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Investing in early learning and child care:
The collaborative leadership advantage

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Spirit of Collaboration Breakfast
Calgary Petroleum Club
Calgary, Alberta

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Honourable Iris Evans, ladies and gentlemen:

It's a pleasure to be back in Calgary - especially to talk about one of my passions - investing in children. Since I'll be speaking about "early learning and child care: the collaborative leadership advantage", I want to say something about three people in this room right at the top - three people who demonstrate the value of leadership in action and collaboration.

Stephanie, thanks very much for the warm introduction. Most of you are aware of Stephanie's huge contribution to this community over the years…however I want to remind everyone that Stephanie is also a Member of the Order of Canada. And this is how her citation reads: "Wherever Stephanie Felesky sees a need, she is there. One of Calgary's most dedicated citizens, she has turned her concern into action, using her abundant energy and clear vision to benefit a multitude of worthwhile causes. She is co-chair of the Calgary Children's Initiative, a community action group committed to creating systemic change that will enhance the quality of life for youth. She has also worked in support of the Calgary Homeless Foundation and the University of Calgary. In addition, she has made a decade-long commitment to the United Way, co-chairing its successful 2002 campaign." Stephanie, it's an honour to be in your company both in the Order and this morning. I hope to see you at the investiture in Ottawa on the 30th! When it comes to the collaborative leadership advantage, the name Stephanie Felesky is top of mind.

Chief Jack Beaton, I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned the importance of the police department (and its officers) to children and families when speaking to groups like this and in conversations with people across the country. It was music to my ears to find out that you're one of CCI's co-champions. But I also did more homework on you…I read a piece in the Calgary Herald (November 8, 2003), titled, "The Chief's church: Refurbished church serves as getaway for Calgary Police Chief Jack Beaton." Reporter Kim Heinrich Gray did such a great job with the story that I wanted to meet the man who lives the values of "Honesty. Integrity. Ethics. Fairness. Compassion. Commitment. Courage" - the same Chief who said, "I don't get enough time as police chief to do a lot of blue sky thinking…it's important…(otherwise) you get bogged down and you don't bring initiatives to your work that stimulate progress. You have to get out of the box." When it comes to the collaborative leadership advantage, the name Jack Beaton is top of mind. And by the way Jack, we should all have a "getaway church" in our lives to help us get out of the box!

And then there's Minister Iris Evans…I remember reading the Honourable Anne McLellan's remarks at the 4th annual Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise (FACE) Research Roundtable last year…and was struck by her high regard for you: "It's always a pleasure to be anywhere my colleague Iris Evans is." Those few words speak volumes about your outstanding reputation and achievements in the Ministry. And they also speak to your remarks at the opening reception of the National Child and Youth Care Conference last night, as you were there representing the Alberta Children's Ministry as a partner, co-sponsor and honourary co-chair of the event. When it comes to the collaborative leadership advantage, the name Iris Evans is also top of mind. And Iris, I say "ditto" to Anne McLellan's comment!

One of Canada's communications pioneers, the late Marshall McLuhan, often shared his thoughts about children. You may recall 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. And let's be honest here - raising a child is nothing less than a long-term collaboration for parents!
As I glance around this room, I can't help but appreciate the power of the collective voice plus the value of raising the volume and the bar when it comes to investing in children - investing in early learning and child care - investing in the Calgary Children's Initiative. Each and every one of you is part of the collective voice. And it's the same collective voice that will help ensure more business people are in the room at the next breakfast in Calgary and communities across the province where the focus is on investing in children.

The time is now to convince corporate Canada to take a more active interest and leadership role in supporting early learning and child care - in supporting CCI. The key to convincing business revolves around building and selling a compelling case - demonstrating that investing in children is good business.

The obvious place to start is with my involvement. I'm involved in supporting early learning and child care because it's an economic investment that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action. RBC can help influence public policy and public opinion. After all, the development of human capital at an early age is key to a prosperous economy.

I'm involved because it's an economic investment that needs corporate/business 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 best 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!

It's clear that business has a vested interest in supporting the development of sound public policy, as business has a stake in early learning and child care outcomes, i.e., education, employment, health, safety and community engagement. Show me a leading CEO who doesn't believe that cultivating, attracting and retaining top talent is a strategic priority. Show me a leading CEO who doesn't get the connection between corporate responsibility, employee commitment and building business. Show me a leading CEO who doesn't equate the value of business, government and community partnerships with advancing the economic and social justice agenda.

I'd like to chat with a leading CEO who doesn't understand that improving shareholder value tomorrow has everything to do with investing in children and families today. The CEOs and executives in this room know what I mean. The CEOs and executives who sit on the CCI's Council of Champions know what I mean. Generating a high level of business interest can also help make the difference for CCI.

The bottom line is that more business leaders need to step up to the plate. And they need to hear and discuss research findings - evidence. The contribution of early learning and child care to the creation and nurturing of human capital cannot be ignored. Here's some research at work that shows why investing in children is good economics and good business:

  • "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."

  • "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."

  • 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. Employers increasingly find that the availability of good early childhood programs is critical to the recruitment and retention of parent employees."

  • "It's estimated that work-life conflicts cost Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion in lost time due to work absences."

"Research into the developing brain suggests that children get off to the best start by being taught in small groups at an early age, boosting their collaborative skills, while older children benefit from gradually being weaned off intensive teacher-led tuition and encouraged to be the kind of autonomous and inventive thinkers and learners that employers in the 21st century are crying out for." More research can be found on the Voices for Children web site - www.voicesforchildren.ca. And in terms of child care, the recently published Child Care Coalition of Manitoba report, Time for Action: An Economic and Social Analysis of Child Care in Winnipeg (www.childcaremanitoba.ca), is an excellent source of timely information and analysis. Among other things, it gets the economics.

Facts, figures, and return on investment are the kind of language that business understands. And the message is simple: we all bear a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. We need more business leaders to view early learning and child care as an economic issue, not just an education or social issue. It's an important economic issue because early learning and care enables parents to work, learn and train while helping to prepare children for a brighter future. It's a wise investment in 2004 to ensure a competitive workforce and economy in 2014.

We know that early learning and care has earned its place on the Canadian political landscape. We need to push the envelope on an agenda that must move forward (with the support of all three levels of government), which means making early learning and care a national and universal priority, targeting the children most in need and putting more money directly into high quality child care. Canada requires a coordinated approach to ensure program quality and to serve more children/families, including a focus on aboriginal children (I'm pleased that Barbara Milmine from the Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative is here today).

It was hard not to grin out loud, after hearing the federal government's Speech from the Throne last week that says, "The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the four key principles that parents and child care experts say matter - quality, universality, accessibility and development." The next step is leadership in action... The fact that Iris is here, along with Cindy Ady (MLA), Wayne Cao (MLA), Harvey Cenaiko (MLA), Joe Ceci (Alderman), Diane Danielson (Alderman), John Schmal (Alderman), shows all of us that the Province and the City are making investing in children a leadership in action priority.

Business has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action on early learning and child care issues - in helping to influence public policy. Business could also support governments in developing national/regional programs to replace the existing "patchwork " of projects and initiatives. "Most parents want an early learning experience for their children and a majority need non-parental care to allow them to work or study. Current services aren't organized to meet the needs of either parent or child…as a first step, we propose blending four and five year old programming - kindergarten, child care and parenting supports - into a single program." Collaborative learning matters to business.

Business also has a role to play in supporting programs like the Calgary Learning Village Collaborative, an established collaboration of the education, social and community agencies in the Greater Forest Lawn area, initiated by the Calgary Children's Initiative. This model understands the contribution a supportive community can make to positive child and youth development - it's a community, school and community services partnership about positive child development based on four pillars - resiliency, integrated services, lifelong learning, and meaningful school, community and parent connections. Again, collaborative learning matters to business.

Creating innovative strategies for early learning and child care contributes to Canada's path to prosperity. And prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. As such, why wouldn't more innovative business leaders consider workplaces that employ on-site/near-site child care centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs, parental networks, information and referral services, job sharing, flexible hours or extended parental leave/family care leaves? Why wouldn't innovative business leaders encourage investments in targeted children's initiatives and representation on children's advocacy boards? And why wouldn't innovative business leaders support partnerships with governments and communities - and the sharing of best practices? These are all elements of a sound business strategy that develops human capital, promotes a healthier workplace and sustains a competitive advantage. Collaborative learning matters to business.

Early learning and child care initiatives thrive on interdependence and collaboration in order to work and work well - as do CCI initiatives. They require leadership at all levels and business leadership at a high level. That's why champions are here today - that's why all of you are here - that's certainly why I'm here today.

RBC Financial Group must also continue to do its part in supporting children and youth. We take pride in our After-School Grant Program and other children-focused initiatives. It's great to see members of the RBC team here this morning: Gord Ritchie, Maggie Bazini, Helena Gottschling, Wafa Kadri, Eve McGuire, Don Tarry, Diana Ward…talk about colleagues who "get it." You can imagine our delight and pride during the first annual Calgary and Area Child Care Awards of Excellence, held on May 7 at the University of Calgary (of which CCI was a sponsor), when RBC Foundation was named recipient of the Friend of Child Care Award. I understand the City of Calgary also acknowledged the importance of child care with Mayor Dave Bronconnier proclaiming Early Childhood Professionals Appreciation Day on the same date.

Today, we're learning more about the collaborative action and successful work of The Calgary Children's Initiative - and the collaborative nature of the work of Alberta's Promise. And this breakfast is also a celebration of the more than 70 child and youth serving agencies, organizations, businesses, and individuals from the Calgary region working together.

If you're a community or social organization, take time to reflect on your partnerships…look at ways to strengthen your collaborative efforts. If you're in elected office, continue to speak up about investing in our youngest citizens. And if you're corporate partner, we encourage you to encourage your peers to come to the table.

Should you want to get involved, let CCI know this morning. Offer your time, expertise, skills or financial resources… Volunteer, participate in programs/events - become engaged with the children and youth of Calgary. And get more young people involved like Josh Friesen (who's here today) and already an active role model in the community. Whether he's working with a youth group at a theatre day for economically challenged families, fund-raising for a family who suffered losses in the BC fires or helping moms and kids at summer camp, Josh gets the collaborative leadership advantage big time.

Collaboration is a powerful solutions strategy for dealing with long-term challenges that prevent children from reaching their potential. The power of collaboration makes community partnerships and action happen. The power of collaboration addresses difficult issues where no one organization or individual can have significant enough impact. The power of collaboration delivers smart, innovative results, as it promotes grassroots community thinking, diversity of input, healing and growth. Ask CCI about the new Framework for Action for Calgary's Children and Youth - a collaboratively designed tool (of course) that brings a common voice and shared vision for action to organizations in the development of their programs.

In closing, special thanks to United Way and CCI for collaboratively inviting me to join you this morning - people like Ruth Ramsden-Wood, Heather MacDonald, Varina Russell and Donna McLeod, with a little help from RBC's Gord Ritchie, who's no stranger to United Way…and to Jill Hilderman of Nimble Communications, who's done a superb job of coordinating my involvement in this event. CCI is doing great things in this city and province - the Calgary Children's Initiative is an exemplary model of successful collaborative action and impact. Thank you all for what you do and for what you'll continue to do in the months and years ahead. It's what making a difference is all about!

"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." As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child…so when igniting the early learning and child care flame with the collaborative leadership advantage - and when igniting the CCI flame with the same collaborative leadership advantage, by all means count business in!

Thanks very much.


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