When Ottawa Police Chief Vern White recently joined a TELUS initiative to help make charitable funding decisions, he was another valuable addition to the telecom giant’s unique community investment approach—to have dedicated local leaders make funding decisions in their own communities.
Chief White is among three newest members of the TELUS Ottawa Community Board, one of nine such boards created across Canada to ensure that the company’s “give where we live” philanthropic efforts are decided locally.
Along with new members Michael Allen, President and CEO of United Way/Centraide Ottawa, and Dr. Robert Cushman, President of the Champlain Local Health Integrated Network, Chief White will be helping the board select charitable partners to help meet the needs and priorities of the Ottawa community.
The chief will be bringing to the board his extensive experience and strong belief in engaging the community, including community policing and the collaborative approach to problem solving.
“One of our challenges is trying to fix all these problems alone when the reality is we will be unsuccessful if we work alone. We can’t possibly—we don’t own all the problems and we certainly don’t own all the solutions…I think it does take a two-pronged approach.”
The community and police need to work together, he said, and that community includes partners. “The majority of my partners are civilians, citizens, and community groups.”
This wish to work with community partners was the same impulse that led TELUS to launch the community boards.
Corporate Affairs Executive Vice President Janet Yale serves as National Chair of the TELUS Community Boards as well as Chair of the TELUS Ottawa Community Board.
The company came up with the idea after it became overwhelmed with requests for grants and sponsorships from across the country, Ms. Yale said.
“It’s very hard for a small group of people, however well intentioned, to really have a sense of the priority needs of the local community.”
To give effectively, the company “really needed to be grounded in those communities with local community leaders,” she said.
At least 65 percent of each board comprise people from outside TELUS. Each board sets four application deadlines per year and has between $300,000 and $600,000 annually to give out, depending on the size of the community.
TELUS has community boards in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Rimouski in Quebec, and a single board spanning the four Atlantic provinces.
Since the first board was launched in Edmonton in 2005, the boards combined have given $16.9 million in support of 1,205 community projects.
Focus on Youth
Funding aims to serve as seed money for starting grassroots projects. The program targets arts and culture, education and sport, and health and wellbeing in the environment.
A key focus is to showcase how technology can make the future more friendly. Another key focus is youth.
“There are many different programs out there and the challenge with all of them is that they all cost money,” said Chief White. However, “ultimately, in the longer term, they will save us [money].”
This view was also expressed by Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. In his 2008 Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, Dr. Butler-Jones noted research indicating that “$1 invested in the early years saves between $3 and $9 in future spending on the health and criminal justice systems, as well as on social assistance.”
Chief White pointed to community programs such as drug treatment, drug counselling, and school resource officer programs as important tools “to try and help young people as they move through the high-risk ages—the 14 to 17 age group.”
For example, through Ontario’s Youth in Policing Initiative, for eight weeks this summer the Ottawa Police Service will be hiring 25 young people between 14 and 17 to expose them to policing and “build a relationship so they see there is a positive aspect to dealing with the police.”
In Ms. Yale’s involvement with the board, she said “I really love the ones where we take programs that work well, say for middle-class kids, and figure out a way to apply them to communities where people don’t have a lot of money.”
One such program is Scouts Canada’s SCOUTSabout program for five-to-ten-year-old kids in at-risk neighbourhoods.
SCOUTSabout does not require the kids to have money for uniforms and badges.
“They just do the outdoor activities, learning opportunities, and community service projects that kids in the regular Scouts programs would do, which are really about developing confidence, self-worth, and skills,” said Ms. Yale.
Another program is HIPPY, short for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, an international program originating in Israel where it is a government-funded national program.
The program funds home visitors—trained parents in the community—to visit disadvantaged parents weekly to help them ready their children for school.
Ms. Yale noted another program that assisted performing arts schools to hold free concerts for kids from at-risk neighbourhoods. TELUS also funded the buses to bring them to the concerts.
“The kids who are studying to be performing artists get the opportunity to perform, and at-risk kids who wouldn’t know about acting or playing an instrument get a taste of what the performing arts look like.”
With over 20 years working for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and policing experience in Ontario, Halifax, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, Chief White believes his experience dealing with youth, Aboriginal communities, and diverse communities will be helpful to corporate Canada.
“Bigger than that” is the interaction with the other groups on the community board to discuss the issues and help make decisions, he said.
TELUS is inviting local charitable organizations to apply to one of its nine community boards across Canada for funding of projects that focus on young Canadians and the innovative use of technology. For more information, please visit www.telus.com/community.