickering philosophy, it reminded me
of RBC Financial Group's community leadership activities/recruitment
practices and most importantly, it reminded me of the
power of youth and the spirit that makes a difference.
So while we're together for the next few minutes, I'd like
to chat with you about community spirit - the spirit
in you that makes a difference - and the power of volunteers
- the power of youth.
Incredible volunteers in communities across
the country continue to contribute both time and talent
day after day, week after week. It's simply amazing! Ever
since I led the RBC team in Manitoba thirteen years ago,
the number of volunteers that I've crossed paths with has
grown exponentially. And I can say with great pride that
I especially enjoy working with young volunteers - like
the impressive students who have been honoured here tonight.
Their spirit is contagious and their energy is boundless.
In my current government and community affairs
role, I interact with various politicians, business leaders,
lobby groups, ethnic communities, entrepreneurs, aboriginal
peoples and volunteer associations. I often see many of
the very same people at fund-raising events/dinners, in
boardrooms other than their own, or at school functions
such as this one; I frequently see familiar names on letterhead,
when reading "we need your support" letters from Chairs
of various community, volunteer-driven campaigns. And I
often receive phone messages from colleagues that have less
to do with business and more to do with their connection
to a volunteer organization. As I look around this room,
there's no doubt I'm in the midst of many parent and young
volunteers...somehow we find the time!
So it's no surprise that volunteering is on
the rise in Canada, according to the most recent National
Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. "In 1977,
5.3 million Canadians donated their time and energy to make
an immeasurable contribution to their communities. The increase
in that number to 7.5 million in 1997, almost one-third
of the country's population, shows that the passion to make
a difference is growing. Today, individuals who are between
15 to 24 years of age have joined the volunteer forces in
record numbers. This group (which includes many of you)
and whose number of volunteers has almost doubled, believes
that by participating and helping others, they can acquire
valuable interpersonal and job-related skills that will
open the door to increased job opportunities".
Royal Bank's Letter In Praise of Volunteers,
suggests that "the idea of giving something back to the
community of your own free will seems to have undergone
a revival among the people who were least expected to be
interested in voluntary service. Community affairs offices
in Canadian high schools have been mobilizing students to
help the disabled, entertain children, drive people to and
from hospitals, tutor slow learners, baby-sit for working
mothers and the like, which only adds to the continuing
good work being done by organizations like 4-H, the Boy
Scouts and the Girl Guides. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 1979 for her work
among the poor in India, put the idea of service into perspective
when she said: We feel ourselves that what we are doing
is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in
the ocean, I think the oceans would be less because of that
There's another Royal Bank Letter, The Importance
of Teaching, which emphasizes the critical role a teacher
plays in the molding of a young student's thinking and future,
very similar to parents. Positive circles of influence in
a young person's life, including mentors and close friends,
cannot be underestimated in value. In many cases, the
spirit that makes a difference manifests itself in the
early years. I have copies of both Letters with me, if anyone
is interested in reading more...
The tremendous value of volunteer service involving
youth has not been lost in Ontario or at Pickering College.
As you know, all Ontario high school students must contribute
40 hours of community service to earn a diploma. And Pickering
College holds Service to Others as one of the highest
codes of the school. Your Community Service Program teaches
you that support is needed and helps you realize that there
is a responsibility to helping others.
"It also teaches students the value of their work in the
community and provides them (all of you) with invaluable
opportunities to learn about the needs of other people".
The benchmarks are even higher at Pickering, a school that
has led the way with a Community Service Program since the
The benchmarks are also high at RBC Financial
Group. Community leadership is hugely important to RBC,
our customers, employees and stakeholders, not to mention
the communities in which we operate...and to me. Behaving
in a socially responsible manner is not just something we
want to do...it's something we know we must do. RBC believes
that by contributing our funds, our networks, our leadership
and most importantly, by encouraging and celebrating the
involvement of our people, we can make a difference. The
power of community leadership is all about building relationships
and making connections - reaching out and touching people
in a way that makes a difference.
Although there are many examples that illustrate
the importance of building community relationships, I'll
let our Community Report 2001 speak for itself. Instead,
I'll focus on an area of interest that means a great deal
to me - aboriginal peoples. After moving to Winnipeg in
1989, I was greatly disturbed by what I saw/heard in the
core of the city and in remote aboriginal communities. I
made up my mind to speak up and speak out on the issues
impacting aboriginal peoples and keeping them from taking
their rightful place in Canadian society. I've continued
to do so since returning to Toronto.
For instance, at the Curve Lake First Nation
just north of Peterborough, there's no local high school
so aboriginal students attend school in Lakefield. When
local community leaders witnessed a significant dropout
rate, they started an alternate, experiential high school
program to ensure these young people would at least earn
a high school diploma. Every few months the students came
to Toronto and visit various places, including RBC and more
recently, my office. One young man said he needed a smoke
and wanted to go up to the roof on the 40th floor of the
bank building. I said he couldn't smoke here and I couldn't
get on the roof. He still wanted to go upstairs so I said
okay. The 40th floor of the Royal Bank Plaza in Toronto
is our boardroom area...I took them up. There's a large
table, about four times the size of my office, and they
sat around and we had a great chat. But what struck me most
was one 18-year-old, who had dropped out of school in grade
10, and who said with tears in her eyes, "Mr. Coffey, one
day I'm going to sit at this table and tell you what to
I've told this story to a number of people who
ask me how they can get more involved in helping aboriginal
youth. It doesn't take too much, but we need more role models
and young people to lead the way - to make connections -
to take action - to show you care. There's a cost to doing
nothing and there's also a cost to not doing enough. The
power of youth... it's the spirit that makes a difference.
Speaking of making connections, here's some
information that will help get you further linked:
- The Aboriginal Youth Network (AYN) is a website designed
by and for aboriginal youth to create a unique online community
from coast to coast. The AYN is a place "to connect, make
friends, access information and exchange ideas about cultures
and traditions". If anyone wants to connect with aboriginal
youth in the Toronto area or around the country, I'm sure
your teachers and parents will help you make the connection...and
so will I. Please let me know if you need any support.
- Youth Assisting Youth (YAY) is a non-profit organization
that provides a preventative community service through building
"special friendships" between at risk younger children and
youth volunteers. "YAY's volunteers act as positive role
models in the lives of young people by offering guidance,
advice and support. For a child who is experiencing behavioral,
social, emotional and/or cultural difficulties, having a
friend to rely on/confide in makes all the difference in
- Historica.. If you haven't already done so, find out
more about Canada and high school students around the
world at this site, especially through YouthLinks. You
can only imagine how one link connects you to another,
with a focus on volunteers and volunteer service.
By the way, I have a handout for each student
here that lists the web sites for Aboriginal Youth Network,
Youth Assisting Youth and Historica, plus more on volunteers/volunteerism
for quick and easy reference. And speaking of web sites,
DiscoverTeenergy.com put together some thoughts about making
people's lives better. I chose the Top 10 ways to "Be
Successful in Life" to share with you tonight (I've
taken some creative license re a couple of entries on the
#10. Learn something about everything and everything
about something. Inspiration will come to you.
#9. Don't stop too soon if an idea seems to
be failing. Push further and it may become successful.
#8. Want your dream to come true with a passion.
Get involved. Make choices.
#7. See the end results clearly and stay focused
on them. Don't get lost in details along the way.
#6. Use your imagination. Dare to think and
dream the impossible. Who says it can't be done?
#5. Be organized and plan things out. Value
#4. Record your ideas - write them down or input
them on your computer. Don't trust your memory.
#3. Be honest. People will appreciate you and
help you more if you tell the truth.
#2. Build positive relationships with ALL the
people you meet. Build bridges not walls.
#1. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer...the rewards
are limitless. It will make a difference in your life!
Special congratulations to the Headmaster's
Honour Roll - it's a privilege to be among diverse students
who strive for excellence and understand that continuous
effort produces results. Sounds like a profile of a volunteer
to me. And at the risk of slightly embarrassing my daughter
Catherine...once again, I'm also a proud dad this evening.
I learn a great deal from Catherine and many other young
people about the value of community leadership...and this
learning only makes me want to do more!
We all live in this not-to-be-ignored "wired,
networked, window-to-the-world, global village"...it's a
new millennium culture that surrounds us - that takes much
of our time and energy. However, this not-to-be-ignored
complex (and very uncertain) world needs a volunteer nudge
from the power of youth on a regular basis...after all,
it's your spirit that makes a difference. Perhaps
the new Lieutenant-Governor and first aboriginal LG in the
province of Ontario, James Bartleman (who will be installed
into office tomorrow) will get "the nudge" early on ...I'm
sure he'll continue our focus on young people/volunteer
service. To all of you, good luck and good volunteering
in your communities!
In closing, I'll quote Charity
Smith (couldn't have asked for a better first name in terms
of my remarks) from her Valedictory Address last year at
Pickering...it was Oliver Wendell Homes who said, "The greatest
thing in the world is not so much where we stand as the
direction we are moving." The power of youth talking
about the future! Charity gets it and I think Andrew Wright
from my original story gets it too...after all, how many
people can actually put God on hold!