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Early Childhood Investment: The Business/Community Imperative

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Summit on Early Childhood Development:
Investing in Today's Children…Tomorrow's Leaders
Hotel Fort Garry
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Thanks very much for the introduction Strini…bonjour, good morning everyone!

I'm delighted to be back in Winnipeg, especially on National Child Day! It's hard to believe twelve years have passed since I led the RBC Royal Bank team in Manitoba! I share award-winning author Carol Shields' sentiment when she said last month: "Winnipeg was the best thing that ever happened to me…I loved the community, I feel at home here."

You should know that I hear what's happening in the city and the province all the time. I heard about Winnipeg on Late Night with David Letterman and about Manitoba on an episode of the West Wing…and who could miss Winnipeg's Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame on Saturday Night LIVE earlier this month. Gary Doer's explanation of all this media hype is that "Manitoba is the centre of North America", so it's a natural to be the centre of attention and action.

And speaking of the centre of attention and action…I've been keeping up with CentreVenture, the new site for Red River College, the Business Council of Manitoba (and President Jim Carr's recent article, "Manitoba's advantage is people") the Port of Churchill advisory board, the biotechnology industry surge in Manitoba, the recent Blueprint for the Future career fair for aboriginal youth, the United Way of Winnipeg's campaign news: Reaches 81% of $13.6 million goal (no wonder Portage/Main was temporarily re-named United Way - I can imagine campaign chair Gail Asper's delight at that one), the unprecedented donation of $100 million to the Winnipeg Foundation by the Moffat family (I read Kevin Rollason's, "Giving from the heart", November 17th piece in the Winnipeg Free Press)…then there's the excellent work of the Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet, led by Tim Sale. All I can say is "wow" - and I've only scratched the surface of what's been happening in this great city and province.

On this special day, it's a pleasure to share some thoughts about Early Childhood Investment: The Business/Community Imperative. I met with Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association (MCCA) this morning, to learn more about the Centre and the programs it offers - programs that support those who provide early years education and care. I was thrilled to find out that MCCA now operates out of space leased from RBC Royal Bank, on the second floor of our McPhillips and Court branch. While chatting with Pat and others, I was reminded of the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" - that each member of the community has a stake in supporting children, helping them become successful adults.

The African proverb also symbolizes my connection…I'm involved in supporting early years development because it's an economic investment that needs more federal, provincial and municipal government action. RBC has a vested interest in this issue and can help influence government policy and public opinion. The development of human capital at an early age is key to a thriving economy.

I'm involved because it's an economic investment that requires corporate/business action. 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 needs more community action - kids are everybody's business. Integrated early years programming is a sound community investment. 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.

From my participation in the Ontario Government's Early Years Study three years ago and the post-Study group that looked at how the private sector could become more involved in the early years challenge, to the Commission on Early Learning and Child Care for the City of Toronto, two names are an intrinsic part of my initial connection/ongoing commitment: The Honourable Margaret McCain and Dr. Fraser Mustard. I thought of them, many other champions and Canada's children while listening to Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson read the Speech from the Throne on September 30th, especially the following: "…the 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."

So when The Honourable Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Secretary of State (Children and Youth) announced a "funding allocation of $320 million over the next five years for a strategy to improve and expand Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs/services for First Nations and other aboriginal children" on Halloween (a day for children), it was apparent this action plan picked up on the Speech from the Throne commitment and recommendations of the Sub-committee on Children/Youth at Risk - the June 2002 Building on Success Report. It was also reassuring to note that Ministers Anne McLellan (Health), Jane Stewart (Human Resources Development Canada) and Bob Nault (Indian Affairs and Northern Development) are working "towards the development of a single window approach to ensure better integration and coordination." Do we still need to nudge government action on this issue? Absolutely. Is this a positive step forward? Absolutely.

Given this positive impetus, how do we become more engaged and energized with supporting early childhood development? What's the strategic and competitive advantage for Manitoba business, government, labour, educators, the not-for-profit sector, aboriginal leadership, the community and the media to work together when it comes to investing in the right start for children? I'm preaching to the converted here…what would happen if this room was also filled with Manitoba's top 100 CEOs?

I would tell them that the momentum for the early years is catching more steam at home and around the globe. At a United Nations Special Session on May 9th, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates and the CEOs of several other international corporations told UN and NGO (non-governmental organization) leaders that they want to work with them for the well being of the world's children. The private sector in Canada can also use its influence with governments and institutions, as well as promote good health practices - and work, in collaboration for the development/support of children. You may be interested to know that the commitments made at this Special Session paved the way for the theme of National Child Day 2002: A World Fit for Children.

I'd be sure to mention that 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. We all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. Perhaps I could refer CEOs to a new study published in the May 2002 issue of the American Journal Psychological Science; it finds that "better caregiver training and lower staff-child ratios in child care settings lead to improvements in children's cognitive skills and social competence."

CEOs would also receive The Early Years Study Three Years Later (McCain/Mustard - August 2002), and the Healthy Child Manitoba (HCM) annual report (2001-2002). Would I encourage CEOs (their support teams) to check out the HCM web site? You bet I would, along with other sites/sources. And you're right…I wouldn't inundate them with this information at once - one document and one web site at a time! And without a doubt, we (a Manitoba early years champion and I) would also meet with CEOs, as nothing really replaces face-to-face communication…one CEO at a time!

As co-chair of the Commission for Early Learning and Child Care for the City of Toronto, I would talk to CEOs about our Final Report - especially the important linkages for Manitoba. Although the federal government must lead the way, the provincial government should establish a framework to implement the main recommendations of the Early Years Study; and cities should expand coalitions with the district school board and community partners…the private sector needs to recognize that early years development is a business issue and a topic for the boardroom, where the stakes are high. Business can also use its clout to encourage/support government action at every level. (By the way…if anyone is interested, I brought a few copies of the Report with me and it's also on the web site, www.torontochildren.com/research).

I would remind CEOs that early learning and child care supports innovation and successful cities (a Glen Murray theme), as it improves school performance, reduces social assistance costs, expands economic activity, supports diversity and enhances family/work life. We know that the development of a child cannot take place without nurturing and care - that it's counterproductive to separate the needs of children from their parents/families. Supporting children and supporting child care go hand in hand.

Corporations are part of the community…and the best solutions are community-based. When it comes to children, there are unlimited possibilities and strategies - I would ask CEOs the following:

  • Has your workplace considered on-site/near-site child care centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs, parental networks, information and referral services, or investing in/sponsoring targeted children's initiatives?

  • Has your workplace broadened its scope re job sharing, flexible hours, extended maternity leave, and family care leaves? Do you encourage representation on children's advocacy boards? These are elements of a sound business strategy, a healthier workplace and a competitive advantage.

And I would also indicate what RBC Financial Group is doing - that 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 children/young people - as future prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. We must continue to foster partnerships/relationships with business, government, communities and our own employees (work/life initiatives) in order to meet these objectives. There's much to do and learn…

For example, RBC invests substantial funds in after-school programs that offer development opportunities for kids. Andrews Street Family Centre and the Winnipeg Boys & Girls Club are two RBC After-School Grant recipients in the city. I'm happy to see Heather Block from Andrews Street and Mike Owen from the Boys & Girls Club here today. Two other recipients include: the Brandon YMCA and Thompson Boys & Girls Club. We also support the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba Elementary Classroom Teacher Award, the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and the Flin Flon Indian Metis Friendship Association, just to name a few.

We're most proud of our partnership with the University of Winnipeg and its Aboriginal Mentor/Tutor Program, along with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP), which provides cutting-edge high-impact information on health care issues in Manitoba and Canada. The University of Manitoba is the only research centre in the world with access to such a comprehensive health-use database. And the Centre has earned international acclaim for innovation in research, particularly in child health. RBC Financial Group's grant ($750,000 over the next five years) will pay for the RBC Clinical Child Health Research Fellowship, bringing in physicians/researchers to study the effect of social indicators on children's health.

The bottom line is that making a difference for children and youth is 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. Healthy Child Manitoba knows what I mean as it's been developing partnerships for several years…

To top it off, I would chat with CEOs about the Manitoba early years development work-in-progress success story - a story about vision: a story about increased funding for child care centres/family child care homes; a story about providing the full National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) to families with children six years of age and under; a story about increased funding for the BabyFirst program, which provides a three-year home visiting service for newborns; a story about additional support for Parent-Child Centred Activities - for community coalitions to provide parenting support, children's nutrition and literacy programming in their own communities; a story about Stop FAS, a three-year mentoring program for women at risk of having a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; a story about the new child care Internet search tool; and a compelling story about research and "measurement matters."

And we could also talk about Roots of Empathy, an emotional literacy organization designed to reduce childhood aggression and break the parent/child cycle of abuse. This classroom-based parenting program was funded by Healthy Child Manitoba for the Seine River School Division - marking the first time it's been offered at all schools in a single division across Canada. Last week, Roots of Empathy founder Mary Gordon, (along with Margaret McCain and others) was honoured for her work by being named a recipient of the first annual Fraser Mustard Award.

Whether private funding is allocated to help the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre of Winnipeg hire a program coordinator for aboriginal girl guide groups and the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities renovate its communications centre for children, or federal government funding (announced last week in Winnipeg by Sheila Copps) is allocated to groups that promote education, job training and awareness, i.e., the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Rossbrook House, The Salvation Army in Canada, Circle of Life Thunderbird House, or the Winnipeg Metis Association, the common thread is children.

This room is filled with children's advocates/supporters…Diane McGifford, Pat Martin, Doug Martindale, Marianne Cerilli and Jon Gerrard - all well-known politicians/community leaders; Dennis Whitebird, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, David Chartrand, Manitoba Metis Federation, Beverly Watson of the Aboriginal Business Leader & Entrepreneurs, Janine Bertrand, Federation provinciale des comites de parents du Manitoba, Natalie Duhamel (whose father will forever be proud), Sister Bernadette O'Reilly, Rossbrook House and of course Jan Sanderson, Rob Santos. Strini Reddy and the team who put this summit together…if only there was time to single out each and every one of you!

RBC Financial Group will continue to make children/youth one of our priorities and give greater focus to the early years…I'll also continue to urge my colleagues at RBC (several are here today - Mark Odegard, Archie Arnott, Gina Carnevale, Linda Park, Lynn Fowler) and in business to find investing in children partners. I urge all of you to remind business associates, about the strategic value of this investment - not once, but again and again. I urge Shirley Denesiuk (Manitoba Hydro) to chat with Bob Brennan, Laurel Repski (The Canadian Wheat Board) to chat with Greg Arason and Malcolm Tinsley (The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company) to chat with Gregg Hanson after this Summit.

A few months ago, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a new Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education. This award is an extension of the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence (of which RBC is proud to be a corporate partner) that honour exceptional elementary/secondary schoolteachers.

As the Prime Minister said: "Research has shown that the early years are critical to establishing a strong foundation for learning, behaviour and health over lifetimes. Dedicated and talented early childhood educators are key builders of this foundation. The award will recognize the critical role that early childhood educators play in shaping the lives of Canada's young children and will include a special focus on aboriginal early childhood educators." I know there are marvelous teachers and educators - ideal candidates for this prestigious award - right here in this room.

The time is now to get more business representation at events like this one and to address the same issue as David Lawrence Jr., retired publisher of the Miami Herald in the US and president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Miami: why the media should care more about childhood development. In an April 1, 2001 article he says: "…a few years ago, I had no idea of how important a newspaper story this is. A few years ago, the matter of brain research underscoring the crucial nature of a child's earliest years had never crossed my mind. School readiness is about children growing - socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually - so they are ready and eager to learn by the time they reach first grade. It's about the blending of education, health and nurturing in the earliest years. Put it together, and you have a big story and a story still mostly untold. The move toward universal readiness programs - a holistic system for all children birth to age 5 - is mostly covered, if at all, in a fragmented way. Surely we could give readers what they truly need to know about brain research, finding good child care and other elements of successful child-rearing." Surely Manitoba can get Rudy Redekop, Gordon Norrie, Martin Cash, Wendy Stephenson and others more involved!

As a former board member of the Manitoba Children's Museum, I value its vision: "a respect for and belief in the potential of all children" and its philosophy, "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand." With this kind of thinking, I'm not surprised that Manitoba has earned an early years development pacesetter and action-oriented reputation over the years. It makes me think of some graffiti I saw on a wall in the north end of Winnipeg many years ago: Talk - Action = 0.

In the wake of an uncertain environment that continues to preoccupy the world, it's more important that we champion children and place their futures at the top of our agendas. When it comes to enlightened leadership, just remember the African proverb and glance around this village!

Now, let's chat about ideas/good practices for a few minutes …I would really enjoy hearing from you!

Thank you, Merci beaucoup, Meegwetch!


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