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The First Principles of Health and Learning: Making the right connections

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Developmental Conference on Health and Learning
Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia

Monday, June 6, 2005

In April 2002, as part of a Submission to the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, the Federal Provincial Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health stated that: "Taking positive action to provide all Canadians with the opportunities they need to obtain a solid education and achieve adequate literacy skills is one of the best ways to foster healthy citizens and a prosperous, competitive nation." Talk about making the right connections between the first principles of health and learning.

I'm convinced that the principles of health and learning are nurtured in the early years. This is one of the reasons I'm involved with the Council for Early Child Development in Ontario (spearheaded by Dr. Fraser Mustard). The Council "promotes the application of knowledge about human development to create a system of early child development and parenting programs for all children." This initiative involves school boards, as well as public health, municipal government and community groups. An investment in early years development (learning) and child care, is also an investment in good health.

As many of you are aware and as part of HELP (the Human Early Learning Partnership), the Consortium for Health, Intervention, Learning and Development (CHILD) "is a dynamic team of academic researchers and community professionals from across British Columbia. They have formed a partnership to conduct research on early childhood development (ECD) within a wide spectrum of community contexts." As the Honourable Linda Reid, Minister of State for Early Childhood Development says: "The Human Early Learning Partnership links university, government and community programs throughout the province, that are concerned with early childhood experiences, health, development, education and family well-being." Again, talk about making the right connections between the first principles of learning and health.

And here's another quote: "We believe that by contributing our funds, our network, our leadership and, most importantly, by encouraging and celebrating the involvement (learning) of our people, we can make a difference in helping to build a strong and healthy society, with a prosperous future." That's Gord Nixon, RBC Financial Group's President and Chief Executive Officer and his comments are also about making the right connections between the first principles of learning and health.

When it comes to the first principle of health…RBC's commitment means supporting health care, research, as well as a healthy workplace and healthy communities - improving community services and enhancing quality of life. RBC employees are active volunteers for all sorts of health-related causes in their communities. And when it comes to the first principle of learning/education…RBC's commitment means enriching our children's lives and building the human capital that will ensure the future health and prosperity of our communities. We support lifelong learning, helping people of all ages make the most of their lives - from pre-school to post-school - as well as the training and career development of our employees. Investing in a learning workplace is investing in a healthy workplace.

Here are some of RBC's commitments to the first principle of learning, with a healthy connection:

  • RBC's after-school programs provide children with opportunities to build social skills and self-esteem through structured activities in safe environments. These programs are making a difference: 40% of the after-school programs we've supported have noted a marked improvement in participants' social skills, academic performance - all part of healthier attitudes.

  • Do you know about the Historica Fairs program that's based on the premise that engaging children in the history of their communities helps them develop into responsible, well-informed citizens? Students explore their own histories and share those histories with students in the rest of Canada. RBC supports this program, with a focus on expansion, specifically to increase aboriginal student participation by taking the Fairs into aboriginal schools across Canada.

  • Do you know about the Thinking the World of Our Future Campaign at the University of Saskatchewan, a campaign focused on the Community Development Program at the College of Nursing? This program promotes healthy and self-reliant communities across the Prairie Region with an emphasis on aboriginal populations, agricultural, rural and remote populations. It empowers communities to work on their own agendas of health issues, raise awareness and support change. RBC's support is centred around the development and implementation of this program, including research, plus contributions to policy development and a much-needed new PhD program in Nursing.

  • Do you know about the first ever Professorship in entrepreneurship at University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business? "The future development of a (healthy) economy is dependent on our ability to help promising companies thrive and prosper." That's why RBC has made an investment in this initiative.

  • Do you know about a new professorship endowment that strengthens Simon Fraser University's business leadership in the field of innovation and technology - an endowment that supports specialized research and educational initiatives at the Segal Graduate School of Business? RBC's partnership support provides graduate students with hands-on work experience and mentorship from seasoned managers.

Here are some of RBC's commitments to the first principle of health, with a learning connection:

  • We support the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation, affiliated with the University of Toronto. The original donation (in 2001) funded a new, uniquely focused research chair in children's mental health, the first of its kind in Canada. At the time, our employees across Canada told our donations committee that they wanted the company's contributions to be made to help children at risk, particularly in the field of mental health.

  • RBC is a strong supporter of breast cancer awareness and education programs, along with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. In this region, we also support an educational radio campaign that addresses the myths related to this disease and emphasizes the importance of early detection.

  • This year In Prince George, B.C., RBC is supporting Street Spirits - a youth-driven theatre company that uses drama to help youth identify solutions to problems they might face. RBC's donation will be used for educational programming that addresses the impact of alcohol misuse on families. This is just one more example of tackling a health issue through a learning device.

At RBC, being socially responsible starts right in our own Canadian and North American backyards, where supporting our own people makes the difference in promoting and sustaining a healthy workplace and healthy communities. We're strongly committed to investing in our people by investing in learning and education - and by supporting diversity as well as work/life initiatives. We're also committed to staying on the cutting edge of trends in the workplace. We partner with leading Canadian survey/research companies and academia to remain leaders in people management and to contribute to the body of workplace knowledge - assisting other companies and organizations in developing the Canadian healthy workplace and workforce - today and in the future.

On April 25 of this year, a "report on aid to basic education called "Missing the Mark" was released in Toronto -- Canada scored 65 out of 100 (a C rating, seventh among donors) on its aid to education in a "report card" by the Global Campaign for Education, a coalition of development organizations and unions in over 100 countries." One of my colleagues on this panel, Harvey Weiner will be acquainted with this quote from Terry Price, president of the Canadian Teachers Federation: "Three years ago, world leaders promised to provide the funding needed to get every child into school…Canada has done well on some fronts, but falls far short of the goal." The report shows progress has been made since 2000; (however) "both rich and poor countries will need to substantially increase their efforts in order to ensure that the universal primary education goal is not missed, says the report. Over 100 million school-age children are not in school today; two-thirds of them are girls." Simply unbelievable and unacceptable!

My point is to emphasize that our collective responsibility transcends local and national health and learning issues. The Canadian Council on Learning - this forum for dialogue and action - goes a long way in opening eyes, ears and doors - engaging people, opportunities and partnerships. And it's also about health and learning leadership on the international stage. Right here in this room, there are promising practices to share, promising models to apply and promising new ideas to be discovered and explored.

Thank you for inviting RBC and me to participate in this strategically important initiative - to share some thoughts on the first principles of health and learning and making the right connections. As Audrey McLaughlin, former federal NDP leader once said: "When you listen, it's amazing what you can learn. When you act on what you've learned, it's amazing what you can change." Now that's a healthy, learning connection!