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Create cool partnerships:
Influence a child's future - your community's future

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
School's Cool! Conference
Kempenfelt Centre
Barrie, Ontario

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Susan, thank you for the warm introduction…it's very "cool" to see you again - especially at this conference! And you're not off the hook that quickly…I want to share something about you with this group that most may be hearing for the first time. The Outreach Committee for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir works smart and hard to connect the TMC family with schools, churches and other arts organizations, in order to broaden its audience. And Susan Wilson is part of the work smart and hard team. Not surprisingly, volunteer awards are presented each year to people who have made exceptional contributions to the TMC. I recently learned that Susan earned one of last season's awards for her impressive effort with organizing the Gala, as part of the Outreach Planning Committee. RBC and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir have made music together in the past, so this is an opportunity to both congratulate and thank Susan publicly for all that she does in the name of community building.

It's always a pleasure to visit Barrie and a delight to join all of you this morning. How could I say anything but "yes" to Gena Robertson's invitation to talk about one of my passions - investing in children? 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.

Since I'll be speaking about creating cool partnerships: influencing a child's future - your community future, I want to say something about Gena right at the top. As you know, Gena is the (founding) Executive Director of SIRCH Community Services and Consulting, she's a social entrepreneur, listed in the "Who's Who" in Executives and Professionals" and copyright co-owner of School's Cool. (And what an accomplishment that School's Cool Developmental Checklist (evaluation tool) was accepted as an official Health Canada Evaluation tool for CAPC projects in Ontario.) What some of you may forget is that Gena could write the book on partnerships - as working with over fifty organizations and individuals to develop early literacy resources, collaborating to produce and distribute a teen pregnancy game and founding the Palliative and Bereavement Care Coalition in Haliburton, is all about building partnerships. And I just gave you the reader's digest version of Gena's activities over the years…

It's clear this room is filled with people who demonstrate the value of leadership in action and collaboration when it comes to children and partnership building in the community. I can't help but better appreciate the power of the collective voice plus the value of raising the volume and the bar when it comes to investing in children. From Angie Baker (OEYC Oxford County), Kathie Barfield (OEYC Niagara Falls), Lynda Brown and Fred Simpson (Tungasuvvingat Inuit Head Start), Claudette Copegog and Brenda Jackson (Georgian Bay Native Women's Association) and Alison Lines (Limestone Advisory for Child Care Program), to Linda Mintz (SIRCH), Heather Molen (Families First in White Oaks), Andrea Pow (Haldimand-Norfolk CAPC), Laura Whalen (Our Children our Future) and Angela Mashford-Pringle (Aboriginal Children's Program - Health Canada) - if only there was time to name everyone - each and every one of you is part of the collective voice. And it's the same collective voice that will help ensure business people are in the room at the next event in Barrie and communities from coast to coast, where the objective is investing in children.

And by the way, I'm wrapping up the more formal presentation in about fifteen minutes to give sufficient time for your comments and discussion. So please jot down your questions for what I think will be the best part of this session - interacting with the champions who make things happen.
To achieve the goal of maximizing the potential of our children, we need public, private and community sector commitment and involvement. As you're aware, it's not easy! Funding isn't easy and the competition isn't easy. Staff and volunteers are often overwhelmed by activity and expectations - and many are overextending themselves. Meanwhile, businesses are inundated for donations. So how do the various sectors better work together to plan for the success of our children and our future? Let's talk about building a compelling business case first…

As you're aware, the future economic well-being and growth of our country rests in very small hands - Canada's kids. Our kids will be the keepers of the key for Canada in 2020 and beyond…that's why they deserve the very best start in life right now. An investment in children and families strengthens the very fabric of our workplaces and our country. We must make smart investments in early learning and child care to ensure a competitive workforce and economy. Advocating sound policy and establishing innovative strategies for children will contribute to Canada's path to prosperity - Ontario's path to prosperity - Barrie's path to prosperity. In other words, effective positioning and messaging is key to the start of building a compelling business case.

We know the state of our cities and towns determines Canada's social and economic health - our country's prosperity. Successful cities are those with a skilled, innovative workforce - workplaces investing in human capital and skill development. Not only does early learning provide the basic building blocks for tomorrow's workforce, affordable, accessible quality child care improves the quality of work and productivity for today's employees. The private sector should increase its support of children, learning and education, as prosperity depends on well-developed minds - intelligence, imagination, ingenuity and innovation. 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 School's Cool. Customizing the right positioning/messaging for each target investor, is key to the start of building a compelling business case.

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! Identifying champions is key to the start of building a compelling business case.

With each passing year, School's Cool becomes more and more of a proven commodity - it's recognized as a unique curriculum-based course that enhances kindergarten entry. "Thousands of children have benefited from School's Cool - many of whom would otherwise have entered kindergarten unready and unable to take advantage of the learning opportunities offered. As the School's Cool network expands across Canada, support will be provided to the hundreds of trained instructors, coordinators, and community partners who are involved in bringing School's Cool to children in their communities."

"Before entering school, children have the capacity to develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and communication skills - with School's Cool support. A successful kindergarten entry makes a huge difference to whether children go on to benefit from educational opportunities, have high self-esteem, lead productive lives and contribute to society. We all need to make a concerted effort to give our children the skills they need in their early years, so they can make good decisions in the future, our future, about the many issues which will confront communities and mankind." We can't see the future. But we can plan for it and try to shape it. Knowing and promoting School's Cool strengths is key to the start of building a compelling business case.

Queen Victoria Public School, a Trillium Lakelands District School Board priority school close to the heart of the town of Lindsay, Ontario, is the site of a new School's Cool pilot project. It's great to see Karen Davis and Sandy Inkster of the TLDSB here with us today. "The pilot study proposed for Trillium Lakelands DSB, in partnership with SIRCH Community Services, will have all children registered in a junior kindergarten classroom receive the School's Cool curriculum as part of the junior kindergarten curriculum every morning for 72 hours of class time. The staffing (teacher) in the class will be augmented by two temporary educational assistants, familiar with School's Cool and certified as instructors. The School's Cool course curriculum will be followed exactly. Parent workshops will occur concurrently, provided by the Ontario Early Years Centre Haliburton/Victoria/Brock." Sharing current examples, plus monitoring and reporting on progress, is also the start of building a compelling business case.

Generating a high level of business interest can help make the difference for School's Cool and other children initiatives. The bottom line is that more business leaders 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 minimized. Here's some research at work that shows why investing in children is good economics and good business - it's also key to the start of building a compelling business case:

  • "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."

  • "An evaluation done this year on 616 children who attended School's Cool courses, showed an average developmental increase of 49 weeks (almost one year) in social, self-help, reasoning and language skills. The outcome-based structured curriculum of School's Cool was specifically designed to increase the developmental skill areas of language, reasoning, self-help and social."

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

It was hard not to grin out loud, after hearing the federal government's Speech from the Throne last month that says, "The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care." In what was hailed as a significant breakthrough last week, "Canada's social services ministers (led by federal Minister Ken Dryden), agreed to lay the foundations for a national child-care strategy. The talks led to broad agreement among Ottawa and the provinces on principles such as accountability, accessibility, flexibility and universal inclusion to guide officials who will hammer out the details of the plan, which will also have an early-learning component. The federal-provincial meeting comes on the heels of the recent report from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which was highly critical of Canada's child-care system." Knowing the political climate and hot button issues is key to the start of building a compelling business case.

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 children's programs to replace the existing "patchwork" of projects and initiatives.

In addition, creating strategies for early learning and child care contributes to Canada's path to prosperity. As such, why wouldn't innovative businesses 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 businesses encourage investments in targeted children's initiatives, such as School's Cool and representation on children's advocacy boards? And why wouldn't innovative businesses 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.

Early learning and child care initiatives thrive on interdependence and collaboration in order to work and work well - as do children's initiatives in Barrie, Ontario and across Canada. They also require leadership at all levels and business leadership at a high level. RBC Financial Group must continue to do its part in supporting children and youth. We take pride in our After-School Grants Program and other children-focused initiatives.

If you're a community, education, health or social organization, take time to reflect on your partnerships…look at ways to strengthen your collaborative, inclusion efforts. Encourage your elected officials to continue speaking up about investing in our youngest citizens. And urge prospective business partners to come to the table. Ensure your compelling business case is ready.

Just a couple of items before turning this session over to you…

The Honourable Margaret McCain (co-author of the Ontario Early Years Study and a name I often see in School's Cool materials), and I sent an Open Letter to Minister Dryden on November 1, applauding his vision for an early learning and child care system as the next great social initiative. Among several points, we encouraged the provinces to rationalize their disconnected early education, child care and parent support services to provide a stable platform for expansion. We encouraged the raising of government standards for early learning and care programs to promote quality and win public trust. And we also encouraged the development of service plans with goals and timetables for expansion and quality enhancements to hold governments accountable. The complete letter is available at www.atkinsonfoundation.ca.

Perhaps we'll see business well represented at the Child Care and Early Learning Conference in Winnipeg this weekend. The promo says: "Today we know that early learning and child care is a social and economic driver for many interconnected issues: it's integral to lifelong learning and healthy child development, and to a sound and prosperous economy; it has significant implications for women's equality, effective labour strategies, and ameliorating poverty; and it contributes to flourishing cities and strengthens social equity. High-quality child care and early learning strengthens our social foundations - it benefits children, women, parents, families, and communities - ultimately, it benefits all Canadians. It's expected that the (international) conference will play a key role in influencing public policy and public perceptions about early learning and child care and help set the agenda for the next decade."

In closing, special thanks to Rosemarie Jung for helping to coordinate my involvement in this event - and thanks to everyone in this room - for what you do and for what you'll continue to do in the months and years ahead. It feels good to share a room with champions.

"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, please remember the theme of this conference - and that creating cool partnerships, influencing a child's future and our community's future - is one of the most important choices we'll ever make!

Thanks very much…now, let's hear from you.



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