David Pecaut was ‘a popcorn machine of ideas’
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Thu Dec 29 2011. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
Few Torontonians have been as widely mourned, eloquently eulogized or publicly honoured as the late David Pecaut.
Metro Square was renamed after him. He was posthumously named to the Order of Canada. He received every award and accolade his adopted city could give.
The American-born civic leader who created the Toronto City Summit Alliance, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, Career Edge, Luminato, the task force onModernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults and the Emerging Leaders Networkdeserved it all.
Proud and grateful as she was to see her husband so generously commemorated, Helen Burstyn wanted to add a living memorial to capture what she described as Pecaut’s defining quality: “He was a popcorn machine of ideas and he had that rare ability to act on them.”
Could that spirit be replicated? Could it be passed on to a new generation of city builders?
Working with Pecaut’s former colleagues at the Boston Consulting Group, she put together a plan. As it moved from concept to reality, she brought in partners: the Trillium Foundation, which she chaired for seven years; the MaRS Centre, Toronto’s innovation hub, whose founder Dr. John Evans was one of her husband’s earliest mentors.
On Dec. 13, the second anniversary of his death, she announced the launch of the Pecaut Centre for Social Enterprise. “We think it is very exciting and very distinctive,” she told a roomful of civic activists. “David was a visionary and an activist, a trailblazer and a bridge builder. This institution celebrates and attempts to replicate his achievements.”
As the moment, the “institution” is virtual. Its office, which will be in the MaRS Centre, isn’t open yet. There is no number to call, no place to drop off resumés. All that will happen early in the New Year.
But Burstyn, who has received a deluge of email since the announcement, is confident the Pecaut Centre won’t have any trouble finding volunteers, supporters or applicants.
Over a coffee, she talked about what she hopes the centre will become and how she envisages it working. The centre will have three purposes.
• Its primary objective will be to develop Toronto’s next generation of social entrepreneurs. Each year, 10 Pecaut Fellows will be selected to turn their proposals into start-up enterprises and have them tested in the real world. The fellows will be paired with mentors who will pass along what they’ve learned and help the newcomers avoid the pitfalls. They’ll meet other innovators at MaRS who spark new ideas and new possibilities. They’ll learn that failure is not defeat. “If you have 20 ideas and two of them are good, that’s fine,” Burstyn said. “David always had 10 balls in the air.”
• Its second objective will be to act as a knowledge hub for the not-for-profit sector. It will grapple with one of the biggest challenges they face: How to measure the value (or in business terms, the return on investment) of what they do. Obviously profit/loss is the wrong yardstick, but they need a tool to measure the benefits they deliver to show donors, governments and the public how much they are contributing to society.
• Its third objective will be to take promising social enterprises from startups to sustainable ventures, earning enough to ensure their survival and accomplish their social mission, whether it be providing employment for the disadvantaged or greening the planet.
On one point Burstyn is adamant. She will not manage the Pecaut Centre, sit on its board of directors or hold any official title, except perhaps chief cheerleader. “I like to start things, but I don’t need to run them.”
She is also clear that she does not want to reinvent the wheel. “It’s about filling gaps, not duplicating programs or services that are already social entrepreneurs and enterprises.”
But she is excited. “It’s my dream,” she said, the best way she could think of to keep alive “a legacy worth remembering and a style that almost defies imitation.”
She hopes it becomes the dream of many others — partners, investors, volunteers, Pecaut Fellows, and people like her who believe the not-for-profit sector must be part of a strong, creative, compassionate Canada.
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