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Speeches

 

The Youth and Children's Agenda: The business / community imperative

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Breakfast Briefing
London Convention Centre
London, Ontario
Monday, April 15, 2002

Thank you for the introduction Gordie...and good morning!

I'm delighted to be co-hosting this breakfast and equally pleased to visit "the Forest City" once again. Since London is a "caring, responsive community", with a "healthy, diverse economy", strongly committed to enhancing the quality of life for future generations, it's a special treat to join you today and to share some business perspectives on an investment, that's close to my heart and very much about our future. The investment I'm referring to is the youth and children's agenda: the business/community imperative.

From meeting many of you earlier and now looking around the room, it's clear 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 - and who are already leading the call to action. From Jan Lubell and Anita Gilvesy of Investing In Children, Linda Hebel of the Thames Valley District Health Council, and Rosita Johnson of the City of London, to Sister Carolyn Bering of the Sisters of St. Joseph's, Don Jamieson of the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network and of course Shelly Siskind and the Wraparound Community Team (I wish there was time to single out each and every one of you by name), you're an outstanding group that instinctively knows the difference between watching things happen and making things happen.

Now the question becomes, how do we all become more engaged? How can we convince the business world to become truly engaged in the youth and children's agenda? How can the public, private and voluntary sectors work together more effectively?

Let me start by telling you about my personal involvement in supporting early years, (0-6) development and young people. 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 Mustard.

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.

I continue to champion the early years, through Ontario's Promise: The Partnership for Children and Youth. More 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 Commission last October. We've been 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 released shortly) contains recommendations for all three levels of government and the community. It will hopefully be beneficial to communities at large, including London.

When it comes to young people, I continue to promote and support youth organizations, educational institutions, young entrepreneurs, Junior Team Canada. And I have a special affinity to Trent University, where I'm co-chair of the University's Friends of Native Studies Council.

Some of you may recall that 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 this business imperative, or should I say opportunity, than ever before.

Clearly, a lack of investment in the early years and young people 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.

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 and youth programs. 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 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 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 the children's/youth agenda. 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 RBC invests in young people through initiatives such as our After-School Grants program and Native Students Awards program, we're really investing in keeping our economy strong and competitive. By investing in children, we're investing in a strong and healthy Canada. Investing in youth is an investment in the future.and it simply makes sense.

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 children and 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. Everybody wins!

And we can't say that investing in children and youth is the domain of the public sector. For one, governments don't have the resources to do it all.

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 Ontario government's Early Years Plan was announced for 2002 - the locations of the first 41 Ontario Early Years Centres in 15 communities, with an additional 62 Centres to open in 2003. I was pleased to read the announcement in the London Press about the opening of three Early Years Centres last week (plus others in nearby areas) - it's great to see Susan Ryans, Jane Powers and Ailene Wittstein here this morning, as Childreach, the Merrymount Children's Centre (along with London Children's Connection), are running the Centres. I also discovered that the province has approved a plan for the Centres' to pool some of their money and test a citywide system "to address common issues such as transportation, literacy and analysis of how well they're doing". I understand this systems approach is unique to London, so I'm not surprised that Jan Lubell is overseeing this collaborative test system.

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 children and youth, 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, parenting and youth programs.

Let's talk about childcare 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.

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, children and youth. A RBC, our staff can access professional consultants who provide information and referrals regarding work/life issues. This includes support with: child development, effective parenting skills, childcare arrangements, school selection, and special services for children and youth. This information is available over the phone, online, or face-to-face.

And let's talk about private sector advocacy for financing of early child development and youth initiatives. We need to make the link between the financial well-being of corporations, shareholder value and the need to invest in children/youth.

Now let's take a quick look at the London scenario and the WrapAround community initiative.

I reviewed Investing In Children's Snapshot of London's Children and Youth: a community report card, with great interest: Since "18% of London residents are children 12 years of age and under" (a fairly sizeable chunk of the future of your community), the investment opportunities are clear. And since "the strength of corporate interest and support is substantial", the call to action is also clear.

All one has to do is look at the WrapAround process both within the London area and across various communities in southern Ontario to better understand why we're talking about the business/community imperative - why business should wrap itself around these type of initiatives.

Most of you are aware that WrapAround (associated with the Community Services Coordination Network), "is a process, which develops and carries out plans for children, individuals and their families who have very complex needs". WrapAround revolves around:

1. Nurturing a "Families Know Best" philosophy - the family knows what its needs and strengths are and can best ask for the support it requires;
2. Building a Network - the network that supports the family is put into place jointly by a team, which develops and implements plans;
3. Creating a Community - the community is developed around the family.and in strengthening that family and its community, the community at large is enhanced.

WrapAround is an initiative, not a program. As Shelly says, "we give families what they need, not what we have - we're strengthening community one child at a time". As such, I'd like to share a WrapAround story about strengthening the community one child at a time with you right now.

This story involves a 16-year-old with a social phobia. Steven Johnstone's phobia forced him to remain in his home for well over two years. He didn't attend school or any social gathering that required him to leave his house. When the WrapAround team (consisting of the church minister, a family friend, cousin, Mom, Dad, Steven and a WrapAround facilitator), started working with this family, Steven expressed a desire to play hockey.and as a result of incremental steps, his desire became a reality last summer.

Steven joined a summer hockey camp and with the support of the WrapAround team, he flourished. He also joined a baseball team, started roller-blading, walked the family dog, and even acquired a part time job delivering the local newspaper. Now Steven has returned to school and is currently enrolled in two classes per semester. With the continued support of the WrapAround team, he plans to return to school full time in the fall of 2002. We're very pleased that Steven's mother, Sherry Johnstone is with us this morning. Please join me in extending a special welcome to Sherry. Thank you Sherry, for allowing me to share Steven's story - your family story - with everyone today.

Speaking of saying thank you, I want to acknowledge Elley Graham and Shannon Theriault of the Community Services Coordination Network - the WrapAround team - for all their support in organizing this breakfast. And my thanks also goes to the RBC team right here in London, namely Gord MacKenzie and Dianne Czykas who were equally supportive in planning this event. And of course, special thanks to my co-host, Shelly Siskind.

In closing, given the economic benefits down the road, an investment in children and youth is 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 children and youth one of our priorities and give even greater focus to the early years.

I urge my colleagues in business to look for more ways to partner with the public and voluntary sectors and to speak out on the importance of the children's/youth agenda - to help get this agenda on the table in more boardrooms in London and across the country. I urge you to encourage your business colleagues to attend more functions such as this one - to be more aware - to get involved with projects like the Early Years Challenge Fund. I urge Bernie Zaifman, Bob Siskind, RBC's Gord MacKenzie and Lesley Cornelius to capitalize on their connection with the London Economic Development Corporation - the LEDC, to help the private sector see the light. And I also urge Libby Fowler of the London Community Foundation, Liz Prendergast of the CSCN and all community representatives to make yourselves more visible at events that include the business community - such as LEDC events, to do your networking and lobbying. Remind people in the private sector of the strategic importance of this investment - not once, but over and over again. Make a connection before you leave today, if you haven't already.

The more we all invest in children and youth, the better off we are as a society. It's a marvelous feeling to be among dedicated champions of children/youth this morning.people like Joel Wittstein of Temple Israel, Helen Connell/Ruth Young of United Way and Angie Killoran Wood of The Lawson Foundation - plus everyone in this room. So let's act. Let's make sure that all of us, especially the business community - put the youth and children's agenda on our agendas.

Thank you.

 

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