S01EP03 – Rapid Fire Q&A with Stephen Huddart with the McConnell Foundation

hello my name is stephen huddert and i am the president and ceo of the mcconnell foundation and welcome to our one on one he him i live work and play on the traditional lands of the mohawk people here in montreal a crossroads for millennia before european settlers came here and today a place where many peoples continue to share this space and to participate in acts of reconciliation we’re inspired by the great peace of 1701 when 40 first nations from around the great lakes watershed gathered in montreal and with the french concorded an agreement on how to share these lands these wealth of wealth of these lands through trading routes and exchanges and in a remarkable moment created a model that we can still we can learn from today i’ve worked at the mcconnell foundation for almost 18 years prior to that spent time with smaller organizations working in the charitable and non-profit sector as well as in business and media and and other things well today it’s tea cheers tea and coffee are are products that link us to to global supply chains and remind us of the ways that we depend on people in the global south and connect us uh every time we we buy something or choose to buy a fair trade product well lots of both but could i say face-to-face conversation is really the one that i would put above both of those but truly email has has arrived at a moment when we are and the whole internet of the time when interconnectivity is such an important asset to use in forging coalitions in understanding and connecting across distance so but for me a great phone call if i have the time it’s great to have a good chat on the phone well i’m really excited about a book i’m reading right now by seth klein called a good war mobilizing canada for the climate emergency i think it’s something that people in our sector and indeed in governments and civil society and business should really take a close look at it’s a a remarkable retelling of how canada mobilized uh to really do an extraordinary job of participating in the second world war many lessons that we can draw from that for dealing with the climate emergency so that would be my top recommendation my brother and i founded a jazz club in vancouver in 1985 it became a lively community hub natural food restaurant gallery convening place had it for seven years it was a wonderful experience being in a community and working one of the my favorite things about this was we would once a month hold a special event for a charity with staff who would staff would volunteer musicians would participate volunteer their time and the charity we were working with would use this as a fundraiser we would get donations of food and music and staff time as i say and we’d raise money for a charity that was typically just starting out we were quite interested in we supported the early work on the aids in the aids movement got very involved with central american refugees my most memorable career highlight i think a peak experience was participating in the federal social finance and social innovation and social finance co-creation steering group a group of 20 of us were appointed to work with federal officials to create a strategy for canada the the inclusive innovation strategy paper that came from that has i think a wonderful set of recommendations for reconstituting the relationship between civil society and the federal government and governments overall we’ve seen early and very promising work being done with the investment readiness program leading to what we hope will be soon the the announcement of the social finance fund which we can really use right now and with other recommendations that i i think are just as important but we’re still waiting to see implemented such as

a permanent uh council for uh civil society and uh federal consultations my 18 years in philanthropy have taught me a lot we’re custodians or stewards of extraordinary financial resources and an extraordinary freedom to to deploy those in ways that can help people communities ecosystems we’ve got these financial resources that i think are complemented by the ability to convene to to spend time in learning and researching and testing and doing practicing sort of social r d but it’s the the stewardship of those resources that is central and below all of that is the the question of trust our our most precious resource is the trust that we have as practitioners in the space conferred by the boards for whom we work as staff and and the communities that we serve in or with whom we are in service to to larger goals philanthropy can and is doing better uh these days by um by unpacking some of its assumptions and uh exploring or or examining its own privilege and and um being uh more humble in the face of of of the challenges that we’re all dealing with learning to make room for diversity for bipoc leadership i think we can do better by making sure that our our staffing and governance are informed by diverse perspectives and that’s i think something that’s important and ongoing now in in canadian philanthropy grant makers i think should remember that they can’t do their work we can’t do our work without community partners we are in service of uh the grantees and uh i think we need to remember as grant makers that the the restrictions the impositions uh and so on that we put on grantees can often be quite counterproductive uh i i think that you know we’re learning that core funding uh trust based funding another way to describe this is some of the best grant making that we do that trusting in the the knowledge and integrity of people on the ground to make the best uses of best use of the resources we provide with latitude to adapt and change and shift priorities and so on these are all i think attributes of effective grant making these days and grant makers i think also if we’re talking about philanthropic organizations broadly i think grant makers need to appreciate and we all think understand that the granting economy is tiny uh it’s it’s insufficient to the or often insufficient to the broader greater challenges that we faced and this leads us into the consideration of how grant making is complemented by or can be complemented by impact investing or solutions finance i’m hopeful for the next generation in canadian philanthropy because i’m seeing an extraordinary uh level of energy and uh commitment and consciousness and and new ideas coming from a new generation of extraordinarily diverse and uh talented young people coming into our field where i’m part of a generation of old white guys and women who are are leaving the stage now to make room for a more diverse cohort of of leadership leadership and and visionaries and practitioners in this space so that’s a great source of great hope for me personally three words that i would choose to describe my career would be eclectic fortuitous and connected because i’ve worked in many different fields both in canada and in latin america in the u.s in new york and from time working as a journalist to teaching english to uh being a museum curator and working on mayan music uh and just so many other things the jazz restaurant that we mentioned earlier this eclecticism has has really for me given me a window into many different

areas of society and work in the public sector private sector and in civil society helped me see how there are assets and strengths in each of those areas that are when connected uh very complementary and can leverage or or create outcomes that are impossible in any one sector alone and fortuitous because i just i feel like i’ve been so very lucky uh i’m i’m the beneficiary of philanthropy of the mcconnell foundation’s philanthropy actually because at a certain point in my career having never been to university i was able to i obtained a spot in the mcgill mcconnell program for voluntary sector leaders i was about i think about 50 years old and really had an extraordinary experience with a group of change leaders working with francis wesley and tim broadhead and a whole range of group of wonderful mentors and and and just learned so much and connected is simply that i think the um given the the diversity of experiences and places and people that i’ve had the privilege of working with and being part of i think philanthropy gives us that sense of an overview and of looking at complex systems geographies uh opportunities from a perspective of connectedness and of linking things together and i take a lot of pleasure in making connections uh and supporting others in making connections three pillars of canadian philanthropy i think the first one would be collaboration i think we’re we’re learning in this uh field to come together to support work that we couldn’t do on our own we have the example of pfc and community foundations of canada these these peak organizations imagine and others that enable us to think together to respond systemically and thoughtfully to to challenges and with that that enables creativity to take place we call we use the term social innovation systems change but philanthropy really has that role in society of enabling the possible to become visible and and and potentially real and and to deploy and implement and then just to to conclude with compassion and i think this is one where at the heart of the philanthropic impulse or the philanthropic response we have this capacity to to listen to to respond to to thoughtfully and emotionally and uh and supportively engage with vulnerable uh people organizations communities and to to respond that way i think is it’s part of the heart of the philanthropic response the future of philanthropy i think is is is pretty exciting we’re we’re brought to a point where the integration of thoughtful consideration of world views institutions and technologies world those are the three words we’ll use here enable us to grapple with these larger systemic questions that i think are at the heart of this current crisis it’s something that philanthropy can now very usefully contribute is in the midst of crisis the creation of those spaces times for thoughtful consideration for listening and for reimagining what’s possible and what’s desirable we do have to uh concern ourselves with the immediate and think goodness that government is stepping up the way that we’ve seen generously in openly supporting vulnerable people and putting some supports that’s behind small business and so on i think we do have a shared responsibility to keep charities afloat and to help them navigate through these times these are the means by which we express our philanthropic contributions and that whole sector is is very significantly challenged right now but then there’s also this this question of the the medium to longer term and philanthropy has an important role to play there there’s a project that we were involved in that taught me so much and actually continues to uh called winnipeg boldness and it involves a group of indigenous women in the north end of winnipeg and the way this came about was mcconnell was looking for a way to test what was then a new financial tool

called a social impact bond a way of putting repayable capital to work on creating different outcomes on testing a hypothesis for a different approach to a stuck problem and then having a government usually or government or foundation repay the initial investment and so in looking for a place to do this in canada with an indigenous focus which is something that we were and continue to be very involved in indigenous reconciliation we heard about the north winnipeg neighborhood of point douglas and found ourselves a consultant and i were there and sat down to talk about what might be possible and um diane rusin was at the head of the table and a group of her colleagues and advisors were sitting around with us and i went through an exclamation explanation of what a social impact bond was and why that might be a way to to work together and she listened politely and said the end said listen if you’re ready to put the foundation’s resources the funding on the table and let the community decide what is most important and how to deploy those resources then we should talk otherwise we’re both wasting our time here and it was great to be challenged that way by an indigenous woman who really knew what she was talking about when it came to that community and within 10 minutes we had a handshake agreement and within a week or so she had left her job as the executive director of the largest social agency in the community and when peg boldness was born well the climate emergency is really the the mother of all emergencies for us at this point um if we don’t address the uh the mandate given to humanity by the united nations the ipcc um things are are really will be much worse so so i think first of all uh i think we all have to accept that the climate emergency calls upon us to put everything we can and have and could possibly contribute to to moving forward in an inclusive and sustainable and resilient way but it’s more than that i think there are there are attributes to the climate crisis that address that highlight societal inequities so the whole climate justice movement and the disproportionate way that climate the climate emergency affects people of color people on the margins and so on is is i think an important dimension of this work and philanthropy i think has a responsibility to make that connection and to support community leadership and participation by bipac communities in order to create a truly inclusive way forward here there’s a a remarkable set of challenges and opportunities here and i think in canada we have some very remarkable efforts underway mcconnell participates in the clean economy fund and we’re now working and see work happening with the financial sector and shifting the way the governance of capital of pension funds and so on has to take account of climate risk philanthropic organizations are stewards of endowments and one of the places where we can really make a difference is with our investments in shifting them into renewables in looking at a variety of ways to align our our investment assets with our missions civil society has has been changing uh quite significantly in the last few years we are now out from under the restrictions on policy advocacy it took a lot of work and many organizations uh came together to really to change turn the the channel or to move in a different and better direction there and i see i think we see some early and very promising examples of philanthropy supporting uh public policy research and public policy advocacy and i think there’s there’s there’s more work to be done and it is thankfully taking place uh around the the reform the regulatory reform that’s now underway with uh cra we have the senate report and its recommendations on on reforming of the relationship with the charitable sector um part of this i think is is just removing some barriers that have been there for a long time on regulatory barriers around monitoring and control

and so on indigenous reconciliation is is a great national project and something that stems from the tremendous feeling of grief and shame and disappointment that we all as canadians felt as we learned through the work of the truth and reconciliation commission about the the cultural genocide that had been perpetrated by the state working with the churches and and the whole history of colonialism has given us a uh the the the 94 calls to action from the trc have given us a clear direction the philanthropic uh declaration uh in response i think is is a a good start and a guide sort of guiding principles for for this essential work i think all canadian foundations have a role to play in this space and certainly at mcconnell you know we’ve taken this on board our board has been through a workshop with reconciliation canada and staff we have indigenous staff we are granting and investing and really deepening relationships with indigenous organizations and indigenous leaders racialized violence systemic racism systematic exclusion from opportunity these are realities for for for too many people in canada and we have a responsibility to respond in in thoughtful and strategic and collaborative ways so this isn’t going to happen overnight but it does have to start now and i think we’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to build a better society when we take up these issues thoughtfully and with the philanthropic capacities that we would bring to any issue to make room for diverse voices at the governance tables in staffing in programmatic partnerships and to help the field why aren’t we reaching out and supporting capacity development spreading awareness enabling uh people to to see and take part in philanthropic processes and collaborations that where there’s so much to be done balancing our efforts between the immediate and the urgent and the longer term is such an important tension in and conversation to be had in canadian philanthropy we are in the midst of a compounding crisis which puts a very strong and immediate claim on our resources including our attention our funding and so on but as foundations we also have a responsibility a kind of propensity it’s in our dna to look long term a foundation is from a certain perspective an intergenerational commitment to to the long term we just happened to have put together a mcconnell a set of postcards called 12 lessons to learn that explores these questions that would encourage anyone interested to to download from our site that we have to take urgent action today on those issues the the second wave of the pandemic i think is is making it uh very clear that we have to be thinking about uh pandemic fatigue about who is still vulnerable or who faces renewed or further vulnerability there are many in our communities who are suffering and who are in in need of support now i think we’re while we talk about the second wave we also have to be thinking about what the trajectory is beyond that although we hope that a vaccine will be available sometime next year and sooner the better this is a process that isn’t going to end then we’ve got a i think something like a four or five year trajectory out of this and so planning and organizing and supporting uh society and convening leadership across sectors working with anchor institutions hospitals universities school systems to to think through what this can and and could and should look like uh where we want to to emphasize things is important i’d like to take this moment to thank all of the people with whom we’ve had the privilege of collaborating my mentors partners colleagues friends across this remarkable space called canadian philanthropy and wish everyone the very best in

in dealing with the extraordinary challenges we face um i won’t be leaving uh too soon i’ll be around i’m not gonna be working at the mcconnell foundation but i hope to um to keep in touch with many of you and wish you all the very very best just want to say thank you again and congratulations to pfc for putting together this as part of the the upcoming program i really do feel like pfc is doing tremendous work these days we’re really proud and pleased to be members and this is just another expression of of why we value your work so much thank you again for coming to my one on one and all the best you