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Supporting Early Years Development:
A strategic business investment


Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce Luncheon
Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel
Sudbury, Ontario
Friday, April 12, 2002

Thank you for the introduction…

I'm delighted to join you at this luncheon hosted by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. Since the city is sometimes referred to as the "wild, wild north", I'm not quite sure what to expect from this audience, as it's been a few years since my last visit here. I do know that Sudbury's vision is one of a "growing, world-class community", strongly committed to the future, and I also know that for the past thirteen years, Cheryl Cecchetto, of Sequoia Productions in California (and the "Cecil B. DeMille of event planning") has boasted about her pride in hometown Sudbury every time a guest (often a celebrity), asks about her background during the Governors Ball for the OSCARS in Hollywood, and even when they don't ask! I hope you caught the story in the March 18th edition of the National Post!

Needless to say, I'm delighted to share some business perspectives on a topic that's close to my heart - supporting early years development - a commitment to the future of our children. As I look around the room, you're a near perfect audience in terms of talking about strategic investments - the strategic investment of early childhood development. That's because I'm speaking to a group of leaders who are already pushing the envelope on this investment - who are already spreading the word in the community - who are already leading the call to action. Starting with…

  • Mayor Jim Gordon, whose effective leadership in "refocusing and reinventing" the City of Greater Sudbury as a community, is evident in everything he does. Moving on to…
  • Councillor Louise Portelance, who with co-chair, Janet Gasparini of the Children First Roundtable and Victor Skot, are examples of what I often call leadership in action; also,
  • Debbi Nicholson, who as President and CEO of the Chamber has set a new tone for the future, especially for women in business; not to mention an…
  • impressive group of business, government and community friends, clients and colleagues.

So yes, the near perfect audience…as this event has successfully brought together the public, private and voluntary sectors. Now the question becomes, how do we all become more engaged? What's the connection between the Early Years and the business community? How can all three 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 - good business 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, (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, former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick and Dr. Fraser Mustard, medical scientist and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

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 organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Auto Workers, and several other businesspeople. It was a tremendous consciousness-raising session. People willingly volunteered to look at tough issues - the possible need for tax reform, incentives to build childcare 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…and more recently via the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto. The Honourable Margaret McCain and I were appointed co-chairs of this Commission last October. We're proud to be supporting the need for increased funding to early learning/care services as we help advance national/provincial policy and action on the early years/children's agenda. I spoke to City Council about the Commission last night…our Report will be released shortly.

We've heard much about the "brain drain" - about how corporate Canada is concerned with the exodus of many talented professionals. It's time for all of us, especially the private sector, to think about another kind of brain drain. The 1999 report of the Ontario Government's Early Years Study 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 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 and 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 the associated problems…juvenile delinquency, 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.

This is 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 discussions in a language that the business community can relate to. If you're interested in return on investment, consider this. Research 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 development. 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 our prosperity will depend on our well-developed minds - our 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 craft efforts to ensure healthy starts.

RBC wholeheartedly supports groups like the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Over the past 14 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.

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, including small and medium-sized businesses 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. Everybody wins!

Sudbury has led the way on more than one occasion when it comes to partnerships…EARTHCARE Sudbury is a classic example of the City, community agencies, organizations and businesses coming together to chart a course for a "greener", sustainable community in the future - for our children's future. RBC Royal Bank is proud to be among valued partners and clients, including the City of Greater Sudbury, in supporting this important initiative.

It's clear that the City of Sudbury "gets it" when it comes to the value of partnerships and putting children first. As Dr. David Robinson from Laurentian University said in his December 12, 2001 article…"Finance Minister Paul Martin might have had Sudbury in mind when he selected the motto for his Budget, "Our economic success, our ability to create jobs, will be determined by the degree to which we demonstrate an understanding of the great currents that are shaping the world of tomorrow".

And we too must "get it" 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 it all. And 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. I was pleased to hear about the opening of the Early Years Centre in Sudbury on March 18th.

However, this is also 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 could 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 family responsibilities, including the nurturing of young babies. We know that helping employees (many of whom are mothers with young children) deal with the challenges of the early years, through family friendly programs, is a sound business strategy.

Let's talk about how the private sector can serve as a resource for questions/concerns on family issues. Across the country, our staff can access professional consultants who provide information and referrals regarding work/life issues. This encompasses 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 capacity.

Now let's take a quick look at what's happening in Sudbury. The momentum for the early years is impressive. With the Chamber hosting an event such as this one, you're generating more interest in supporting early years development. Here are some ways for local business to get more involved… ·

  • The Big Brothers Pre-school Mentoring Program is a pilot project through the Early Years Challenge Fund that matches young children with an adult mentor for visits in a community setting. The program has identified many kids (2-5 year olds) who would benefit from positive support from an adult role model. Yet Big Brothers is experiencing difficulty in recruiting volunteers who are available during mornings/afternoons for visits to daycare or early years centres. Here's an opportunity for partnerships with business in this first-of-a-kind program. Dave Battaino and Jackie McCullagh of Big Brothers are both here today - I hope they make some connections.
  • Another project that could benefit from community/business support has been developed by the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children Network. Through one of its programs, the parents of every newborn receive a package in the mail, which includes information about local services and early child developmental stages. This group would love to establish partnerships with business to assist with printing, design and delivering information about organizations that offer services for families with young children. Several people from the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children Network are here, so once again it would be great to see some connections made today.
  • I understand that Cybermoms is a program that connects/supports teen parents through home computers and the Internet. The project is a good example of how business and social services could work very well together. Computers and Internet time are just two needs that immediately come to mind. Both Janet Gasparini and Lois Mahon are also here to make connections.

These initiatives are all about the possibilities of partnerships for the early years - for our children. And there's many more…I can't thank Kate Barber (City of Greater Sudbury) enough for sharing some of these stories with me and for coordinating my visit. I hear Cora Hayden and Juliana Ornella from the Chamber have also been supportive. Thank you all!

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 to do more too.

At RBC Financial Group, we'll continue to make youth one of our priorities and give even greater focus to the early years. Please don't hesitate to talk with my local colleagues, several of whom are here today, including George Nelson and Tony Corallo. I also 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. And I also urge you to help the private sector see the light. Make yourself 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. Use workplace/community venues to talk about the early years - to get people interested and involved. Let's get the business of early years development in the boardroom!

The more we invest in our children - not in the abstract, but in the concrete - the better off we are as a society. Sudbury is well represented by champions this afternoon. Let's ensure we check out what Cambrian College is doing with its Early Childhood Education Program - and chat with some program students who are also here today. Let's work with the likes of Audrey Dugas of Science North, Tina Hall of Norguard Industries, Brian Hein of PCL Constructors Canada, Lynne Philion of Childcare Resources, Dawn Chew of the Rainbow District School Board, Eve Kremyr of Jubilee Heritage Family Resources, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe of the Sudbury & District Health Unit and Kathryn Irwin-Seguin of Northern Regional Recovery to help make things happen (if there was time, I would single out each and every one of you in this room) …

Let's continue to put the children's agenda on our agendas. In the wake of an uncertain environment that continues to send shockwaves around the world, it's even more important that the City of Greater Sudbury - that all of us - become champions and ambassadors for the early years.

Thank you.

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