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Building a better economy
through partnerships

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Cowichan Valley United Way - Prominent Canadian Speakers Series
Travelodge Silver Bridge Inn
Duncan, British Columbia

Thursday, May 13, 2004

(Please check against delivery)

Thanks very much for the warm introduction Rhoda…

Mayor Jon Lefebure, ladies and gentlemen:

Some of you may be aware that I met the marvelous Rhoda Taylor at the AGM of the BC Association of Family Resource Programs last December in Vancouver. She sent an e-mail shortly after the event and invited me to return to BC - the Cowichan Valley's United Way speaker series in particular - to chat with all of you about "Building a Better Economy through Partnerships", with a focus on investing in early childhood development and care. Rhoda also helped orchestrate my presentation in Victoria yesterday afternoon, where I met with members of the Early Childhood Community Coalition and Success By 6 Council of Partners. Over and above Rhoda's connection to United Way, Healthy Beginnings and other community projects, we can also learn something about her via e-mail, as she obviously subscribes to the credo: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do." (Edward Everett Hale) Rhoda, you're a community pacesetter and a partnership builder - thank you for the invitation to join this impressive group this morning.

One of our country's communications pioneers, the late Marshall McLuhan, often shared his thoughts about children. You may recognize his remark about changing infant diapers that goes like this: "Diaper backwards spells repaid. Think about it." Many interpretations have followed over the years - I prefer the one that suggests there are short/long-term "benefits" for taking care of children early on.

Before we get started, I want to share a couple of experiences in this beautiful province. I attended a First Nations Business Forum in Tofino on April 22nd. RBC was proud to present this "working together to build a prosperous future" event. It was gratifying to sit in on workshops and see aboriginal and non-aboriginal delegates catching the spirit of community partnership. I couldn't help but reflect on the importance of private sector involvement - RBC's involvement in catching the spirit too. I was also reminded of futurologist Don Tapscott's comment about children: "for the first time in human history, (children) are becoming a massive force for the transformation of every institution in society." That's a pretty powerful and telling statement…there's no doubt in my mind that the First Nations Business Forum was an investment in building a better economy through partnerships…an investment in shaping our children's futures!

I returned to BC a week later for a Spirit of 2010 Business Summit in Vancouver (co-presented by the Government of British Columbia and RBC Financial Group), the purpose of which was to give businesses information, tools and insights about Olympic development strategies and opportunities. In many ways, RBC's investment here speaks to our investment in children and youth. We believe the Games will benefit all of Canada (especially young Canadians), from the perspective of economics, sustainability, cultural activity, tourism and legacy. The Olympic Games are a part of my heritage, they're a part of your heritage and part of our history. RBC has been with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) since 1947 and we expect to be a major supporter for Vancouver 2010 and beyond. RBC is also there for children and youth. It's simply who we are. Catching the spirit of community building and making the connection to the early years is nothing less than an investment in building a better economy through partnerships…an investment in shaping our children's futures!

By the way, please know that I want to hear your questions/comments in a few minutes as interacting with all of you is my favourite part of our time together - this is definitely a two-pronged presentation.

So where do I begin? With the answer to one of the most often asked questions I get - Charlie, why are you (a banker) involved with early childhood development and care?

I'm involved in supporting early childhood development (ECD) and 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? 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 has 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 Prime Minister Paul Martin's top social priorities" and a significant factor in the pending federal election.

Partners and partnerships come together for many reasons and in many different ways. Congratulations to all of you here who represent business, government, labour and community interests - you're all children's champions.

The quality of care our children receive in their early years is a critical component to their success in school, in relationships and in the workplace. I'm impressed with the cross-government strategy for children from zero to six years of age in BC. I'm also impressed with the partnership building activity in this province and on the Island - here are some highlights worth repeating:

  • Last May, the Province, United Way and Credit Union Central of BC launched a new Success By 6 early childhood development partnership to enhance support for parents and improve early learning for young children. This partnership provides the required experience and infrastructure to make real, positive differences in the lives of our children and families. Talk about partnership building at work.

  • The Hiiye'yu Lelum (House of Friendship) Society "provides health, social, recreational and cultural services to promote individual, family and community self-reliance. These services address the needs and aspirations of aboriginal people and focus on well-being within a cross-cultural context." Healthiest Babies Possible provides holistic, culturally-based prevention services for youth and their families including after school programs, recreational summer projects, family workshops and a parenting program. Talk about partnership building opportunities in the making…

  • The Vancouver Board of Trade and its Early Childhood Development Task Force is 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. Talk about partnership building at work.

  • 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." Get the private sector involved and you'll see more partnerships at work.

  • 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 can't emphasize enough…get the private sector involved and you'll partnership building at work.

  • The January 2004 Report and Research: Building Together - A model for a collaborative, coordinated community-based system of early childhood supports and services that promotes and protects the healthy development of children and families, is a Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and School Districts within the Vancouver Island region partnership. I perused the report and research with much curiosity - talk about partnership building at work.

  • Then there's the amazing dynamic fundraising duo of Rick Doman, the Honourary Campaign Chair of the United Way and Douglas Tucker, Campaign Chair, who's here today. I heard about the raffling off of a "$3,000 hockey-lover's dream to raise money for the United Way", including a helicopter ride to and from the game and a hotel room. I know of Rick's and Doug's big hearts and the contributions of former Doman Industries Ltd. and Overwaitea Foods, not to mention the enormous amount of time devoted to United Way efforts. Talk about partnerships at work…

Up to this point, I've outlined examples of successful community building in this province and on the Island, which tells me the obvious: United Way and other organizations know a few things about what it takes to make partnerships happen and work well. You know of ways to get in the door at executive levels - to get the ear of Ministers Christy Clark and Linda Reid and members of their team - to get the ear of your Mayor and local officials. 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., determining objectives, research, funding priorities, goals/activities, a budget, communications plan, projected results and outcomes - in other words, creating the "investing in children is healthy 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 our language can ultimately secure corporate support.

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": safety, social skills and self-esteem. Activities include: computer instruction, sports, literacy tutoring, music and art lessons, nutrition guidance, and homework-help. British Columbia continues to be well represented in our program.

The Cowichan Valley United Way and each organization represented here, has a unique contribution to make in the community. From Jean Crowder, Allison Cutler, Julie Douglas, Don McKendrick, Chief Cyril Livingstone Ruth Hartman, Jim Parker and Fran Kirby, to Liza Baggio, Tracey Hamilton, Mary Hill, Dave Quist, Terry Shepherd, Debbie Williams, Joanna Winter and Candace Spilsbury (just to name a few), this room is filled with partnerships in action or in the making.

I'm pleased to see Linda Grey from Duncan Mall in the audience - I understand the Merchants Association is involved in a reading program for children and hope you'll update us on this project. Also, Cam Drew is with us today - Cam's dad (Dick Drew) and I did some work together with Chief Alphonse a few years ago and later on with Native Wellness. Cam, please say hello to your father for me. And it's great to see a few of my RBC colleagues among the group - I'm sure many of you know our own Marc Germain (who's also on your United Way board), Trish McMaster, Bill Myers, Jack Scott and Ed Watson.

I urge all of you to think about partnership building - about "stirring the pot" - about raising issues (and raising our minds) within the context of early childhood development and care and building a better economy. This is what we'll be doing in Ottawa next month when Success By 6/United Way partners gather business leaders together to learn more about opportunities that revolve around investing in children - the early years.

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 forums like this one. The private sector needs to understand that investing in children is good business. Partnerships are all about promoting inclusion, sharing ideas and strategies, building bridges, enhancing understanding and making connections. There's always a place for business in the community as business is an intrinsic part of the community - of your community.

Once again, I want to thank the United Way/Vern White and Rhoda in particular, for coordinating this event. If I can be a sounding board of support, please don't hesitate to touch base by phone or e-mail - I'll leave a few business cards behind. And if you're interested in more information about the business case for supporting early childhood development and care (and building a better economy), you may find the Voices for Children link, http://www.voicesforchildren.ca/report-Sept2003-1.htm helpful.

A somewhat hot off the press footnote: On Monday, the Government of Canada announced the release of "A Canada Fit for Children", its response to the commitments made on May 10, 2002, at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. "A Canada Fit for Children re-affirms the importance that all sectors of Canadian society - governments, organizations and individuals - place on children. In particular, A Canada Fit for Children re-affirms the Government's commitment to making children and families a national priority and to continue to work with governments, stakeholders and the public. Senator Landon Pearson, was instrumental in developing the document…which is the result of input from thousands of Canadians, including young people, who have a common interest in the rights and well-being of children." I also urge you to check out http://sen.parl.gc.ca/lpearson/specialsession/index.htm and review the document. This is one more tool to help push the envelope for supporting early childhood development and care - to help build a stronger business case for private sector participation and partnerships.

In closing, I can only echo the tag line of Success By 6 - let's make sure we're "helping all children succeed for life" and the words of Jennifer Harvey, a graduate student at the University of Victoria: "(We) should make early childhood development a priority because, like the slogan says, the early years last a lifetime."

Thank you…now it's your turn - let's hear from you!

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