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Building the Business Case: Family Support Partnerships

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
FRP Canada National Biennial Conference
Delta Meadowvale Resort and Conference Centre
Mississauga, Ontario

Friday, October 18, 2002

I'm pleased to participate in this important FRP conference this morning - to join Sue Khazaie and everyone in this room in raising the volume and the bar when it comes to building family support partnerships. Since our workshop has been billed as a discussion around the business case for early childhood development supports and winning strategies for engaging business leaders/elected officials, I'm going to spend the next few minutes addressing these very questions, adding to Sue's case and then moving right into our favourite part of this hour - hearing from you! So let's get started…

Three of the most often asked questions from urban and rural family support partners include:

1. How do we get our foot in the door with business leaders and elected officials?

2. How can we become more effective in getting our voice on the agenda of boardroom meetings and public policy hearings/committees across the country?

3. What are some "Do's and Don'ts" to gain access to key people - decision-makers?

The obvious place to begin is with Charlie Coffey. What's the business case for my involvement - for private sector involvement?

  • I'm involved in supporting early years development and family support programs because it's an economic investment that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action. Given my role as a banker and lobbyist, RBC and I can help push the envelope on high priority issues. After all, the development of human capital at an early age is key to a successful economy.

  • I'm involved because it's an economic investment that needs corporate/business action. Given my role as a business leader, I have a responsibility to push the envelope on high priority issues - and what's more important than children? Businesses "should strive to be family and child-friendly employers; to provide enriched child care that connects to elementary schools where appropriate; to have policies that are sensitive to the involvement of employees in the education of their children; and to be bold and creative regarding the importance of parental leave for new parents."

  • And I'm also involved because it's an economic investment that requires more community action - kids are everybody's business and high priority. Integrated early years programming is one of the best investments communities can make. Given my role as a children's advocate (and parent), the only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved! There's the cost of doing nothing…and there's the cost of not doing enough.

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. At RBC Financial Group, the underlying goal of our corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. As such, we must support education and learning - young people - 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. So must our private sector colleagues…

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 in May. Our findings only reinforced the business case. We know that successful cities are those with a skilled, innovative workforce - workplaces investing in human capital and skill development. We also know that 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.

The time has never been more right for all of us to learn and continue learning about creating and maintaining strong partnerships among all three sectors: private, public and not-for-profit. Strong partnerships can have immense power. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but because RBC Financial Group is involved in partnerships that include representation from various sectors, I will say that we're well on the way to having a solid working knowledge of what makes a true partnership work. If you're serious about creating partnerships with business, here are some winning strategies and tips for you to consider:

1. Get to know your partners. A partnership is a relationship where the players are stronger together than they are alone. It's a two-way street and an evolving balance of power. Successful partnerships like successful relationships take time and care.

2. Ask partners for advice. If you want a corporation's money, get the right people ("influencers") interested. Asking for advice is an incredible compliment to people. It's amazing how quickly money will follow once a person and a corporation's passion is engaged in a cause or a project.

3. Don't just ask for money. Treat partners the way you want to be treated. Look beyond a partner's chequebook and think community investment. Engage people's minds and their expertise.

4. Share what you know with us. One of the most precious assets we all have is our intellectual capital-the value of what we carry between our ears. You also have expertise that could help your corporate partners. Why not share it with us?

5. Keep in touch. Think long-term. Let partners know how you're doing - this is another way to say thank you. Show partners that you're making a difference in your community and that they've made the right choice by investing time and resources in your organization/family support programs.

As for elected officials…they have a wide range of agendas and priorities. Most politicians want to get re-elected. Some have pet causes that simply don't align with yours. Some are looking for pet causes. Others may support you privately, but for party-reasons won't support you publicly. Some may think the timing is wrong. Some want to be Prime Minister or Premier or Mayor. Here are more strategies and tips for you to think about:

1. Know your audience. Someone on your team should have a base of knowledge about your key elected officials. What do they care about? What are their hot buttons? What committees are they on? What do their constituents care about? This means ongoing research, a robust database or someone to manage the information. It's critical to know what motivates an elected official, otherwise you can't engage in relevant communication with them. You also need to recognize that elected officials are a unique audience. When you're crafting messages or positions on government issues, remember to use the language of government. Talk to their policies, their interests.

2. Keep current. Are you familiar with the September 30th Speech from the Throne commitments to the children's agenda…that the federal government "will work with its partners to increase access to early learning opportunities and to quality child care, particularly for poor and lone-parent families."

Or that "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."
Do you know the names of the National Children's Agenda (NCA) Caucus Committee, especially those from your province? Do you know that the committee has focused its work on three themes: readiness to learn, provision of services for all children pre-natal to six and community mobilization? The chair is John Godfrey MP, Don Valley West (John's web site is an incredible source of information about the children's agenda). Do you know your provincial minister responsible for children and families, as well as your municipal contacts? Should you know? I suggest you should.

3. Know the Issues: What's on the radar screen of the public, the media or constituencies? Stay on top of trends so you're ready to communicate your position at a moment's notice. Keep your eyes open and your ears tuned in. The children's agenda, broadly speaking, is gaining more momentum and media attention. Make the links. You might be able to provide advice/counsel to an elected official…

4. Know how the issues and your audience are connected. You must be able to assess the impact a single action might have on your group/different groups. Government relations is political: everything is connected. Consider the consequences of your communications. There's a fine line between persistence and irritation. Since one cornerstone of a relationship is good communication, this means strategic, integrated, ongoing communications from your organization to all levels of government.

Now what's the best way to get in the door? Well, if you have a connection, this usually helps. A cold call rarely works. Develop a strategy and get your toolkit in action. What are your objectives in making contact with a prospective private or public sector contact? What are the principles and priorities for funding? What is your project description, goals/activities? What is your strategic and communications plan - your work plan? What are your expected results and outcomes? What about national partnerships/collaboration? And budget? Do you have a project evaluation plan or letters of support? If you represent a small urban or rural project, have you considered joining forces with similar interest groups? In a nutshell, be prepared, know your "sound bites", network, write articles and get your name on key event invitation lists. Sue also provided you with solid material to add to your toolkit. If I can be of further support, please let me know…

Staying focused in the spirit of collaboration, all comes down to leadership and communication. Creating innovative partnerships that help us work toward realistic goals - to maximize "collective impact" results - is a major step in the right direction. We can't achieve great things alone, which is another reason why it was a great idea for Sue and me to co-present this workshop.

As Dr. Fraser 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. At the start, I shared with you the business case for my involvement in supporting early years initiatives and family support partnerships. However, there's more to the story…since in large part, I'm here today because of Fraser Mustard, what does this tell you about building and selling the business case?

Let's get talking about ideas and good practices…we really want to hear from you!


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