The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Sommet sur la culture philanthropique

City of Québec, Quebec, Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It is a pleasure to join you here to speak about a subject close to my heart: giving.

One of the first instances of giving that I was exposed to came from my own family. My paternal grandparents were devout Methodists. They were also quite poor, and yet they donated the first 10 per cent of their income to charitable causes. In this, they were not unusual, joining friends and neighbours who were of the same view. They were very happy people.

Giving has been in my life from the very start, which is why it is so important for me to speak about giving throughout Canada. It is also why I selected volunteerism and philanthropy as a pillar of my mandate, to create a smarter, more caring nation.

Of course, in this room we are surrounded by the converted, people who understand the impact philanthropy has on our communities.

Throughout this summit, you will ask important questions about the future of philanthropy in Quebec and Canada. With this in mind, joining me here today are two guests who will speak to you shortly. Diane Ellison, from Imagine Canada, and Sara Lyons, from the Community Foundations of Canada, will give you their views on where philanthropy in this country is headed. As representatives of two national organizations deeply involved in this field, they will provide unique insight. 

Before we hear from them, however, allow me to set the table, as it were.

We already know that Canadians are caring, contributing to numerous causes and changing lives in the process. But there is still so much more to do.

As governor general, I have travelled this country from coast to coast to coast. I have seen the remarkable work of volunteers and philanthropists who donate time, talent and money to make other people’s lives better.

I have also seen how much more needs to be done. I have seen that no one charity or non-profit can solve society’s challenges. No one alone.

It takes a concentrated effort, from multiple organizations, from many different people, from those who give a little and those who give a lot.

The questions become: how do we encourage more giving in an already generous country? How can we get all Canadians to give?

One way to achieve this is through social innovation.

I see innovation as taking an existing idea, concept or product and looking at it in a new way, building on it, or combining it with a seemingly unrelated product or idea, to achieve a useful improvement or perhaps even create something wholly new.

It is a shared process that involves many different people, and it is how we advance technologically and economically.

But when we add ‘social’ to the mix, we end up with the potential for advancing our humanity and our compassion.

Social innovation can encompass tax breaks for charities, or a new initiative to attract resources, or using technology to interact with others in exciting and inviting ways.

However it is done, being innovative is key.

There is an old and wise truth: we must change or have change thrust upon us. Our society is shifting. We are in the midst of a new age of communication and globalization, and our economic and demographic situation is in flux. Young people, for example, are inheriting an unusually complex, rapidly changing set of circumstances.

Given that, we must ask: how can the third sector sustainably and successfully meet the growing needs in our society? And how can we get more young people involved and engaged in the process of giving?

There are many schools of thought on this hotly debated issue. But I am confident about one thing: we cannot succeed unless we are willing to take risks.

In fact, social innovation and risk go hand in hand. We must be brave in coming up with new ideas, and we must have the courage to follow them through, despite the possibility for failure. In this way, philanthropy will not only survive, but also thrive.

Remember Darwin, who said it is not the fastest or the strongest of the species that will survive, but rather the most resilient.

I have seen examples of this across Canada, where individuals, societies and organizations have reinvented themselves and their communities.  

Let me give you two examples. In Winnipeg, Hannah Taylor, at the age of five, saw a man eating out of a garbage can on a freezing winter day. This site filled her with sadness, but also questions. She wondered why this man had to do this and had the thought that if everyone shared what they had, homelessness—and the desperation she saw—would be a thing of the past.

With that in mind, she founded the Ladybug Foundation in 2004 at the age of eight, to help the homeless in her community. Today, the Foundation has grown exponentially, helping to raise over 2 million dollars for projects across the country, including shelters and food banks.

In her, I see the potential of all Canadians, regardless of age, to give back in meaningful ways.

Another example comes from Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, which had fallen on hard times with the collapse of cod fishing.

Ms. Zita Cobb was raised on Fogo Island and, after achieving success in the high‑tech industry, founded Shorefast, an organization that partners with the people of Fogo and Change Islands to invest in the revitalization of the economy.

With Shorefast contributing to the vitality of the islands, Fogo has successfully preserved its traditions and culture for visitors, creating an economically diverse place to live.

Transformation driven by need and inspired by one individual affecting an entire community. That is the power of philanthropy.

Many of you here have thought “outside the box” when it comes to your organizations; indeed, you have been socially innovative already. But have you encouraged more giving? Have you attracted new givers? If so, have you attracted enough new givers?

I would hazard a guess that the answer to that last question would be no. There is always a desire to improve, because when your organization succeeds, so does society.

That is why you must innovate.

I will leave Diane and Sara to speak to you about their own experiences, but let me briefly share with you one way I hope that Canadians can be encouraged to give.

Last week, I was honoured to launch a new campaign, called My Giving Moment. Using traditional and social media, we are asking Canadians to discover what their Giving Moment could be and to share their stories with others.

With that in mind, I want to share with you one of my own Giving Moments, this one shared by my wife, Sharon. We felt very strongly that we wanted to honour Sharon’s mother and grandmother, two women who meant so much to Sharon and me. Both women were single mothers who raised families and provided a good life for their children despite the challenges.

While at the University of Waterloo, we had the chance to honour their memory. We established a bursary fund for women doing graduate studies, who had overcome their own hardships. And I must say, what a rewarding experience that has been.

Even today, we get letters from the women who were awarded these bursaries, who have accomplished so much and are so thankful for the opportunity they had. To know that we played a small part in helping them succeed is a wonderful feeling. It is our Giving Moment, one that keeps on giving.

In my round-table discussions with philanthropists and volunteers across Canada, several things were made clear to me about giving. Let me share with you just a few.

First, we must pass the torch to young people to succeed the current generation of givers; in fact, youth in Canada have a social conscience that is not fully acknowledged in the field—at least not in a significant way.

Second, changing the culture of giving, like you are doing with summits like this one, take time. It is a slow evolution and what will emerge is a new way to see philanthropy.

The last one I will share with you today: one way to inspire people to get involved in their community is simply to ask them, “What do you have to give?”

Whether it is in time, talent or money, whether it is large or small, every contribution matters. We can all have an impact.

We need to transform how we think of giving in Canada, redefine giving for a new generation, and create a virtuous circle where we can all give and where we can all benefit from giving moments.

I look forward to hearing the outcomes of this summit and thank you for what you do for philanthropy across this province and country.