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Think small, act big… :
Investing in our children - it's good business!

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Mayor's Business Breakfast
Oakville Banquet and Conference Centre
Oakville, Ontario

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Thanks very much for the warm introduction Mayor Mulvale (Ann)…

It's a great compliment to be invited to speak at one of the Mayor's quarterly breakfasts right here in Oakville. It's also a great compliment to participate in an event sponsored by Big Brothers of Halton. As you may know, September is designated Big Brothers Big Sisters Month across the country; RBC Financial Group takes pride in supporting the Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations from coast to coast…it's gratifying to see familiar faces in the audience that are connected to these amazing groups.

One special person and great Canadian connected to Big Brothers, is none other than Ann Mulvale herself. Here's what Big Brothers of Halton had to say about the Mayor: "Mayor Mulvale has unconditionally supported Big Brothers of Halton. (She) raises funds and participates in the organization's Curling Bonspiel each year. She's active in helping promote Big Brothers at meetings, Open Houses and community events; Mayor Mulvale believes in the mentoring concept and is a role model for young men and women alike. Her approachability, kind manner and strong advocacy ability makes her a loved and respected representative of our town." Needless to say, I was impressed with this telling description, although not surprised! And there's more about your Mayor…

Some of you may also be aware that Ann Mulvale was the keynote speaker at Sheridan College's Convocation on June 12th. Among many things, she reminded the graduates of a quote by Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" and then went on to say: "My wish for you is that your life in every aspect continues or becomes a daring adventure." Once again, I was impressed!

As I begin to share some thoughts about think small, act big: investing in our children, I want you to know (especially the Mayor) that you'll hear about Big Brothers of Halton more than one more time in my remarks…and my goal is to take all of you on a daring adventure for the next 15 minutes. By the way, I urge each and every one of you to read the Mayor's speech in its entirety - no matter what stage in life, it's an uplifting piece that will make you think big time!

Over the past few decades, public sector, academic and community leaders have invested time, expertise, and resources to improve education and cultivate a prosperous world-class workforce. In this new millennium, it's become increasingly clear that one of the major missing pieces to better achieving this goal is pushing the envelope on early childhood education and care - investing in our children.

There's no doubt we have Dr. Fraser Mustard and the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research (CIAR) to thank for expanding our brainpower in the area of early childhood development. There's also no doubt that the time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting childhood education and care. The key to convincing business revolves around building and selling a compelling business case - demonstrating that investing in our children is good business. This is why we should think small (as in children)…and act big (as in our investment). Let's get started…

Corporate leaders need to hear and talk about research findings to get the message about various risk factors: current and future customers, employees and stakeholders, a healthier workplace (work/life initiatives), increased productivity, a more attractive bottom line and corporate responsibility. Equally important is the contribution of early childhood development and care to the creation and nurturing of human capital. Here's some research at work that shows investing in children is good business.

Investment returns

  • Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis maintain that, "Early childhood development programs are rarely portrayed as economic development initiatives…and this is a mistake. Such programs often appear at the bottom of economic development lists. They should be at the top. Studies find that well-focused investments in early childhood development yield high public as well as private returns."

  • "For every $1 spent on child care there is a $2 economic benefit. The benefit comes back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social, education and health costs.

Children's development

  • "A child's brain development in the first six years of life sets the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health."

  • "If the first few years of life include support for growth in cognition, language, motor skills, adaptive skills and social-emotional functioning, the child is more likely to succeed in school and later contribute to society."

  • "Children who are in day-care and other early-childhood programs have a head start in school over those who stay at home with a parent. By the time they get to kindergarten, the children in programs have better communication, learning and math skills regardless of family income or their mother's education level."

Human capital development and productivity

  • "Over the current decade, the growth rate in the 0-12 year age group will be negative. The implications of these demographic trends for human capital development [are significant]…with a small cohort of children to replace those retiring over the next two decades, it's more important than ever that the human capital of children be developed as fully as possible if we are to raise the productivity of a future smaller labour force."

  • High-quality early childhood education produces "long-term positive outcomes and cost-savings that include improved school performance, reduced special education placement, lower school dropout rates, and increased lifelong earning potential. Not only does high-quality early childhood education make a difference for children, it matters to their employed parents. Employers increasingly find that the availability of good early childhood programs is critical to the recruitment and retention of parent employees."

  • "Companies have also found that there are business benefits, including improved recruitment and retention, when they assist their own employees with early childhood programs."

  • "Employees with access to family-supportive programs and policies are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, to be loyal, to go the extra mile to help their companies succeed, and to stay at their jobs."

Work-life conflicts

  • "It's estimated that work-life conflicts cost Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion in lost time due to work absences (this figure does not include indirect costs such as replacement of the employee during the absence, overtime costs or reduced service or productivity.)"

  • "Numerous studies reveal there's a cost to business in not responding to employees' need for reliable and good-quality early childhood programs. Employees are likely to miss work when they spend long hours trying to find early childhood programs or when they deal with the often tenuous arrangements they have, especially when arrangements fall apart. When employees are at work worrying about their children, they have difficulty concentrating."

Facts, figures, and return on investment are the kind of language that business understands. And the message is clear: we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. We bear it as parents, taxpayers and businesspeople.

The time is now for more business leaders to view early childhood programs and child care as an economic issue, not just an education or social issue. This is an important economic issue because early childhood education and care enables parents to work, learn and train while helping to prepare children for a brighter future. As recommended in the Final Report, Commission on Early Learning and Child Care for the City of Toronto (May 2002), we must make the wise investments in child care today to ensure a competitive workforce and economy tomorrow and beyond. This is good business.

Minister John Manley's budget announcement (February 17, 2003) of "$900 million over five years to assist provinces and territories to increase access to quality child care and early learning opportunities, and $35 million over five years…for First Nations children, primarily on reserve", was a critical step in the right direction.

Since then, a federal/provincial/territorial Multilateral Framework on Early Learning and Child Care has been developed/agreed upon - one that builds on the commitments made by First Ministers in 2000. Execution will make the difference. As well, Liberal Party leadership candidates Sheila Copps and Paul Martin have incorporated early childhood development and care in debate platforms and policy vision.

Also in February, Minister Robert Nault (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), released the results of a national survey of First Nations people living on-reserve. Respondents indicated that early childhood education is essential for aboriginal children; it means healthier beginnings and increases overall education success.

Minister Jane Stewart (Human Resources Development Canada) continues to speak about Putting Children First - saying that, "investing in a sound social policy has a profound and positive effect on Canada's economy." On August 25, she co-chaired a federal/provincial/territorial meeting of ministers responsible for social services in Yellowknife, where the focus was on children's issues and child care.

Senator Landon Pearson's leadership (Advisor on Children's Rights and Vice Chair, National Children's Agenda Caucus Committee) is second to none. The Senate of Canada's newsletter, Children on the Hill tells the story.

John Godfrey (MP for Don Valley West and Chair, National Children's Agenda Caucus Committee), has shown impressive leadership with "A National Child Care Strategy: Getting the architecture right now", a Report of the National Liberal Caucus Social Policy Committee with the collaboration of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy (November 2002).

It's clear that early childhood education and care is on the political agenda. Now, this agenda must move forward to the next level, which means putting money directly into child care and making high-quality early childhood education and care a national/universal priority, while focusing on the children most in need. This investment in early education should be a coordinated effort to ensure program quality and to serve more children, including aboriginal children.

Business has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action on early childhood development and care issues - in helping to influence public policy. Business also needs to support governments in developing national/regional early childhood education and care programs to replace the "patchwork" of projects and initiatives that are in place today. Since the underlying goal of corporate responsibility is prosperity for Canada, the private sector should increase its support of children, education and learning. Prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. Advocating sound policy and establishing innovative strategies for early childhood education and care will contribute to Canada's prosperity.

Let's talk about business strategies/action plans…
When it comes to children, there are unlimited business possibilities:

  • workplaces that employ on-site/near-site child care centres
  • child care subsidies
  • after-school programs
  • parental networks, information and referral services
  • investing in/sponsoring targeted children's initiatives
  • workplaces that broaden their scope re job sharing, flexible hours, extended maternity leave, and family care leaves
  • workplaces that encourage representation on children's advocacy boards.

These are all elements of a sound business strategy, and they will aid in developing human capital, promoting a healthier workplace and creating a competitive advantage. This is good business.

Let's talk about business, government and community partnerships…
There's a whole host of opportunities for business investment in childhood education and care - in employees and families. We must continue to listen to the voice of our employee partners (primarily through work/life initiatives) in order to help meet objectives and expectations.

We also know the private sector can collaborate with governments/institutions and community partners for the development/support of children. Partnerships with the private sector are an essential piece of the Canadian early childhood education and care investment. Corporations are part of the community. My RBC colleagues in Oakville (several of whom are here today) and I know that the best solutions are community-based.

Best practices are almost always about partnerships. When it comes to making a difference for children, business has 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. This is also good business.

And speaking of leadership and partnerships, let's take a closer look at Oakville:

  • "The Sheridan College Child Care Centre in Oakville provides high quality programming based on the High/Scope Philosophy of education. The High/Scope Curriculum is based on the well-documented research at the High/Scope Foundation in Michigan. Children are seen as "Active Learners" who, supported by their teachers, develop new understanding through active exploration of materials, ideas and events." This is good news for business.

  • Community projects thrive here with a local focus on social, health, recreation, library, school, businesses or organizations serving children and families. For example, the YMCA of Oakville (which is well known to RBC) serves parents and children through a range of programs including creative play and life skills development. What a pleasure to see Angela Gidman-Patient and Lisa Dodd here this morning.

  • In the past year, Big Brothers of Halton has tripled its In-School Mentoring matches from 30 to 86 at year-end; reduced its waiting list from 60 to 35; increased 1:1 matches from 40 to 60, in addition to facilitating supplementary programs to meet the needs of children and families. Community involvement is the key to success. As one Little Brother recently said, " My Big Brother is my best friend. He spends time with me and he does not even have to. When I grow up, I am going to be a Big Brother like him and help make someone happy like he made me." All I can say is wow!

  • And as I glance around the room…from Mayor Ann Mulvale, Joyce Savoline (Regional Chair), Jennifer Santos and Lena Bassford (Big Brothers of Halton), Karen Chan and Barbara Minogue (Ontario's Promise) and Allison Picard (United Way of Oakville), to Robin Farb (University of Toronto), John Breakey and Laura Babcock (Oakville Chamber of Commerce), Elaine Scrivener (Oakville Economic Development Alliance) and the woman who contacted me about speaking at this breakfast in the first place - Kathy Chadder (Big Brothers of Halton) and the list goes on (if only there was time to single out all of you)…you're all champions in my mind and in the minds of those people whose lives you touch each and every day.

It's important to note that the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) is a marvelous business forum to help shape sound public policy in Canada, North America and the world. And our business leadership hardly stops there. The Toronto City Summit Alliance placed early childhood development on its agenda (June 5, 2003) and children's advocates around the country are encouraging business champions to make childhood education and care a top priority.

In closing, early child education and care thrives on interdependence and collaboration in order to work and work well - it requires leadership at all levels and business leadership at a high level. It's time for business to step up to the plate - it's time for our leadership voice to be heard in greater numbers. "In today's world, where education and skill levels determine future earnings, the economic and social costs to individuals, communities, and the nation of not taking action on early childhood education are far too great to ignore, especially when the benefits far outweigh the costs."

Think small…and act big. It's never too early to invest in children - the bottom line is that early childhood education and care is very good business…and perhaps a daring adventure!

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