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Building partnerships to support children and families:
Smart investments in a civil society

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Annual General Meeting of the BC Association of Family Resource Programs
Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver, British Columbia

Friday, December 5, 2003

Thanks very much for the warm introduction Pam…

Honourable Linda Reid, ladies and gentlemen…I'm delighted to join you this morning - to share some thoughts about building partnerships to support children and families - what I often refer to as smart investments in a civil society. After learning that the AGM was being held at the Vancouver Public Library, I was reminded of a quote by author Richard Armour: A library "is where people…lower their voices and raise their minds." Here's hoping we raise our minds today - I'll rely on Janice Douglas, who knows more about the library effect than most (and all of you) to be the judge!

Before we get started, I want to share a couple of stories about my trip to this beautiful (and wet) province just a week ago. I attended the First Nations Summit in Vancouver on November 27th - as many of you are aware, the Summit represents the interests of First Nations working to negotiate treaties in British Columbia. This group offers a "friendly, inclusive environment" where people talk about ideas and strategies. It was a privilege to sit in on the sessions dealing with health, residential schools and fisheries issues plus witness, first hand, the spirit of partnership building in the room.

We then headed to Victoria the next day…The First Peoples' Cultural Foundation hosted the Red Cedar Bridge gala and auction, an event designed to raise the remaining $500,000 (of the $1.5 million) for the FirstVoices Project - to continue building the Aboriginal language legacy. As you know, "there's an enormous urgency for these languages to be archived before Elders who speak and know their languages are gone." The Red Cedar Bridge "is a metaphor for bridging cultural and technological divides and a symbolic bridge to understanding and connecting Aboriginal past, present and future." The Foundation/gala combination is another example of partnership building in action.

As we begin, please know that I want to hear your questions/comments following my presentation, as interacting with all of you will definitely be the best part of my visit. I also want you to know why building partnerships, promoting a civil society and supporting early childhood development is important to me and to RBC Financial Group, so let me set the stage for making the connections:

Partnerships…at RBC, when our focus is on building partnerships with the not-for-profit sector, our focus is also on the added value of collaboration, community leadership and corporate responsibility.

Corporate responsibility and building a civil society…is about the marketplace: are we conducting business responsibly; it's about community: are we assuming a leadership position with investments and issues pertinent to our business and customers; it's about the workplace; are we treating employees well and encouraging/supporting their participation; and it's about the environment: are we taking care of our surroundings - the air we breathe - the energy we use - the water we drink?

Early childhood development (ECD)…I'm involved in supporting ECD and child care because it's an economic investment that requires more government action. Through our work at RBC Financial Group, the senior executive team can help influence public policy. 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 requires more corporate action. As a business leader, I have a responsibility to push the envelope on high priority issues - and what's more important than children? This is very much part of corporate responsibility - building a more civil society.
I'm also involved because it's an economic investment that requires more community action - kids are everybody's business. Integrated early years programming is one of the smartest investments communities can make. As a children's advocate (and parent), the only way to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved!

The bottom line is that corporations around the world are increasingly conscious of the benefit and the necessity of being, and being seen as, good corporate citizens. In addition, corporations are becoming more strategically and actively engaged - we're contributing resources and knowledge, as well as dollars in order to help build a healthier society. Supporting early childhood development initiatives is a great means to weave building partnerships with building a civil society - to create a win/win!

Overall, I'm confident that the resources and expertise of the private sector will continue to converge with the not-for-profit sector, including resurgence in government support and partnerships at all levels, which is already manifesting itself. It's clear that the federal government (via the February Budget) made a solid financial commitment to early childhood development and care. It's also clear that children's issues "will be the underlying theme in Paul Martin's top social priorities" - addressing a proposed child care program is on the discussion table.

Partners and partnerships come together for many reasons and in many different ways. Congratulations to Minister Reid, Dave Park, the BC Association of Family Resource Programs team (including the likes of Helen Davidson and the board, not to mention Marianne Drew-Pennington and staff) and all the children's champions in this room for making smart investments over the years.

Minister Reid, I read your Estimates Speech to the BC Legislature (dated March 26, 2003) and was impressed with the partnership building activity - here are some highlights worth repeating:

· The Canada Northwest FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder) Partnership, including partners in BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and the Yukon, is committed to increasing public awareness in the prevention of FASD. There's also a focus on inter-ministry collaboration - "how we can have a resolve across government that would matter in the life of a child." Talk about partnership building both outside and inside government!

· Family resource programs provide parents with information, education, support, referrals and other early childhood development services. "In November of 2002, grants totaling approximately $1.4 million were allocated to 122 family resource programs around the province for establishing new programs or enhancing existing ones." Talk about partnership building in the community!

· Make Children First, Building Blocks, Mother Goose, Roots of Empathy, initiatives for children with autism spectrum disorder, infant development and family literacy, the Children First Learning investment in Richmond, not to mention Success By 6, are just some of the programs that revolve around partnerships or the community partnership fund in BC. I recently spoke at the Success By 6 Report Back to the Community luncheon in Ottawa and am well aware of the focus on creating environments for young children that nurture stability, stimulation and support (it's great to see Sheila McFadzean from Success By 6/United Way and Irene Clarence from Make Children First here today). Talk about partnership building opportunities for the corporate sector!

All this partnership talk leads me to Dave Park, the Vancouver Board of Trade and its Early Childhood Development Task Force. It's gratifying to see a business task force monitoring developments in early childhood development, identifying and gathering information on ECD and working with other organizations to help shape public/private sector policy relating to early childhood development. I'll ensure colleagues involved with the Toronto Board of Trade know about this task force, as in my mind, this commitment represents the grassroots of early years corporate partnership building.

Speaking of grassroots…the BC Association of Family Resource Programs has been instrumental in building positive ministerial relations to support ECD initiatives across the province. I'm pleased to hear about the partnership with the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) - including regional financial support for Family Resource Programs, the creation and distribution of FRP-driven ECD educational materials and the hosting of EDC training events, such as "Invest In Kids." Since I'm quite familiar with FRP Canada (Sue Khazaie, who's joined us today, and I co-presented a workshop at the national conference last year), it's also good to know that partnership building in support of children and families is happening through the national organization.

In addition, the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), a pioneer, interdisciplinary research partnership that's directing a global leadership contribution to new ECD understandings and approaches, is a tremendous model for partnership building with the academic community - the network of faculty, researchers and graduate students from British Columbia's four major universities. I encourage you to chat with Managing Director Jacqueline Smit Alex and learn more about HELP.

Up to this point, I've outlined one example after another of successful partnerships in this province, which tells me the obvious: you know a few things about what it takes to make partnerships happen and work well. You know some ways to get in the door at executive levels - to get the ear of Minister Reid and members of her team (some of whom are in the audience). You know that having a connection usually helps - that targeting circles of influence makes sense. You also know that developing a strategy is key, i.e., documenting objectives, research, funding priorities, goals/activities, a budget, a communications plan, projected results and outcomes - in other words, creating a business case. And you know that cultivating national collaborations, sharing best practices, generating letters of support and joining forces with similar interest groups can make a difference. What else do you likely know? You know that branding and board governance are hot buttons in corporate Canada - that talking the language can ultimately secure corporate support - that it's all about knowing your partner.

In a nutshell, preparing "sound bites", networking, writing/submitting articles and getting your name on invitation lists for corporate AGMs/events, are all elements of partnership building. And when you get there, work the floor as some of you have been doing here! If I can be a sounding board of support, please touch base by phone or e-mail - I'll leave a few business cards behind…

The underlying goal of RBC Financial Group's corporate citizenship programs is prosperity for Canada/Canadians. To achieve this, we must support education/learning and health, as prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. We continue to foster relationships with business, government, communities and our own employees to help meet our goals. Making a community difference is a shared responsibility. Partnerships encourage business to be catalysts for change - to show their heart. What a great way to build a civil society and promote social development. More times than not, best practices are almost always about partnerships.
For example, the RBC Foundation announced $1.3 million in funding for our 2003/2004 after-school grants program. This community partnership is part of our ongoing investment in children and education. To be chosen for a grant, recipients must offer structured, supervised activities in what we refer to as the "3 Ss" environment: safety, social skills and self-esteem. Activities include: computer instruction, sports, literacy tutoring, music and art lessons, nutrition guidance, and homework-help. From Exploration Place, YMCA (both in Prince George) and Penticton Boys and Girls Club (Penticton), to Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, Hastings Safe Streets - Kids First Program, Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, Ray-Cam Cooperative Centre, Strathcona Community Association, Visions Athletic After-School Program (all in the Vancouver area), British Columbia continues to be well represented in our program. The RBC Foundation is also proud of our partnership with the British Columbia Library Association - we assist in providing Reading Achievement Medals to children participating in the Association's Summer Reading Club.

The BC Association of Family Resource Programs and each organization here, has a unique contribution to make in the community: from Carol Dorn/Debbie Fletcher/Sheri Sinclair (Chilliwack Family Place Network), Sandra Menzer/Wendy Chow (Vancouver Society of Children's Centres), Deb Jarvis (Abbotsford Community Services) and Alva Jenson (Vancouver School Board), to Sheila Davidson (SFU Child Care Society), Jen McCystal, Rebel-Lynne Cheena, Susan Miller (Twassa First Nations), Candace Robotham/Cindy McNeil Hunt (Seabird Island Band), Brenda Faust/Christine Buttkus (Communities That Care - Squamish) and Wendy Cooper (Provincial Child Care Council), to name a few, this room is filled with children's champions and partnerships in action or in the making.

I wish to thank Pam Kacir for inviting me to participate in this event and Susan Foster/Lynn Beatty, as well as Pam again, for their support. It's been a pleasure to meet the first Minister of State for Early Childhood Development in Canada, as I usually hear what's going on in BC from the province's topnotch ECD adviser, Dr. Fraser Mustard. By the way, it was wonderful to see British Columbia singled out in the four categories of child care, crisis intervention, provision of basic necessities and services to seniors at the annual Donner Canadian Foundation Awards of Excellence in the Delivery of Social Services on November 21st. More partnerships at work no doubt!

The time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting early childhood development and care - and to attract more business people to AGMs like this one. The private sector needs to understand that investing in children is smart business. Partnerships are all about inclusion, sharing ideas and strategies, building bridges, understanding and connections. There's always a place for business in the community as corporations (large, small and in between) are an intrinsic part of the community - of your communities.

In closing, I was reading the remarks delivered at a recent Directors' meeting by our own Tony Fell, Chairman of RBC Capital Markets. While wrapping up, he talked about "stirring the pot" and raising major issues…the comment that resonated the most with me was this: "When you cut through it all, it's very easy to believe in what you stand for - we can all do that - but it's far more difficult to stand up for what you believe in." I urge you to think about partnership building - about "stirring the pot" - about raising issues (and raising our minds) in the context of standing up for what you believe in. You may find this is the ultimate smart investment for children and families!

Thank you…now it's your turn.

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