Launch of the Vancouver Foundation’s Smart and Caring Initiative
Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Thank you so much for your warm and generous welcome. I’m happy to be back in Vancouver, and even happier to join all of you here in this beautiful building.
This place shows us that libraries can be much more than places to stack books. They are resources for mothers and fathers to help instill in their children a love of reading and learning. They offer new Canadians welcoming places in which to improve their English and French. They give all Canadians opportunities to gain new insights and apply them to enrich their lives.
It’s right that we gather here, for no organization in this city, in this province better represents and strives to realize the principles of learning, support and fulfilment than the Vancouver Foundation. You are a forum for bright minds and eager learners to connect; a vehicle through which volunteers and philanthropists express their intelligence and desire to support others; a helping hand that supplies comfort, encouragement and opportunity to children and families.
Just as our gathering in this place is fitting, our timing is also right. Just over two years ago, I addressed the Community Foundations of Canada’s annual conference here in Vancouver. I took advantage of that occasion to ask members of all our country’s community foundations—and through them, all Canadians—this double-barrelled question: What do smart and caring communities look like, and what actions must we take to create smarter, more caring communities in our country in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017?
I defined then as I do now a smart and caring country as one in which everyone gives through philanthropy and volunteering, takes action to nurture children and fortify families, and is serious about reaching ever-higher levels of learning and innovation. These pillars of a smart and caring nation apply to communities across our country. By encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism, we cultivate community development. By supporting children and families, we ensure community continuity. By strengthening learning and innovation, we create, expand and spread community knowledge.
I’m thrilled to see that community foundations across Canada have risen to—and indeed, gone beyond—the challenge. These foundations have issued a two-fold summons of their own: first, ensure that every community is served by a foundation by 2017; and second, establish within these foundations smart and caring community funds that uncover opportunities for citizens to do things that give rise to smarter, more caring communities.
In the two years since my address to the Community Foundations of Canada’s annual conference, my wife, Sharon, and I have criss-crossed our vast country—east and west, north and south; big cities, small towns and remote outposts. During our travels, Canadians from a wide range of backgrounds have shown us smart and caring in action. We’ve seen it most vividly at events organized by community foundations in the towns and cities we’ve visited.
From St. John’s to Ottawa, from London to Victoria, members of local community foundations have been at the forefront of efforts to build the smart and caring nation of which we all dream and strive to realize. I’m overjoyed to discover that smart and caring community funds are up and running in 30 foundations at last count. Their work has been as diverse as the communities they serve. After all, each one faces unique challenges and calls on different pools of resources.
Yet, Sharon and I have learned that their efforts share a singular virtue. Each smart and caring community fund focuses sharply, practically, intelligently on enabling our fellow citizens to reach their full potential and, by doing so, makes it possible for them to enjoy productive, fulfilling lives that enrich our communities and country. That’s what smart and caring in Canada is and must continue to be.
Sharon and I also learned that the most vibrant communities, like the most successful countries, are those whose public institutions draw on the talents and contributions of all citizens regardless of class, income or any other artificial distinction. We in Canada have enjoyed uncommon success in creating and strengthening public institutions that are inclusive. Our country has thrived because our institutions encourage the great mass of citizens to participate in activities that enable them to make the choices they wish and put their talents and skills to best use.
This essential inclusiveness didn’t just happen. It took—and continues to take—the clear vision, sharp focus and constant work that you at the Vancouver Foundation demonstrate time and again in so many ways. Helping our fellow citizens live their lives to their truest potential is the noblest work there is. It’s also hard—hard to do and hard to be good at. You succeed in inspiring and supporting people to reach their full human promise. I salute you and thank you for that.
You succeed in many ways, but three stand out to me.
You connect and engage citizens at the most fundamental level possible through your Neighbourhood Small Grants program.
You support young homeless men and women who no longer qualify for direct government care through your Youth Homelessness Initiative.
And you strive to help Vancouver meet its goal to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.
I applaud you and your foundation for setting such demanding and worthy goals and for acting intelligently and compassionately to reach them. In a real way, these initiatives dovetail seamlessly with your foundation’s overall mission—working to build legacies in BC communities.
What better community legacy than to engage citizens to build more vibrant, diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods throughout your city from the ground up?
What better human legacy than to help our most vulnerable homeless neighbours live safer, more secure lives and eventually leave the streets for good?
What better generational legacy than to make Vancouver the most environmentally sustainable and innovative city in the world by 2020? Why shouldn’t Vancouver become and remain the world’s greenest city? Imagine the heightened quality of life throughout the city—cleaner, safer, quieter—when you achieve this worthy goal. Imagine the blueprint you’ll draw up for communities in the rest of the country and throughout the world. Imagine the wonderful birthright you’ll leave future generations.
The tough yet rewarding work you’ve mapped out for yourselves is going to keep you busy. So in the time between now and my next visit in two years, I simply and with great reverence urge you to press on. Build on your 70 years of successes. Keep finding ways to be smarter and more caring in your efforts and in your results.
Find ways to make giving in your communities as much about peoples’ time and talent—their knowledge, skills and personal commitment— as it is about their treasure.
Find ways to inspire diverse groups of people—especially new Canadians—to share their wisdom about giving so that this knowledge may enrich lives throughout your city.
Find ways to get more children involved in volunteering and philanthropy, thereby instilling in them an understanding of the valuable place these missions have in our country.
As you carry out your noble work, I ask you to think from time to time of the words of Lord Byng, one of my predecessors as governor general. He said, “Be as big—with minds as large and souls as great—as the land in which you live.”
That short phrase reflects a truth about you, your work and the ambitions you have for your organization and the people it serves. Since our nation is physically vast, we must always have equally vast dreams about its future.
Thankfully, Canada has always been full of men and women with hopes and dreams as mighty as our land.
Our shared dream today is to build a smart and caring country. Our minds must be as large, our souls as great as the land we love and the dream we share. I’m convinced they are. I’m convinced we have the intelligence and compassion, the keenness of mind and the kindness of heart to realize that dream and make Canada the smart and caring nation it can be, must be and will be.
Let me leave you with two lines of my favourite poem from George Bernard Shaw: “Some people see things as they are and wonder ‘Why?’ We dream of things that ought to be and ask, ‘Why not?’”