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Building Prosperity in your Workplace - in your Community:
Investing in children and youth

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice-President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Guelph Chamber of Commerce
Victoria Park Golf Club West
Guelph, Ontario
Thursday, October 3, 2002

Don, thank you for the introduction…

There's something very special about Guelph that keeps drawing me back. I've been invited to speak in the Guelph/Wellington region four times over the past year - I'm starting to think of "The Royal City" as my second home and not because of the name association with RBC Royal Bank. Right at the top, I want to thank the Guelph Chamber of Commerce for orchestrating this breakfast and Barbara McKee of the Wellington Early Learning Centres for helping to make it happen. I'm delighted to be here and to share some thoughts about Building Prosperity in your Workplace and in your Community: Investing in Children and Youth.

This morning marks my first speaking engagement since the federal government's Speech from the Throne on Monday. While watching from the entrance to the Senate, I can't tell you how gratifying it was to hear Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson read the following:

"Five years ago, Canada's governments launched the National Children's Agenda, engaging Canadians in every part of the country on how to ensure that all Canadian children have a good start in life; that families with children have the tools they need to provide care and nurturing. No investments have greater payoff. No investments do more to break the cycle of poverty and dependency, and to maximize the potential of every Canadian. The government will put in place a long-term investment plan to allow poor families to break out of the welfare trap so that children born into poverty do not carry the consequences of that poverty throughout their lives. It will again significantly increase the National Child Benefit for poor families, and will work with its partners to increase access to early learning opportunities and to quality child care, particularly for poor and lone-parent families."

Madame Clarkson went on to say: "The government will take additional measures to address the gap in life chances between aboriginal and non-aboriginal children. It will put in place early childhood development programs for First Nations, expanding Aboriginal Head Start, improving parental supports and providing aboriginal communities with the tools to address fetal alcohol syndrome and its effects." I'm sure Chris Margetson and the FASAT team here in Guelph took note of these words.

Organizations like The Canadian Child Care Federation (CCCF) were also thrilled to hear "quality child care" in the Speech from the Throne and applauded the government for recognizing "child care's critical role in providing care, skills and learning to children and in offering many economic and social benefits to our nation." And the YWCA of Canada shared similar sentiments…"For the first time in a decade the Government of Canada has acknowledged the needs of poor and single mothers for housing, economic assistance, child care and support in caring for disabled children."

Given this positive impetus, how do we become more engaged with building prosperity in our workplaces and in our communities - with investing in children and youth? What's the strategic and competitive advantage for business to invest in children and youth? How can all three levels of government, as well as the private and voluntary sectors work together more effectively?

Let me start by telling you about my personal involvement in supporting early years 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 Mustard.

After the Study, Fraser Mustard, Margaret McCain and I assembled a group to look at how the private sector could become more involved in the early years challenge - a group that included individuals from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Auto Workers etc. 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 could be structured to encourage matching non-government support. It was an incredible consciousness-raising session!

As a banker and parent, I'm involved in supporting early years development, children and youth because it's an economic investment that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action. I'm also involved because it's an economic investment that requires more corporate/business action. And I'm involved because it's an economic investment that requires more community action - kids are everybody's business. There's the cost of doing nothing…and there's the cost of not doing enough. The only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved!

As Dr. Mustard says, if you want an idea of what your economy will look like in say 15 or 20 years…if you want an economy that's vibrant, citizens who are productive and a workplace that's innovative - think about the investment you're making in very young people today.

As some of you may be aware, The Honourable Margaret McCain and I were appointed co-chairs of the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto last year. We released our Final Report on May 13th. I want to spend a few moments on the Report because there's an important link between building prosperity in workplaces/communities and investing in children/youth.

As a basic premise, we know that the state of our cities determines Canada's social and economic health - our country's prosperity. Successful cities are those with a skilled, innovative workforce - workplaces investing in human capital and skill development. We also know early learning and child care supports innovation, as it improves school performance, reduces social assistance costs, expands economic activity, supports diversity and improves family/work life. And we know that a young child's development cannot take place without nurturing and care - that it's counterproductive to separate the needs of children from their parents.

Here's a sampling of the Commission's recommendations (by the way…if anyone is interested, a copy of the Report can be found on the web site, www.torontochildren.com):

  • The federal government must lead the way by creating child care partnerships with the provinces and municipalities and by committing to a renewed Early Childhood Development Initiative structured to produce measurable outcomes. The Speech from the Throne addressed both issues.

  • The provincial government should establish a legislative and funding framework to implement the main recommendations of the Early Years Study and provide municipalities/school boards with authority to integrate existing early years services into a comprehensive system.

  • The City of Toronto should make a commitment to expand coalitions with the district school board and community partners, as well as work more closely with First Nations to access federal funding for programs like Aboriginal Head Start (another Speech from the Throne commitment).

  • The private sector needs to recognize that early years development is a business issue (where the stakes are high) and a topic for the boardroom. Business can also use its clout to encourage/support government action. And the community at large must continue its role of advocacy - keeping in mind that increased funding is directly connected to program quality and reorganization.

The important link for the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and all Chambers is one of community advocacy - the important link for members is workplace action. The Toronto Commission Report is one document for one city, however what are the implications for Guelph and cities across the country? We need to mobilize the collective voices, energy and skills in this room and many more - it's our call to action.

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. It says that we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. Quite frankly, I don't hear enough of my corporate colleagues talking about their support of early childhood development, children and youth.

At RBC Financial Group, the underlying goal of our corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. To achieve this, we must support education and learning - we must support young people - our future, as prosperity in the workplace and in the community depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. We must also support and find partnerships that work towards these ends. I can't say enough about the value of partnerships and relationships among business, government and communities. There's much to learn…

For instance, last night I hosted a RBC dinner for kids.now (kids interested in developing successfully…now) at the Royal Bank Plaza. This Toronto-based group offers a 12-week after-school leadership program for kids in Grade 7 & 8 (regardless of economic background, race, religion, or family status). kids.now supports the transition into high school and provides youth with tools for lifetime success - "helps kids everywhere be the best they can be." The kids.now team, led by executive director, Janet King Kidd, works with various schools and coaches, using course material that's been extensively researched - material that revolves around "enhancing self-esteem, setting smarter goals, improving communication skills, learning positive conflict resolution and using stress management tools." It was a great treat to meet people associated with this group and to push the envelop on investing in children and youth. Perhaps kids.now tapped the interest of prospective private sector sponsors or made an indelible impression on the minds of workplace executives. In many ways, this event was another call to action.

The bottom line is that when it comes to making a difference for children and youth, we all have a shared responsibility. Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change - to show their heart. What a great way to build a civic/civil society and promote social/economic development. This Chamber knows what I mean as you've been successful in developing partnerships with the City, University of Guelph, boards of education, hospitals, service clubs and community organizations, not to mention the Ontario and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, plus other local Chambers.

Guelph has a community-focused reputation with leaders who understand what the needs of children are and who are equally committed to finding ways to meet these needs. Growing Great Kids, a committee prompted by the Children's Services Council, is a great example of leadership at work. An Early Years Challenge Fund project, Growing Great Kids shows what a collaboration of over 20 organizations and businesses, as well as parents/caregivers and children, can do when it comes to investing in Guelph's kids. Some of the committee members have joined us today: Konnie Peet (Guelph Community Health Centre), Barb McKee (Wellington Early Learning Centres) and Moe Brubacher (Family & Children's Services).

There's always a place for business in community initiatives - there's always an opportunity for business to invest in children, youth and families. Corporations are part of the community. And the best solutions are community-based. When it comes to children/youth, there are unlimited possibilities and strategies - let's take a look at some:

  • Has your workplace considered the creation of early child development/parenting centres for employees (and perhaps receiving a tax credit for opening them up to the community)? If you're a small/medium-sized business, have you considered in-house/external support mechanisms?

  • Has your workplace broadened its scope re job sharing, flex hours, and paid leave for family responsibilities? These are elements of a sound business strategy, a healthier workplace and a competitive advantage.

  • Has your workplace considered the creation of an information resource base re questions/concerns about family issues, i.e., child development, parenting skills, child care arrangements, school selection and special services for children?

  • Has your workplace considered financing, investing in or sponsoring targeted children's and youth initiatives? Does your workplace make the link between its financial well-being - its shareholder/stakeholder value - and the need to invest in the early years, in children and in youth? What about encouraging more corporate representation/support on children's advocacy boards?

Wellington Early Learning Centres Inc. is "dedicated to the preservation and development of quality child care centres" and is currently developing a workplace child care proposal. Talk about another possibility for a business investment connection! I'd be surprised and disappointed if Barb McKee wasn't working the room this morning. There are several more leadership examples among us today.

Speaking of leadership, I'm especially pleased to see Donna Lero and Linda Hawkins from the Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being at the University of Guelph. RBC Financial Group will be hosting another one of their courses - The Strategic Management of Work/Life - on October 30th in Toronto. We definitely see our involvement as an investment in employees, families and communities.

In closing, special thanks to Wendy Brousseau and Jane Wielhorski for organizing this breakfast. It's clear the Guelph Chamber of Commerce understands that investing in children and youth is very much a strategic initiative in the workplace and in the community. RBC Financial Group will continue to make children and youth one of our priorities and give greater focus to the early years…RBC has a marvelous local team in Guelph to help us do just that - people like Litsa Charbonneau, Kevin Gardiner, Denise Hopf, Georgina Kostal, Clare MacKew, David Parsons, Diane Pigozzo, Kate Quarrie, Dwayne Murray, Rick Tessaro and Randy Tredenick, who are here this morning.

I'll also continue to urge my colleagues in business to find investing in children and youth partners. I urge all of you to remind business associates, including those connected with the Guelph Business Enterprise Centre, about the strategic value of this investment - not once, but over and over again. The time is now to get more business representation at events such as this one.

And let's remember…in the wake of an uncertain environment that continues to preoccupy the world, it's doubly important that we all champion children/youth and place building prosperity in the workplace and in the community on the top of our agendas. Thank you.

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