Communities need to get involved, says philathropist

TimesColonist.com – opinion
January 16, 2011.   By Grania Litwin, Times Colonist

Successful businesses take risks, and invest in research and development — and community groups should do the same, says Tim Brodhead, a star in Canada’s philanthropic firmament.

Brodhead, president of the McConnell Family Foundation, believes community groups need to be innovative when tackling social problems such as poverty and homelessness. And to do that they need to take risks, envision new programs and dream up innovative projects that might take them into unfamiliar territory.

“This is where foundations come in. They can help community groups take risks and be creative,” says the former director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, representing more than 120 non-profit Canadian development agencies.

Brodhead — who speaks coast to coast about philanthropy and social change — will be here June 11 to give a keynote address at a gala evening celebrating the Victoria Foundation’s 75th anniversary. Also on the program will be Canadian comedian Rick Mercer.

“Nobody wants to take risks,” Brodhead says, “but we need to become much more flexible, to allow community organizations to try things out and not penalize them if we don’t see immediate results.”

He believes community foundations can encourage and support creativity by putting resources into finding what works best. “If you don’t get results, that’s all right. Put it down to philanthropic R&D. It’s not a failure if you learn from it.”

He said the Victoria Foundation is a dynamic, vibrant group, and its work with Vital Signs — a report card of community needs and health — is powerful. “It gives a sense of direction, and guides resources to where they have the greatest impact.”

He explained that his McConnell Foundation, which is a private foundation with $500 million in assets, always seeks to support “resilience and self-reliance.”

He explained Canadians could learn about philanthropy from their go-getter neighbours to the south where there is a “different political culture.”

“Americans don’t expect government to do much. Instead, they have a very vibrant tradition of doing it themselves.

“In Canada we expect government to do a lot. We have become reliant, so the notion of individual philanthropy is not the same.”

He would like to change that.

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