Those kinds of shifts in society will cause a redefinition of the role of government, and I hope will cause a more 21st-century approach in philanthropy.
What would be the role of philanthropy in job creation?
More public-private partnerships – philanthropic endeavour, along with public services. I am honorary patron of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that would like in the next five years to build as many homes as it has in the last 25 years. Increasingly that organization, which used to depend on voluntary labour and somebody writing a cheque to buy the land and build a house, is working with municipalities and other agencies to deliver more social housing. That would be an example of innovative approaches and partnership with government, rather than two silos.
There have also been examples of people directly going abroad and building a school, not even going through charities, which is a very modern notion of philanthropy.
As we think of philanthropy changing, that business of engaging is quite key. When one is involved beyond the writing of the cheque, one gets much more passionate about the cause; one understands it better and makes better investments.
You touch on collaboration in your speeches quite often. Can you give me a example?
[Research in Motion CEO] Mike Lazaridis has invested now around $300-million of his own money in an institute of theoretical physics and then an institute for quantum computing. He has captured the imagination of governments to see that Canada has an opportunity to be a leader. That’s a brilliant private-public partnership, which started with a philanthropic gift but will build a whole new industry.
Stories about too much money going to salaries and not enough going to the services have eroded trust in charities.
It makes philanthropy more difficult. On the other hand, when you get the sense that by and large charities are well managed in this country, that helps the cause.
The Netherlands has a central bureau of fundraising. Do you think Canada needs a similar body?
The Netherlands actually has a government agency that gives a Good Housekeeping seal of approval to charitable organizations which have agreed to meet certain standards. That’s not the kind of thing the Canada Revenue Agency should do, in my judgment. It should ensure honesty in terms of tax receipts and that sort of thing. But the notion of capacity-building, of encouraging better management ideas, or helping with good governance of charities – at the level beyond the basic – I think there’s a need for a more entrepreneurial type of organization. The Dutch do it well, and I think we could emulate that.
Are we making good use of the expertise of New Canadians?
We need to do a lot more. [I know an] Indo-Canadian who wanted to make a large gift with some fellow Indo-Canadians for military families, especially families of deceased soldiers, as there way of paying respect to their country of adoption. He said, in his background, looking after one’s children and family was almost an overwhelming responsibility so that you didn’t have the occasion to think about anyone beyond your family. He said sometimes there was a mistrust of organizations that would be taking the money and not using it for the [right] purposes. Those are just cultural issues that I think we have to address, to ensure that people new to this country are welcomed and encouraged, consistent with their own traditions to make the lot of their neighbours better.
Do you have a childhood memory of the first act of charity that inspired you?
My grandparents were Methodists. They were very poor, but practised the Old Testament notion of tithing, so 10 per cent of their gross income went to the church for philanthropic-related activities – the first 10 per cent, not the last.