The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Address to the Members of the Canadian Club of Vancouver

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Vancouver, Wednesday, September 28, 2011


It is a pleasure to be here to address members of the Canadian Club of Vancouver and to continue the long tradition of governors general speaking at Canadian Clubs.

Indeed, it is fitting that we are here at the Ismaili Centre, a site that represents the diversity I have seen and the inclusiveness that we can all celebrate.

I am especially delighted to be here to mark the end of my first year as governor general. My wife, Sharon, and I have been thrilled to travel the country, to rediscover its beauty and to meet with Canadians.

I am often asked what has been most surprising to me during my travels; I can say unequivocally that I have been surprised by how precious a country we have.

Sharon and I have always been proud of our country, but this past year has offered me a glimpse into the heart and soul of Canada: its people from community to community to community.

I have spoken to Canadians on how we can create a better country as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. With this in mind, I would like to talk to you today about a fundamental component in our society, one that I have set out as a pillar of my mandate as governor general: that of volunteerism and philanthropy.

So much research has been conducted as to why Canadians volunteer and give. We know that almost half of Canadians volunteer; we know that many more help out informally in their communities; and we know that 84% of the population made some kind of financial donation in 2007. 

I have seen our caring nation first-hand. In the past year, I have encountered many volunteers, who are generous with their time and resources. They are the ones who have helped to make Canada’s voluntary sector one of the strongest in the world.

One example that I have seen in the past year is the story of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that helps to build affordable housing across this country. In Iqaluit, Nunavut, I was privileged to meet with the families of the very first affordable homes built there by Habitat. I could see their gratitude to the community that had helped them.

Across Canada, volunteers have built 2 000 homes in 25 years—a remarkable feat. In fact, Habitat for Humanity is looking to ramp up its output and build an additional 2 000 homes over the next five years. There is a desperate need for affordable housing across the country. It is our responsibility to ensure that, alongside government and business partners, we have the drive to provide for the basic needs of our citizens. 

This will not be easy, but I have been honoured to work alongside volunteers as they build. I know how dedicated the members of this organization are, and I have no doubt of their conviction to succeed.

But how can we tackle such daunting social issues? How can we continue to grow a strong voluntary sector? What lessons can we learn from communities within Canada or from other countries around the world?

Today, I would like to lay out 10 challenges that we need to address, both as caring Canadians and as a caring society, to improve volunteerism and philanthropy in Canada.

The first is to identify the needs of the community. We need to discern not only what the community requires, but also the needs of individuals within that community. Do they need affordable housing? Food? Warm clothing? Do people need more daycare spaces? More job opportunities? Education?

Citizens can organize and come together, in traditional methods, such as at a town hall, or online to gather concerns. Because once we identify the need, we can work on a solution, giving our volunteers and philanthropists a concrete goal to meet.

Our second challenge is to look at a new definition of volunteerism.

There is no doubt that volunteers have always followed their hearts to solve social issues. Increasingly, however, we find ourselves conflicted between helping out and making a living. This is where we can look to a new definition, one that goes beyond altruism.

I am reminded of a recent visit to Newfoundland and Labrador, where I had the opportunity to visit Stella Burry Community Services and the Hungry Heart Café. Stella Burry not only offers programs to help people in need, but also runs businesses, including the Hungry Heart Café, that give these individuals the chance to work in a supportive environment.

In this way, a social need is being met while a profit is being made with the business, which goes back into the programs—a wonderfully cyclical set-up. This social entrepreneurship is at the heart of what could become a new definition of volunteerism.

My third point relates to this notion of a new definition, but is vital enough to warrant its own mention: social innovation.

Social innovation, in this context, is about crafting new ideas to improve the way we volunteer and give. It is about seeing things differently and imagining that which could be. It is about asking questions of ourselves and our institutions, and wondering whether we can do better.

There is no doubt that our society is evolving. For example, just looking at demographics alone, we see an aging population with all of the challenges that represents. How will communities deal with this change? How can we prepare now for the future? How will volunteerism change as more families try to cope with caring for elderly relatives?

We must be innovative in our thinking.

One of my favourite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw, who said: “Some people see things as they are and wonder, ‘Why?’ We dream of things that ought to be and ask, ‘Why not?’.”

Social innovation is about asking “why not?” and improving upon the status quo to achieve something better.

I noticed this during a visit to the City of La Pocatière, Quebec, which had transformed itself into an innovative research and learning city, bringing better opportunities and lifting the fortunes of all of its residents.

This community saw change as an opportunity; they reversed their fortunes and emerged more successful and ready to take on the global challenges that face us today.

As I continue with my points, you will see opportunities for social innovation in so many ways. I urge you to take a look within the non-profit sector and see what steps you can take to tackle our social issues in new and innovative ways. That's the smart and caring.

One area where we can be innovative is in attracting and retaining more young volunteers. A small minority of Canadians, mainly older Canadians who have been active with an organization for a long time, do about 78% of the volunteer work in this country. This brings me to the fourth point of my approach: bridging the age gap.

Young Canadians want to be involved. In fact, a statistic from a few years ago showed that 58% of 15 to 24 year olds across the country were involved in their communities. This compared to 36% of those 65 years and older.

But while there is still the difficulty of attracting young people, retaining this demographic group seems to be a greater challenge. Younger Canadians are more likely than any other demographic to report that they did not continue to volunteer because they were not asked or because they did not know how to become more involved. They are also more likely to say that they were dissatisfied with the volunteering experience.

We must recognize the value added by including youth. I believe that young Canadians who volunteer must be presented with not simply a set of duties, but with opportunities. When they are given a degree of responsibility and a chance to discover their interests, we are reinforcing their importance to the organization and encouraging them to stay on.

We must also educate them about the organization in which they are working, giving them the proper information so that, should they wish, they can continue to volunteer.

Of course, we must lead by example. As parents, we are charged with raising our children to be responsible citizens. Part of this duty is to make sure that our children understand the importance of volunteering and the value that we add to the community by doing so.

The fifth point that I would like to raise is that of engaging volunteers. The needs of today’s volunteers are evolving, and we must try to fit this into our new definition of volunteering. Just like young Canadians, volunteers in general want to feel as though they are contributing in meaningful ways to their community, honing a set of skills they might otherwise not be able to nurture.

But engaging volunteers, and givers, goes beyond even this.

Organizations need to devise innovative ways of attracting new givers.

For example, we should consider how people can volunteer as a unit. A family of volunteers, assigned to one particular task, takes a social need and fuses it with a family’s desire to spend time together in an age when our attention is drawn in so many different directions.

Or perhaps we might explore mentoring opportunities, where an older Canadian could impart knowledge and skills to someone younger who could carry on the good work being done in the community.

There are numerous ways that organizations can retain the interests of Canadians and make volunteering more engaging.

New Canadians are a specific demographic that can be more engaged.  Diaspora philanthropy, my sixth point, is understood as a new Canadian who, after coming to this country and achieving success, gives back not only to his or her adopted community, but also to the land in which they were born.

Already, many people come to Canada with a background of giving. They choose this country because they believe it presents an opportunity for a better life for them and their families; we must do what we can to welcome them and to help ease the transition.

I was honoured to attend the swearing-in of new Canadians on Canada Day. I could see the pride on their faces as they officially became Canadian citizens. They are as dedicated to the well-being of this country as those whose families have been here for generations, and it was inspiring.

By supporting and encouraging new Canadians, and by helping them to succeed, we help our country strengthen volunteerism and philanthropy.

This brings me to my seventh point, which is professionalism and recruitment. Non-profit organizations cannot be run today in the same way they were run decades ago. Canadians donated a total of $10 billion in 2007; these donations went to so many organizations around the world, including some large non-profits in Canada, which employs thousands of people across the country. To maximize every opportunity fully, these non-profits must operate efficiently; and to do so requires professional skills that may have to be found outside the voluntary sector.

The recruitment of individuals with varied talents is a requirement in every business organization. 

With non-profits, however, concerns are sometimes expressed about the cost-effectiveness of hiring professionals. But there is value to what that professional will contribute. We have to attract the best and brightest to this third sector for it to succeed. We need their ideas, their ingenuity and their skill sets. Once again, a smart and caring nation.

We also need to define professionalism for volunteerism and philanthropy. An organization must be accountable to its donors, to its volunteers and to all those it helps. It must be willing to self-assess and to determine whether its resources are being allocated wisely between the greater good and administrative costs.

Professionalism also serves to build trust among donors, volunteers and organizations. We can look to the Netherlands for inspiration, for instance—the only country with a stronger voluntary sector than our own—and its Central Bureau on Fundraising, which monitors professionalism within the sector, promoting it within the country. How can Canada learn from this and build third-sector professionalism?

One way to build a stronger voluntary sector is through collaboration, which is my eighth point. On visits to Prince Edward Island and Calgary, I attended gatherings of non-profit leaders, some of whom were meeting together for the very first time. What I observed was the synergies these gatherings created with exciting exchanges of information and promises to pursue unique partnerships. 

Traditional partnerships in the voluntary sector are one form of collaboration, but we must think outside the traditional in order to thrive in today’s world.

Some years ago in the US, Warrant Buffet, Bill Gates and David Rockefeller Jr. established Great Givers. The purpose was to have the very wealthy commit to giving away at least half of their assets to worthy causes during their lifetime. There was no prescription as to the causes; that was left to the individual.

I would like us to consider this concept and how it might be applied in or modified for Canada. Philanthropy has played a major role in addressing societal needs in Canada from early days: think of our universities, often founded with a deed of land. 

One example comes to mind. I recently had the pleasure of opening the new Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute, in Waterloo, Ontario. The world-class institute, devoted to theoretical physics, was conceived and driven by Research in Motion’s Mike Lazaridis. Mike’s generosity and vision built the Institute, which continues to grow.

As interested and committed as we are as a nation to serving, there are challenges to be overcome if we are to increase the participation rate in both corporate and personal giving. 

Leveraging giving through partnerships is key to extending the reach of giving and the reach of serving—which become increasingly important as social-sector services are strained. And the question to ask ourselves is what kind of partnerships?

Partnerships between and among the third sector, the private sector and the public sector can prove most beneficial to both givers and recipients and to society generally.

Another element, though, must be in place for us to grow, and that is education, the ninth point.

Education in this context has two facets.

The first is education by the organization. Each organization must be able to defend its existence, its purpose, and why it deserves your donation whether in time, talent or treasure. More broadly, we have to educate about why we give.

Volunteering is more than working at a soup kitchen, and giving is more than donating money; both provide the possibility of a better life to others, of making a difference in your community.

By educating the public, organizations are able not only to advertise their own causes, but also advance the strength of our voluntary sector.

The other aspect of education is setting a good example. As I stated earlier, we begin this education at home, teaching our children, by word and action, about the importance of generosity. In some provinces, this education continues formally in school, where volunteering is a prerequisite for graduation. Whatever the form, education should serve to grow a solid base of givers that is essential to our society. 

The final point that I would like to make is that we must honour all Canadian volunteers. When I say honour, I don’t simply mean with awards, which many organizations and levels of government do. I mean that we should acknowledge the committed work of all Canadians who are involved in their communities, including those who give in ways not often thought of as “volunteering.” The World Giving Index states that 68% of Canadians help in their community by helping a stranger.

Helping a friend move; mowing a neighbour’s lawn; checking in on an elderly relative; or even paying for a stranger’s coffee at the drive-through—all of these deeds show us to be such a caring nation. Imagine all of the good deeds that go unseen and unsung.

One of my predecessors, the Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, created the Caring Canadian Award 15 years ago to honour Canadians across the country who had contributed to their community in significant ways. He knew how important it was to honour the work of the unsung people who support our communities. I believe that it is my job as governor general to acknowledge all those who have made this country a better place to live. I look forward to developing to its full potential the Caring Canadian Award during my mandate.

There is so much more to be said about all of the points I have raised—and indeed, I intend to say more about them as I speak across the country in the coming year—but for today, I want you to consider what I have said and to think about how you can contribute to the future of Canada.

I have touched on some of the communities that Sharon and I had the pleasure of visiting over the past year. Despite the many challenges facing our country, both economically and socially, I have seen these communities use innovation to improve the lives of their residents. By strengthening the third sector, we strengthen Canada.

One year ago, during my installation speech, I laid out my vision of Canada as a smart and caring nation. I have seen how smart and caring we are, and Sharon and I have never been prouder to call ourselves Canadians.

And now I challenge you—as we approach a new year, as we celebrate a number of milestone events in 2012, and as we carry on towards our sesquicentennial in 2017—to see how we can be more caring, how we can be smarter about it, and how we can create a better Canada.

I will leave you with the words of another of my predecessors, Lord Byng, who once said: “Be as big, with minds as large and souls as great as the land in which you live.”

Canadians have done great things in the past. We are accomplishing so much today. Let us show the world that we are capable of so much more in the future.

Thank you.