From June 6-8, 2013, representatives from community foundations from across Canada and around the globe will convene in Winnipeg to share stories and ideas about the rapidly changing world of philanthropy at the 2013 Community Foundations of Canada Conference. Winnipeg, the birthplace of the Canadian community foundation movement, hosted the initial meeting that established CFC in 1992.
Speakers include The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada; Gail Asper, President of the Asper Foundation; Andy Goodman, author and co-founder of the Goodman Centre; and many others.
Events include a gala reception at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, a sneak-preview of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, workshops, youth events, and more.
Ian Bird is President and CEO of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), and a former Canadian Olympian. In a recent interview with The Winnipeg Foundation for its biannual magazine Working Together (WT), Bird shared his thoughts on what community foundations mean to the future of Canada, how our Governor General has impacted the movement, and how partnerships between citizens, non-profits, businesses and government, are changing the landscape for the better.
Working Together (WT): What role do you believe community foundations play in Canadian cities, and how does CFC facilitate and support their work?
Ian Bird: Community foundations continue to be key institutions for the future of the country. [They] provide a place where Canadians can work together, invest, and make philanthropic contributions together for the betterment of the places they live, work in, and enjoy. That’s something at the core of what Canada is about – finding ways to work together to improve the places we call home. These institutions have it as their purpose to help put their community on a positive trajectory and grapple with challenges in an inclusive way.
One of the fundamental opportunities that we have, and many foundations are already stepping forward, is leadership at the community level. We know our communities, we know how they work, we know how to bring people together. The difficult matters a community faces require a long view. [Community foundations] can be there as a leader and by doing that, we’re able to mobilize many different resources.
Over the next 5 to 10 years we’ll be stepping forward in bringing other resources toward the key questions we’re trying to work on. How do we mobilize people alongside finance, make good use of the social capital and build the relationships we have, how we maximize the knowledge we can garner around key issues.
Fundamentally, it’s a style of leadership question that we’re seeing a lot of communities now begin to answer. Places like Winnipeg and Hamilton, older foundations, have established that role where the community turns to [them] when they want to work on something together. They’re a resource for the community to host meaningful conversation, bring people together and facilitate good work. I think that’s the future, that leadership ethic.
WT: Given their resources and connection to so many different organizations and individuals, community foundations are in an interesting position to help take on some of the big issues facing our communities. How is CFC involved in fostering cooperation between organizations to tackle these challenges?
Ian Bird: We’re really focused on the network effect – how we can be that much more of a stronger, smarter, more connected network. The challenges that our communities are facing are consistent from one place to the other, or have a systemic nature that can’t be solely addressed in one community. We’re really interested in how we can work collectively and outside of the movement to have a greater impact. We help foundations in their own growth and development, but we’re really focusing on collective work and collective impact.
When we’re able to frame and articulate some of the issues and needs and opportunities that Canadians care about, they’re drawn-in and we gain the attention to help us work on it. Government, private sector, universities: all working in concert with community foundations to address the issues that we frame.
A great example is the Lake Winnipeg Watershed project, which involved the Sill Foundation (a private foundation) and a number of community foundations all the way back to the Rocky Mountains where the watershed begins. By collaborating and working together we can have an impact on something that spans our communities, but benefits from that local leadership.
WT: The theme of the 2013 conference is, “Inspiring Smart & Caring Communities.” ‘Smart &Caring’ is a concept that the Governor General introduced in a speech at the 2011 CFC Conference in Vancouver, and something that’s really resonated with foundations across Canada. Leading up to Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, what does ‘Smart & Caring’ mean to you and what does it mean to our country?
Ian Bird: Our Governor General put out this call to action when we last came together to imagine our country as it could be, a smart and caring nation. We raised our hand and said it would be worthwhile for us to contribute at the community level, and that a nation made up of smart and caring communities would help the overall vision be realized.
Winnipeg will know itself how to be a ‘Smart & Caring’ community, and that will look a little different in Calgary or Montreal , Victoria or Halifax. We’re learning from community foundation leadership about what’s required to build smart and caring communities. [The Winnipeg Foundation’s] focus on partnership and collaboration has surfaced as a smart and caring way of doing things. In Victoria they found it means recognizing serious challenges for young people, developing physical activity and a healthy active lifestyle. Each place recognizes what it will take and what they can contribute to building a smart and caring community. We continue to put out that call to action and amplify that original message of the Governor General, and we’re enthused by all the different ways that communities have stepped forward in coming to understand what it means to the place they live in.
WT: Outside of the Conference itself, what are you looking forward to about visiting Winnipeg?
Ian Bird: I have the best memories of Winnipeg. One of the best days of my life was at the Pan-American Games in 1999, when I had the good fortune to represent the country in the gold medal [men’s field hockey] game and we came out on the right side of the match against Argentina.
That’s what I always think about personally when I come back to Winnipeg; the abundance of volunteers and the way the city just embraced an event like that. To me, it’s a symbol of how that city goes about its affairs all the time. It’s such a welcoming place, and I think once again so many people [will] go the extra mile. I can’t wait to come back this June and see old friends and create some new memories too.
The 2013 CFC Conference: Inspiring Smart & Caring Communities runs June 6-8, 2013.
For more information, visit cfc-conference.ca
Quick Facts on Community Foundations in North America
The Cleveland Foundation is the world’s first community foundation, established in 1914 by banker and lawyer Frederick Harris Goff. Influenced by Goff’s initiative, Irish immigrant William Forbes Alloway created Canada’s first community foundation in 1921–The Winnipeg Foundation.
According to the most recent financial records, the largest community foundation in the world is the Tulsa Community Foundation, founded in 1998, with over $4-billion (U.S.) in assets.
The Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation, with over $735-million in assets.
Canada currently has more than 180 community foundations. Manitoba has the most per capita, with 49.