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"At the Edge of Chaos": Managing corporate/voluntary sector relationships

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs RBC Financial Group
Rotman Conference on Business and Society
"Managing the Chaotic Interface"

Joseph L. Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario
Friday, March 7, 2003

Thank you Brad and Francesca. And special thanks to: Aaron Rashba for inviting me to participate today, Alison Kemper for an insightful paper on the Chaotic Interface and Ravi Sreedharan, not to mention the volunteer conference organizers. I'm especially pleased to join the likes of David Beatty, Susan Pigott and Bill Young on the panel. And my message to Dean Roger Martin and all of you is: this event speaks volumes about the Rotman School of Management. So let's begin…

"Everything interesting happens at the edge of chaos", says Canadian writer Jane Jacobs. "The idea that you can arrive at a state where things are finished, where no further change is possible or necessary - that's a state of death, and the only thing that can result from it is decay." After all, chaos is just another word for confusion - for disarray. As such, in discussing current/future private and voluntary sector interaction, I'll draw on the Jane Jacobs premise from time to time, address the prevailing environment - along with the importance of building and strengthening sector relationships (including the public sector), refer to the Chaotic Interface model outlined by Alison and use one of our RBC tools - the 2002-2003 Corporate Responsibility Report - to illustrate the "then and now" proposition in the model. And finally, based on some added value advice from Annette Dukszta of RBC Investments and good friend of Rotman (who has joined us this morning), I'll focus on strategic philanthropy and partnerships as win/win scenarios.

A few years ago corporations were dealing with 3Rs: restructuring, re-engineering and redirection. Particular skills and tools were needed to respond to various change impacts - "to help us create rather than react." That was then. Now, we're operating at a hugely accelerated pace, where additional skills and tools are needed to deal with another 3Rs: new realities, realignment and relationships. We may also be moving from change management strategies to chaos management strategies! Someone once said: "Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine." Perhaps chaos is inevitable too in certain circumstances. Listen to some recent chaotic headlines:

  • "Charity portfolios hit by double whammy. Organizations are regrouping as increased turbulence and declining donations take their toll" (Kate MacNamara - January 2, 2003 - Financial Post).
  • According to National Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan, "We have identified predatory fundraisers as a top priority." The Minister said the Toronto Star's charity series Give and Take last fall raised many key issues. The series revealed that more than 12,000 Canadian charities - almost one in six - spend more money on fundraising and administration than they do on charitable work" (March 2, 2003 - Toronto
  • "This is as volatile a year as I can recall in Canadian politics, with three federal leadership contests, the choice of a new prime minister ahead, as many as six provincial elections, a big change-of-pace federal budget and a near critical mass of issues chilling Canada-U.S. relations." (Douglas Fisher - March 5, 2003, Ottawa Sun).

Obviously, there's more to headlines than meets the eye - this is part of the chaos. Some charities have been hit hard - others have maintained or prospered. Many smart-branded organizations (just ask our United Way friends here), operating with the right leadership/people, well planned/executed campaigns, new initiatives, sponsorships, foundation-driven donations etc., are reaping rewards and rising contributions - attracting corporate donors. Turbulent markets and political volatility are often, not always by any means, a scapegoat for something else. More times than not, positive interaction between the private/voluntary and public sectors is a reflection of the relationship, more so than the environment. It's usually a matter of managing the chaos - a juggling act! I see two significant trends changing the relationship between the corporate and voluntary sectors. The first trend is that corporations around the world are increasingly conscious of the benefit and indeed, the necessity of being, and being seen as, good corporate citizens. This trend is growing at a steady pace… The second trend is newer and growing much more rapidly…corporations are more strategically and actively engaged - contributing resources and knowledge as well as dollars in order to help build a healthier society - they're more focused on building win/win partnerships.

How do these trends impact the building of volunteer sector relationships and the future of corporate philanthropy? Whatever happens in the economy, the external political/social environment and industry, will obviously impact the private, public and voluntary sectors - it will impact strategies, decisions and action plans; however, it's important to remember that solid partnerships offer more flexibility and collaboration in both good and uncertain times.

Whether we talk about trends or the future, I'm convinced you'll see more and more strategic private sector support, where corporate partners will come to expect a new kind of relationship with voluntary sector counterparts. Partners will get to know what makes each other tick; partners will ask for advice/share knowledge; corporate partners will look beyond their chequebook to community investment; and all partners will think more long-term. It's already happening - we're managing the chaos and inventing more as we go along. As management guru Peter Drucker says, "The only way to predict the future is to invent it."

I'm confident that the resources and expertise of the private sector will continue to converge with the voluntary sector, including resurgence in government support (federal, provincial and municipal), which is manifesting itself. For several years, a tremendous amount of effort has been spent re-establishing the importance of the voluntary sector to Canadian quality of life. The federal government's Voluntary Sector Accord - the Call for a Strategic Investment Approach, the Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI) and the Prime Minister's announcement last October re the appointment of Minister Sheila Copps as leader of the government's efforts to strengthen its relationship with this sector, indicate another trend of sorts. Alison mentioned the critical issue of child care in her remarks…it's clear that the federal government (via last month's Budget) made a solid financial commitment to early childhood education and care and that Minister Jane Stewart will work closely with each province (in managing the chaos) during the months ahead. We may be more inclined to associate child care policy and initiatives with the public/voluntary sectors - let me remind you that the private sector has a significant stake in early years development and child care.

Alison also referenced The Cult of Efficiency in her presentation…like Janice Gross Stein, I'm convinced efficiency isn't enough - that new standards of accountability should also be part of ongoing dialogue and a call to action. Our discussion has less to do with any domination by the "cult of efficiency" and more to do with values and choices that governments, as well as private/voluntary sectors and Canadians must make, within the context of scare resources and competing priorities (major sources at the edge of chaos). I'm sure Ellen Roseman recalls Janice's forum last year. Speaking of values, choices and accountability…

In 1999, RBC launched a publication called Community Report. In 2003, it's been re-named the Corporate Responsibility Report. (I brought copies with me.*) And the difference is important. Four years ago (then), we highlighted caring stories about: RBC people who give back to the community, support for aboriginal peoples, youth and education, people with disabilities, as well as investments in health care, the arts and community economic development. These stories are still there.
However, four years later (now), corporate responsibility is more encompassing; it includes good governance, operating with ethical business practices, creating and maintaining employment, providing access to products/services for special needs clients, guarding the environment and protecting clients with privacy and problem resolution. Our thinking and doing has evolved.

In 1999, our CEO's message in the Report was titled Beyond the Bottom Line…and in 2003, it's Building a Knowledge Society. Again, the difference is important. Nurturing knowledgeable employees, clients, business/government/voluntary sector partners, as well as community infrastructures that consist of bright and innovative people, is in our interest - the national interest. In terms of building knowledge, I would enjoy hearing the views of Marketa Evans (Munk Centre for International Studies), Raymond Dart (Trent University), Pat Bradshaw (York University), Sandra Nagy (The Learning Partnership) and many others, both today and post conference. Our thinking and doing has evolved.

When we invest in the training and development of our own employees - that's building knowledge. When our employees serve on voluntary sector boards, providing business and financial acumen, and helping these groups devise better ways to achieve their goals - that's building knowledge. When corporations support organizations (the voluntary sector) - from St. Christopher's House and Daily Bread Food Bank, to Kids.Now, Niagara Women's Enterprise Centre and Imagine, that's also building knowledge. As I glance around the room, I say to Susan Pigott, Jim Russell, Zaib Shadini, Betty Anne Baker, Chris Pinney and all of you: if the choice is between status quo and managing chaos, there is no choice - only chaos to manage.

By contributing both financial and human capital to community institutions, corporations can help embrace a true knowledge society. RBC's Employee Volunteer Grants Program is one way we support and encourage vital community connections. Employees that devote a minimum of 40 hours a year to a registered charity are eligible for a $500 RBC grant donated to the organization in their honour. Alison, who also represents The 519 Church Street Community Centre, is acquainted with this program, as are countless other organizations.

The time has never been more right for the private/public/voluntary sectors to create and sustain stronger partnerships. In all the years I've worked in corporate Canada, I've never heard so much talk about building relationships/partnerships-and I've never seen so many in action. I believe that strong partnerships have immense power across the country, especially in current economic times - or as Alison might say, "discontinuous" times.

Working together, getting connected and staying focused all comes down to leadership and communication - managing the chaos. We need to invent the future, create the innovative investments and partnerships that will help us work toward goals that we can share and achieve - to maximize the win/win and collective impact results that we need!

If you're managing the relationships, you're managing the most important element of the chaos. So keep in mind what Jane Jacobs said: "Everything interesting happens at the edge of chaos."

*For convenient access to RBC Financial Group's Corporate Responsibility Report, Public Accountability Statement and list of Donations, please check out http://www.rbc.com/pas/index.html.


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