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Building Community Support:
Investing in the "walk up Humewood Drive"

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Humewood House Annual General Meeting
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church - Room 107
Toronto, Ontario

Monday, June 23, 2003

Sue, thanks very much for the warm welcome…

I'm delighted to join you this afternoon…to share some thoughts about building community support - investing in the walk up Humewood Drive. First and foremost, I want to thank your executive director for inviting me to this AGM. Sue, you'll be surprised to know that I still have a copy of the May 1, 2001 news release, with the headline "Humewood House to offer full pre/post-natal services." Your words, which I'm about to read, made a lasting impression on me: "We want to help young women get a safe early start with their babies and to provide them with the training they need to improve their parenting, coping and nutrition skills. We also want to support these women as they move back into the community and help them build a stable life for both themselves and their child."

What GTA community-minded corporate leader or foundation head wouldn't want to learn more about investing in Humewood House - a young parent resource centre that's committed to "enabling young women and their families improve their life circumstances and achieve independence through the provision of education, counselling and residential services." This organization's 90+ year history is a compelling story unto itself. Talk about a worthwhile investment in the future.

Let me begin by elaborating on Sue's introduction…perhaps if you hear some background about me (and rest assured, I'm not referring to my banking career), it may help you and your colleagues attract more corporate leaders/investors down the road. Several years ago, I experienced a "light bulb moment" after meeting the extraordinary Dr. Fraser Mustard (as many people do). While working with him, The Honourable Margaret McCain and other champions on early years development study groups/projects, my learning curve on the subject escalated quickly, as did my network of children's advocates in Ontario and across the country. I'm involved with early childhood education and care because as a business person and parent, I realize this is an economic issue that requires a call to action from all levels of government, corporations and communities - kids are everybody's business. In my mind, Humewood House is an outstanding model for the call to action.

I'm also a supporter of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC). And I learned a great deal more about the women and children connection when my daughter Catherine worked at the Red Door Abused Women's Shelter last summer. Community involvement is essential for business and important for families/communities. I'm here because this is an opportunity for me to reach out to community leaders/friends and to share ideas about opening business doors for Humewood. Your voices, energy and skills have enormous power - it's simply a matter of channeling that power!

Last October, I co-presented a workshop at the Family Resource Programs (FRP) Canada National Biennial Conference in Mississauga. We were there to help delegates develop a better business case for family support programs - to help raise the volume and the bar when it comes to building family support partnerships, particularly with business leaders and elected officials. Knowing what buttons to push - how to make and sell the case (and it's somewhat different every time) is a key element to success. There's no magical formula…however, it's very much about linking advocacy, public awareness, capacity building and accountability.

Building a business case for increased community support means focusing on and marketing Humewood's strengths, record and success stories - your ability to make things happen and make a difference - your ability to collaborate with other social service providers and health/educational facilities - your ability to assemble an excellent team of directors, advisors, volunteers and staff to help meet the needs of your residents/constituents. It may seem like a daunting task…
However, when I look around this room and see the likes of Debby Benton and Lynda McInnes (the Ministry of Community Family and Children's Services), Pat Bradshaw (Schulich School of Business) and Nancy Scott (Massey Centre) to name a few, it's clear that Humewood's philosophy of service and values are attracting considerable attention and interest. Now's the time to work more strategically with the private sector - to generate more support.

Education, partnerships, individual/family counselling services, advocacy with external resources, parenting/life-skills learning and a high school program, are all Humewood House priorities and initiatives that corporations/businesses can support. So are your computer, technology and employment programs that prepare young women to compete in today's job market. Your fully licensed daycare centre staffed by qualified early childhood educators and sponsored by the City of Toronto's Children's Services is a major piece of your business case. This program goes beyond the norm by providing nutritious lunches for the babies and field placement opportunities for students.

When the Prime Minister reported on the status of Throne Speech commitments last Tuesday, he took particular pride in highlighting advancements with children and families: significant increases to the National Child Benefit, investments to increase access to quality child care and increased support for aboriginal parents. I thought of your work at Humewood House. He also referred to advancements with cities and communities: increased investments in affordable housing and extended assistance for the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative. Once again, I thought of your work at Humewood House. Do we still need to nudge the federal government (and all levels of government) on these issues and others? Absolutely. We also need to nudge more corporations…

Here's an example of what I mean. Research shows "for every $1 spent on child care there's a $2 economic benefit" (from The Benefits and Costs of Good Child Care, Gordon Cleveland & Michael Krashinsky, 1998). The benefit comes back through increased tax revenues and decreased social, education and health costs. This is 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 - there's a cost to society if "infants aren't provided the care, bonding and stimulation they need." We bear this cost as parents, taxpayers and business people. Quite frankly, I don't hear enough of my corporate colleagues talking about their support of early childhood education and care. There's still much nudging to do…but just consider what you have at your disposal to do some effective nudging - a tool kit of success stories:

  • Computer Beginnings Program. While reading Humewood's Spring 2003 newsletter, I noted the amazing results. "Out of 40 participants enrolled, 37 young women graduated last year. Two of these graduates are currently completing their high school diploma, three have found full time administrative jobs, one is attending Ryerson University, four students are staying home and the rest are either attending adult learning school or have part-time survival jobs." This computer course for young women is both workplace-friendly and a great skills developer, plus Humewood provides child care as part of the program. Very impressive!
  • Early Years Satellite Centre. As a result of provincial government funding over the next three years, your new programs for young mothers and infants - a drop-in centre and special life skills groups for clients - will flourish. From a toy lending library, special cooking/sewing classes and infant development screening and assessments, to a special family photos group and a family supper club for the young women, children and their partners, Humewood is leading the way.

  • Literature for Life. I was pleased to hear that this weekly program (which you call the book club) has also boosted young women's attendance at the school program. It's good to see Erin Phelan (from Literature for Life) here today and to meet/listen to young women, like Sade Oragbon and Ayanna Beckford, who truly shine by expressing their thoughts in poetry/writing.
  • Mentoring Program. As an avid supporter of mentoring, it was gratifying to hear that Humewood has established this program. Matching trained/experienced mentors with clients in order to help women manage the pressures of teenaged pregnancy and motherhood is nothing less than added value. I understand that two of your mentors are former Humewood clients. This speaks volumes…

  • Humewood House Web Site. I checked out www.humewoodhouse.com and discovered a great resource for programs/services, referrals, donations, volunteers, events and the newsletter of course. The headline, "Helping pregnant and parenting young women, ages 13-21, build safe and stable lives for themselves and their children" is an eye-grabber!

Since the underlying goal of RBC Financial Group's corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians, we must support education and learning - we must support young people and children - our future, as prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. We're not alone in our thinking…and Humewood House fits the bill.

We support partnerships that work towards reaching our goal - building relationships with business, government, communities and our own employees (via work/life initiatives). When it comes to making a difference for children and youth, we 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 development.

For example, the RBC Foundation provided $2 million to 54 after-school programs in 32 communities for 2003-2003 (there are 21 programs in Ontario alone). This community investment is part of our ongoing commitment to children and education. RBC is there to help kids continue learning after the school-bell rings. These after-school programs offer varied activities that go beyond the three Rs, such as cooking and art classes, organized sports and computer tutoring - activities that address a wide-range of children's developmental needs.

RBC's Employee Volunteer Grants Program is another way we 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.

There's always a place for business in community initiatives - an opportunity for business to invest in women, children and families. We also know that the private sector can use its influence with governments/institutions and collaborate with partners for the development/support of young women and children. Corporations are part of the community. And the best solutions are community-based.

I see two significant trends changing the relationship between the corporate sector and organizations such as Humewood House. The first trend is that corporations 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.

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 their 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. The bottom line is that best practices are almost always about partnerships. And the time is now to increase corporate, community and personal involvement with associations like Humewood House.

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. Working together, getting connected and staying focused all comes down to leadership and communication. Why not create innovative investments that will help us work toward goals that we can share and achieve - to maximize the win/win and collective impact results that we want and need!

I'll continue to urge my colleagues in business to find ways to partner with organizations like this one and to speak out on investing in the well-being of young Canadians, including infants and young women/mothers. I also urge all of you to remind associates/colleagues about the strategic value of the Humewood investment - not once, but over and over again.

In closing, Humewood House is well represented by champions today. Congratulations to all of you for supporting this marvelous organization. Much has been accomplished over the years and under Gordon Reed's stewardship…however, I'm sure you would agree there's much more to do as Liz Marshall leads Humewood in the months ahead. A special thank you to Sue, Noriko Matsuura and the entire team for coordinating this event. As you market your business case and build ongoing community support, more investors will be walking up Humewood Drive!

Now, let's hear from you…

Thank you.

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