You founded your first charity – the Prince’s Trust – in 1976, using your severence pay from the Royal Navy. Now, your charities raise millions of dollars and pounds and employ hundreds of people. You are described as a social entrepreneur. How would you describe yourself – and your motivation behind the Prince’s Charities Canada?
I suspect the truth is that I am one of those people who has never been very good at sitting back and expecting others to sort out problems. I like to try and solve them. From the very beginning I have wanted to improve the lives of others and build sustainable communities.
For example, I have long believed in the enormous difference that can be made to young people’s lives, and the development of their true potential, if they are given the opportunities to develop their confidence, build their own businesses, and become leaders in their communities. I have also seen the powerful impact that CEOs can have beyond the boardroom if they are exposed to challenges in their communities and then work together to solve them.
I established my Prince’s Charities Canada so that I could connect the accomplishments of my charities in the U.K. and across the world with organizations in Canada in order to make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
And I like to think that these increasing efforts in Canada are starting to make a difference. For example, my Seeing is Believing programme challenges Canadian CEOs to roll up their sleeves and use their business and leadership skills to help disadvantaged young people get jobs in some of the hardest-to-reach communities. More than 120 business leaders have taken part in eight of these Seeing is Believing initiatives in Halifax, London, Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto. We are already seeing the results. For instance, I have been delighted to see the success of a First Nations hiring initiative led by Mandy Shapansky of Xerox Canada and Carol Wilding of The Toronto Board of Trade. After participating in one of my Seeing is Believing initiatives in Toronto, Mandy and Carol have made extraordinary progress in creating new networks to help more aboriginal young people acquire the jobs they deserve. I am proud to say that this initiative has meant that nineteen young people have now secured employment.
The Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur gives military veterans the opportunity – and tools – to make the transition from military service to starting their own business. What has struck you about the Canadian servicemen and women who have applied for the program here? And is there one graduate whose business has surprised you?
Canadian servicemen and women give so much in support of their country. I am keen to ensure that when their duty is done they have everything they need to make a smooth transition to civilian life.
Military veterans have such an array of skills that many of them can do really well if they start their own businesses. My Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur helps to provide the education, mentorship and financing needed to match these skills with veterans’ entrepreneurial aspirations.
I am enormously encouraged that after only two years the programme has so far helped launch forty-one businesses employing twenty-four people in places like Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton and Quebec City. One of these businesses was started by a Royal Canadian Naval Officer, Scott Harrigan, who took his skill with naval knots and now makes the most brilliant handmade dog leashes! The challenge now is to keep up with demand as more and more realize that a military career emphasizing leadership, risk-taking and careful planning has prepared them perfectly for owning a business.
The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community is another one of your charities [seeking to broaden its work] in Canada. Explain what you hope to achieve with this charity. I know you have a particular passion for sustainable urbanism. Tell us about that.