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Zero hunger, responsible consumption and production, and gender equality are among the goals family businesses are helping to advance.

iStockPhoto / Getty Images

From mom-and-pop corner stores to household-name brands, Canada’s family enterprises operate in every sector and touch every community across the country. In 2017, they generated almost half of Canada’s private-sector GDP and almost seven million jobs. This impressive impact – paired with some of the common characteristics of family enterprises – make them ideal allies for tackling the world’s most urgent challenges. Despite the pandemic crisis, business families across Canada remain committed to advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For a number of years, the Family Business Network (FBN) has partnered with the UN through the Polaris initiative to leverage the power of business families to promote sustainability, says Bill Brushett, president and CEO of the Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX), which hosts the Canadian chapter of FBN.

“Family businesses are well positioned to take a leadership role on sustainability issues due to their substantial economic impact and because of the way they operate. “

— Bill Brushett, president and CEO of the Family Enterprise Xchange

“As an international network of over 16,000 members in over 65 countries, FBN is a dynamic community that connects business families globally. The partnership with the UN is about creating a movement within the family business community to step up and combine our efforts,” he says. “Family businesses are well positioned to take a leadership role on sustainability issues due to their substantial economic impact and because of the way they operate.”

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Family enterprises are typically rooted and socially engaged in their communities. They also tend to take a longer-term view than their counterparts. “This multigenerational perspective is important,” says Mr. Brushett. “When we look at sustainability, there are no quick fixes. We have to change approaches and cultural practices for the better, and this takes time.”

Tackling the comprehensive list of the UN’s SDGs “has to be a collective effort,” he says. “Family businesses need to identify the areas where they can make a difference.” For example, a business producing packaging would embrace reusing and recycling trends to advance a circular economy model, while a food producer could work to minimize food waste.

Family businesses have already earned a reputation for being proactive “because they care about their communities and the environment,” says Mr. Brushett, adding that promoting sustainability can include economic, environmental, social and governance components.

“In the economic sphere, family enterprises are promoting business models, practices and investments that ensure economic growth delivers value for future generations,” he explains. “And a commitment to environmental stewardship can mean striving to have a positive ecological impact or mitigating climate change.”

Advancing social aspects can include promoting diversity and inclusion, paying living wages, or any measures that strengthen the social fabric of communities, states Mr. Brushett. “And good governance is about transparency and accountability to stakeholders and the world.”

Family businesses can provide an antidote to what critics describe as an anonymous economy – so focused on quarterly returns that environmental and social concerns fall by the wayside, he believes. “Family enterprises typically have a large focus on legacy and reputation. They want to see their values reflected in the way they conduct their business.”

Resilience in turbulent times

Through generations, business families have proven to be resourceful in weathering tough economic times. As the backbone of the Canadian economy, family-owned enterprises today are at the centre of the current COVID-19 crisis, dealing directly with extraordinary operational and financial impacts.

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During these turbulent times, it is imperative that Canadian family-owned businesses receive the support they need today, so they are able to not only survive the crisis but lead us to economic recovery after it abates.

Family Enterprise Xchange encourages governments and all Canadians to support family businesses whenever they can. Canadians can similarly count on family-run enterprises to do their parts – as they always have – to support their employees and communities in the return to prosperity.


FBN Canada is a chapter of Family Business Network International (FBN-I), the world’s leading international organization for enterprising families who want to engage with peers from diverse cultures and perspectives. More information at http://www.fbn-i.org.


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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