Tag Archives: Fellowship

Acknowledging Traditional Territory

First peoples have existed for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans settlers. It has been their custom to acknowledge each other’s traditional territory, and this protocol still exist today. It is important to recognize that Frist Nations, Métis and Inuit have unique relationships with Canada. They hold sovereignty over their traditional territory and are diverse groups with their own histories and culture.

For example, my mother was born in Shoal Lake #4, whose territory extends between the Province of Ontario and Province of Manitoba. Shoal Lake #40 is part of Treaty 3 and of Ojibway heritage. It has been over 100 years since Canada expropriated Shoal Lake #40 reserve land and the City of Winnipeg built the aqueduct which displaced the community to a man-made island. It has been over 20 years since Shoal Lake #40 has been on a boil-water advisory. The boil water order was issued by Health Canada and it requires all community members to boil the water before consumption. When I speak at schools in Winnipeg to raise awareness, many students don’t realize the significate burdens that Shoal Lake #40 carries in providing Winnipeg with fresh water. In recent memory, nine people have died crossing the water or thin ice to access homes. Thankfully, after many years of advocacy and resiliency, in June 2019 Shoal Lake #40 will open their all-seasons road. This road will save lives and restore an economic future for the community.

Acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ territory is a small way of showing respect and recognition of Indigenous people. I encourage philanthropic organizations to reach out to Indigenous people in a respectfully way by including Elders and knowledge keepers to understand the traditional territory where their offices are located and work together in developing proper acknowledgements.

For example, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Manitoba Chapter at Winnipeg events acknowledges the Treaty one traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Dakota and Oji-Cree nations and the homeland of the Métis. My sincere hope is that we can move beyond acknowledgments and together find meaningful ways to support the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action.

Sharon Redsky is AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

Navigating subtle meaning of words and feelings

Sitting around the table discussing the meaning of words, their power and how important it was to analyze the context of when and where such words were used was a favourite of my bonding times with my mother when I was growing up. She would share the content of her classes with me, while she was a university professor in my hometown in Ecuador.

Growing up with an acute awareness of the power and meaning of words turned me into a conscious communicator and from an early age, an assertive person. I also learned early on the real meaning of the words chosen by people when they were trying to assert power.

At the same time, that awareness made me shy to share what I really thought in many circumstances, fearing to hurt someone else’s feelings.

I remember being brought into the midst of a conflict between my high school friends to solve their misunderstandings; nothing that a little bit of context, word review and meaning, and acknowledgment of feelings would not solve.

Fast forward to my first newcomer/migrant experience and such knowledge had to be quickly put to use. When I would hear an offensive word directed to me or other racialized persons, I repeated to myself “Isabel, remember the context, and you are new to this context. Keep learning, keep calm, continue to be assertive and move on”; resilience was the end game.

It was not only about the words, but it was also the feeling of uneasiness to which I could not attach a word or meaning. I still had to learn so much about bias and discrimination, and in a different language; English.

Bringing that experience to the fundraising profession is another story. As a street fundraiser, while I studied in Madrid in the early 2000s, I thought I had rejection and bias figured out. When you do street fundraising, you know that rejection can be blunt, but add the layers of your skin, your accent and the context of sub-urban Madrid in my case. Hitting my targets was hard, but I did it! What other proof was needed that I could handle rejection?

That proof was not enough when in England after getting down to the final two candidates for that amazing entry-level position at the high-tech company or the management fundraising position at my dream NFP; over and over and over again, the feeling of uneasiness brought me back to square one and made me feel as though I did not belong.

Or the time when in a major donor steering meeting, as tasks and responsibilities were distributed to deploy the major giving strategy, the director lists them all including that I will be limited to clearing tables and washing dishes in a joking manner.

How about the awkward time spent in a networking event where I actively engaged with people, when I aimed to present myself as a strategic leader, accomplished professional and was looking to identify opportunities for collaboration, but instead could not get past explaining to others about my ‘background.’

It felt like there was little I could do to change those situations I would come across in those exchanges, but internally I was changing, and I was burning out.

It has taken many years for me to attach meaning to the words and feelings that bias and discrimination use to present themselves. And mostly it has been possible because I have opened up and found allies and spaces like the AFP Inclusion and Diversity fellowship where I have engaged with people open to discuss and embrace those uncomfortable feelings.

This fellowship has not only been a catalyst to further attach meaning to feelings and words, but an opportunity to also assess my moving and relative privilege, an exercise all of us should undertake as we navigate diverse communities and societies.

As a fundraising professional, I write and speak to build connections and empathy that call for action towards the causes I serve, but most importantly I communicate to move us closer to transformative change.

With this piece I hope as a newcomer to the fundraising profession or as a veteran in it, you felt connected, especially if you have gone through similar life experiences. Please speak up and share them safely; your story can change others’ stories and help them avoid burn-out.

If my experience seems ‘alien’ to you, but still you believe you are and can be an ally for inclusion, I invite you to exercise respectful curiosity and to step into the uncomfortable zone to explore the relativity of privilege.

I cannot promise you will find all the answers to your curiosity, but you will move out of fear towards a sacred space of acknowledgement of your own and others’ dignity. And along the way, you will make the fundraising profession a safer space where all of us who journey through it can belong.

AFP Fellowship Mentorship Experience

I joined the 2018 AFP Fellowship program to increase my knowledge in fundraising and for the mentorship opportunity. I was fortunate to be mentored by Joan Blight, who has over 30 years of experience. Over the past 7 months, Joan and I met several times and I am grateful for her guidance. We decided to share our mentorship experience by answering the questions below.

What was the reason you agreed to participate as a mentee/mentor for the 2018 AFP Fellowship?

Sharon: For me, the mentorship was the most appealing part of the program for my professional development. I was excited to learn that Joan Blight would be my mentor. She is a well respected professional/fundraiser/leader and has the strategic and corporate experience that I hoped to learn.

Joan: I seek to learn more about Indigenous culture and what we can learn from one another about philanthropy. The Indigenous population is under represented in the field of fund development, so I welcomed the opportunity to mentor Sharon, the only Indigenous fellow in this program.

What has the experience taught you as a mentee/mentor?

Sharon: Through this positive mentorship experience I learned how valuable good governance is for organizations in achieving their fundraising goals. A good example of this, is having the board and leadership clearly committed and engaged. With Joan’s wealth of knowledge and insight, I felt that I could have used many more months to spend time learning from her.

Joan: There is a real difference between mentoring and directing. Sometimes it is a very fine line. If a suggestion I offered was not accepted, I learned to leave it alone.

How can diversity and inclusion be encouraged in the sector?

Sharon: I believe we can learn so much by including diverse perspectives and voices into the work of the philanthropic sector. Mentorship is an important way in developing valuable connections. In this fellowship, I have met many talented fellows who are working for the advancement of diversity and inclusion. I would like to see the more opportunities for mentorship and leadership development.

Joan: I think we need to listen and learn from Indigenous people and new Canadians. Are they interested in this sector? What is their passion? Are Indigenous individuals interested in working in Indigenous-led organizations? non-Indigenous-led organizations? What about new Canadians? What is important to them in the workplace?

Ways of encouraging diversity and inclusion:

  • through formalized means such as presentations to organizations’ senior management and engaging human resource personnel
  • through “shared learning” presentations to professional associations such as AFP
  • through mentorship opportunities such as this one
  • through networking with colleagues

Sharon Redsky is First Nation member of Shoal Lake #40 and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

What does Truth and Reconciliation mean in the philanthropic sector?

As a relatively new member of the Association of Professional Fundraisers, I wanted to gain better insights on how the philanthropic sector understands Truth and Reconciliation. It was through a small questionnaire that I set to do so, and I am grateful to all the participants who completed it and shared their responses with me. This blog presents two of my project’s key findings.

Philanthropic sector has a role

I was pleased to learn that all respondents to the questionnaire felt that the philanthropic sector does have a role in contributing to the work of reconciliation. When asked if they felt satisfied with the philanthropic sectors current action, many felt that more action is required. They also identified the need for additional education and awareness. However, an important step is learning the truth of Canada’s role in the creation of residential schools and a deeper understanding of the long term impact this has on Indigenous people and communities across the country. It is my hope that individuals and organizations will make this kind of education a priority. Many resources are accessible from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Reconciliation Canada and the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

Impact Investing and the recognition of Indigenous voices

Most participants identified as impact investing and the recognition of Indigenous voices as an areas where the philanthropic sector could make the biggest impact. Building on this, is the rise of Indigenous led organizations across the country who are responsive to community needs and provide cultural appropriate services. There is a great opportunity to bridge the work of Indigenous led organizations with the philanthropic impact investment efforts. A good example is the Winnipeg Foundation, who distributing 1.3 million in reconciliation grants to 20 projects that are Indigenous led and some that demonstrated authentic engagement with the Indigenous community. In addition to foundations, many individuals contribute in meaningful ways, one such person is Jennifer Roblin. I met Jennifer while working at a non-for-profit and was inspired by her genuine generosity. Her contributions are not only financial, but she invests her time and energy collecting and distributing winter clothing for Indigenous children and youth living in Winnipeg. While these are just a couple of examples, there are many other ways to contribute to reconciliation, I compiled some in a list in my project’s full report. The report can be found at http://www.afpinclusivegiving.ca/resource/philanthropic-sector-truth-reconciliation/

Reflecting on this project has renewed my efforts in building relationships between the philanthropic sector and Indigenous led organizations to elevate the work of reconciliation.

Sharon Redsky is First Nation member of Shoal Lake #40 and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

How Would You Go About Broadening Your Donor Base to Reflect the Diversity of Your City or Region?


One of the gifts of the AFP Fellowship in Diversity and Inclusion was to attend the AFP Congress in Toronto – the largest AFP conference in the world. And what a delight to find myself talking about the Fellowship to an AFP Toronto fundraiser I had never met, who then introduced me to her friend and AFP member, Tricia Johnson, Major Gifts and Planned Giving Officer for the Ottawa Food Bank. Wonderful! Some kind of AFP magic at work?

Coming from the second largest food bank in BC myself, we immediately began a conversation about how we are engaging diverse donor populations and agreed to keep our conversation going post-conference, both of us inspired that somehow, among 1000 attendees, we found each other.

Now March, a few months later, we checked in with each other and I asked Tricia about the plans she has for diversifying her donor base.

I started just by asking, ‘Who are your average donors?’

“Observationally, our average donors are pretty much ‘text book’. Our average donors are 60+, generally local, from Ottawa, they are mostly Caucasian, but their ethnic background varies, so they may have roots that go back to Poland, Italy, England, Ireland, French-Canadian etc. I don’t really keep track so this is just my general observation. And it is not uncommon when I’m talking to people that they can make reference to their faith. Our donors are not as affluent as I found in the Arts but definitely well educated.”

“I would like to have our donors be reflective of the people of the city. Visible minority groups or Non-whites account for 24% of the population in Ottawa. So it would be good to see within our donor base 25% representation of people who are non-white.”

“At AFP Congress someone did make a case for tracking ethnicity and religion, but we don’t track it here right now. So I couldn’t say where we are at right now but its not yet reflective of the diversity of the city.”

Who would you like to have participate more fully as donors?

“One of the groups that I’m working on engaging, and you and I talked about it in Toronto, was that people of the Muslim faith which are actually pretty diverse ethnically, they have a really have a strong affinity with our cause, they have a common call to feed the poor, it is a tenant of their faith. My main consideration is to diversify our donors where I see there is a natural fit.”

Tricia is interested in Muslim communities not just because it is a larger identifiable group in Ottawa that is not yet involved much in the Ottawa Food Bank, but particularly because she sees that they and the food bank could share her organization’s vision of “providing food to people who need it.”

I ask her, What are some considerations as you seek to engage with the diverse Muslim community to build on what may be aligned values or intersecting interests?

“Well, I think its going to take time for us to get to know them and for them to get to know us, I’m still learning where the common grounds are and the places where we might do things differently.”

How do they get to know us and how do we get to know them? What are some approaches you are taking?

“There is a Muslim food bank in our community that doesn’t serve only Muslims but offers a wide variety of halal items and is run by Muslim elders in the community. I reached out to that food bank and let them know that we are looking for people we can work with in the community who can act as Philanthropic Advisors.

These are people who are onside with us, who want to see us increase our reach in the community and they can help us with introductions. And sometimes through observation, they will help me navigate things to be aware of when interacting with people with cultural norms different than I might have.

For example, I didn’t necessarily realize that it’s a bit taboo, for a man and a woman to shake hands, they prefer not to touch, but of course, I’m very North American, and I’m generally pretty outgoing and so when I meet people, I put out my hand to shake their hand and show that I’m open and I’m excited to meet them.”

I ask Tricia to tell me more about her Philanthropic Advisors Group and how she hopes to engage with this group.

“We created a group called Philanthropic Advisors Group because it sounds way better than ‘Major Gift Committee.’ No one wants to be part of a Major Gift Committee or, when I’ve had those before, they haven’t been that effective. So seeing them as ‘philanthropic advisors’ it kind of puts the onus on me to make sure that they are equipped with knowing what we do, why we do it, some of the projects we are fundraising for —focusing on that education as opposed to just the door opening aspect of what they can do. I really want them to think about who would be predisposed to supporting our cause, not just find who has deep pockets.

Tricia says this project is “in its nascence.” So far she’s got 5 people who have shown interest in being her philanthropic advisors group and 2 of these are Muslim – one from the Muslim food bank and one from a mosque working on a committee that brings together people from all the mosques in Ottawa-Gatineau and they are both very engaged. Others in the group who she hopes to engage around diversifying with other less seen donors include, “a person who is Caucasian married to a person of Indian descent, another is a woman who is in the tech sector and involved in another fundraising group which is young, diverse and dynamic.”

So, Tricia has her plan on how she’s aiming to further diversify her community of donors:

  1. Reaching out to a food bank and a faith based organization who serve the populations we want to reach and involving/equipping them as philanthropic advisors.
  2. Reaching out to mosques and being present when they present gifts of cash and food to us.
  3. Subscribing to mosque newsletters.
  4. Subscribing to newsletters from The National Council of Canadian Muslims. (NCCM) is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties, challenges discrimination and Islamophobia, builds mutual understanding, and advocates for the public concerns of Canadian Muslims.
  5. Paying attention to connectors in our community—especially if they are part of a visible minority.
  6. Paying attention to donors in community who are women and have non-French or English names.

What are some of Tricia’s challenges and observations about making a conscious effort to broaden the diversity of her donors?

Her first thought is, “Not wanting to make any cultural faux pas that could cause deep offense.” She wants to create opportunities to engage people who are often overlooked but is “sensitive to tokenism and wary of making superficial assumptions.”

And of her process she says, “Generally my approach has been casual and somewhat inconsistent – but inconsistent meaning that it is naturally evolving, because I’m not trying to force it and I don’t want anyone to feel targeted because of their ethnicity.”

I’m just at the beginning of things now and I believe it is a bit of a slow process and although it may seem that that is a challenge, I believe it is better to take the time and kind of get to understand people and let them get to know you as well.“

Relationships do need to evolve and you can’t force or rush it. So sensitivity, openness, authenticity and a genuine interest in the people we wish to invite to join us in a common goal is surely the way.

My sincere thanks to Tricia Johnson for sharing her observations and experiences as she takes a thoughtful approach to broadening the diversity of the donors who support her cause.

Respectful Curiosity

One of the most beautiful approaches to conflict resolution that I have heard recently came from a podcast that I listened to, where the host, Whitney Johnson, interviewed Dr. Donna Hicks on the topic of disruption. (https://whitneyjohnson.com/donna-hicks/).

In this exchange, Dr. Hicks shared stories of her experience exploring the concept of how at the core of major conflicts lay a deep sense of lost dignity. Dr. Hicks is a Harvard professor and has studied and led mediation initiatives for some of the most relevant modern strife and wars around the world in the past decades and uses these experiences particularly around recognition and protection of all parties’ dignity to build cultures of trust in organizations today.

This expert talked about the acknowledgment of lost dignity as a first step to build trust towards peace and reconciliation and how ‘we are all guardians of dignity, and we owe it to ourselves, others, and the greater good to educate ourselves in the inherent value and worth of everyone around us in order to flourish.’

During my reflection on the idea of lost dignity, I was also reading and exploring the concept of ‘respectful curiosity’, a phrase that I coined in a conversation with a colleague around the topic of how diverse communities bear a high burden when speaking out to discrimination and injustice. How they seem to be penalized and how important it was that people sitting on the fence of understanding these issues – including me on many occasions – should exercise the practice of ‘respectful curiosity.’

I am still developing this concept but as I listened to that podcast, the idea of honouring my own dignity and that of others, the fullness of what I feel ‘respectful’ meant finally came into place.

In the social profit sector, we all seek to redress injustices, undo systemic wrongs and ultimately honour the dignity of those who we serve.

My journey to understanding the deep-rooted displays of racial, gender and socioeconomic injustices in the Canadian context has just started, and the only way I felt I could begin to learn has been through curiosity.

Yes, reading, listening to podcasts and lectures can help but, how can you feel moved to act and speak up and stand up to injustice when you witness it if you have not connected with people with those lived experiences?

And how can we connect with others when our structures seem so homogenous that the systems we are immersed in, are not conducive to connect with others with diverse lived experiences. There is so much that individuals can, and would do, for example setting up collaborative teams that reflect the diversity of participants to tackle organizational challenges, if this is an individual driving change in one department without structural support and acknowledgement in the ample sphere of the organization this practice will not be permanent. Therefore it is paramount that structures shift to build spaces for diverse connections.

Diversity, inclusion and access to power in our sector will require individual actions and systemic transformation. So as an individual I call you to move to a space of no fear through respectful curiosity and to step up your actions for inclusion because you have the power to change the system.

So be curious and ask the tough questions. What can we do to make our team diverse?. How can we bring in our beneficiaries into our decision-making process and truly represent them?. Do managers/leaders have the skills to manage talent that is unlike them? Why is this person not at this table? How can we all learn about addressing and including other’s life experiences without judgement? What did we learn from a diversity and inclusion initiative that died out?

Through this questioning, you will be bearing the burden with your colleagues from small minorities and as you do this, you will not only be guarding their dignity but yours too.

Invisible Diversity at the Workplace

Searching for my AFP Fellowship project was an admittedly difficult process. Looking in the mirror, I see what others see – a privileged white male – and yet for most of my life, on the inside, I hid and repressed my sexuality out of a deep fear of retaliation from people I loved and cared about. I was intrigued by the relationship between the deep vulnerability I felt with the outward perceptions that people had of me. I decided to lean into the idea.

As I explored project ideas with friends, people would often share their own version of a deeply-held vulnerability that they lived with in silence. In one instance, a person disclosed their HIV status, in another situation someone shared their current struggle with substance abuse… in each case someone related with the gap between the outward presentation of who they are and the challenges of their own unique circumstances.

Previously, in my work as Vancouver Park Commissioner, I worked directly with communities to pass a set of recommendations aimed at making Vancouver the most inclusive city in the world for trans and gender-variant peoples. Learning from that experience told me that an intersectional and community-led – meaning those who the solution is designed to help are the designers of the solution itself – approach was needed in order to be authentic and responsive to real needs.

Based upon my experience, I worked with other staff on Tides Canada’s reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion committee to source the various ways that people can identify within the varied spectrum of invisible diversity as a start to begin exploring ways to address them. We then went out to all staff, inviting them to participate, and engaged with them in discussions about the various ways that we should consider invisible diversity. Our experience generated great response and discussion, leading to the following list:

Class / Economic Status
Salary / Income
Inherited vs. earned capital
Economic / job opportunity

Mental Health
Isolation / Loneliness
Eating-related illness (bulimia / anorexia)
PTSD / schizophrenia / cognitive-related issues
Suicidal thoughts
Memory loss

Sexuality and Gender Identity
Heterosexuality / Homosexuality / Bisexuality / Pansexualiy / etc…
Non-binary gender / male / female /  intersex / 2-spirit / hijra / butch / femme / trans man/woman
Gender reassignment surgery / hormones

Physiological Health
Ability to live independently vs. dependency for tasks/activities
Wheelchairs / walkers / physical access restrictions
Disease / infection / chronic illness
Organ-related conditions (heart, liver, kidney disease, etc…)

Personality Type
Introversion vs. Extroversion
Innovation vs. traditional approaches
Conflict / disagreement style

Cultural Norms
Language / dialect / vocabulary / communication style
Music / food / cultural traditions
Routine / daily practices
Family structure
Holidays / celebrations

Religion / Spirituality
Monotheism / Polytheism / Nontheistic religion / Spiritual practice / Agnosticism / Atheism
Philosophy / ethics

Political Beliefs / Affiliations
Left-wing / right-wing / centrism
Political affiliation vs. no affiliation
Voting rights / privileges
Stances/beliefs about individual issues

Silent Generation / Baby Boomer / Gen X / Gen Y / Millennials / iGen
Life experiences

Marital/Family Status
Children vs. no children
Married/partnered vs. not


Access to education (affordability, geography, privilege)
Level of education
Experiences of trauma
Individual vs. intergenerational

I recognize that this list cannot possibly consider all needs of all people, but through sourcing directly from those people who will be impacted by decisions – the staff themselves – we can feel a degree of confidence that the unique ways that people identify at Tides Canada are captured in our list. Our work in this space will continue by focusing on each issue over the course of the year, and engaging staff in conversations about the considerations of each, and how we can make a more inclusive workplace by making practical changes that furthers inclusion for all. Already, thanks to this project, Tides Canada has started the “invisible diversity” subcommittee as part of our work on reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion, to look at ways to bring unseen intersections into our work furthering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

Trevor Loke is development manager at Tides Canada Foundation and principal of Trevor Loke Consulting

Ecotourism: A Community-led Model for Success

My work at Tides Canada, the largest intermediary foundation in the country, positions me uniquely in the simultaneous worlds of community and funders. Working with communities to scope out opportunities for impactful philanthropic projects that meet community-sourced needs through community-led solutions is an approach which has demonstrated success in building trust and deep relationships between funders and grantees. Structuring funding mechanisms with strategic partners to see the project through from inception to completion, or to sustain it in perpetuity depending upon the case, only furthers this relationship. Our work as an organization has led to a wide range of initiatives across Canada to form in this community-led way, the latest opportunity being an exciting new foray into ecotourism.

In late 2017, a donor of Tides Canada conceived the idea of using our unique model to build a new collaborative granting program designed to advance ecotourism in Indigenous communities across Canada. The donor committed to fund a significant portion of the work and give to the fund, but first we needed to figure out whether this was a needed opportunity, where the needs existed, how the needs tied to philanthropy, and how such a program could be funded.

Over the next year we began working with communities where our relationships exist, to inquire about work in the ecotourism space. As it turns out, the conversation was incredibly timely for communities in geographies across Canada, particularly on British Columbia’s central and north coast.

After meeting with communities, we took our work to select philanthropists to get their feedback on the next steps to build an impactful program in ecotourism. Their advice was to dive deeper into the work, to build networks where the most viable projects existed, and to invite a broader network of funders and partners to the table to engage in the process of building this new program. We took the advice and ran with it.

In November 2018, we held the Indigenous-led Ecotourism Summit in Port Hardy at BC’s Kwa’lilas Hotel—a successful Indigenous owned and operated tourism business—with invited community and prospective funding partners over two days of facilitated discussions to define the need for the program. The group defined three key areas of need to attract a diverse range of funders that could support the work:

  1. Language, arts, and culture
  2. Skills training
  3. Community economic development

Based upon the above defined areas, Tides Canada held a webinar attended by 30 participants – mostly prospective funders – in December 2018 to discuss the highlighted areas and hear directly from community leaders working in the space about why these areas were critical for the success of these projects.

Following the webinar, our team at Tides Canada has been hard at work to take the feedback we’ve heard and begin sourcing a recommended pilot project to build a structure around. By testing our assumptions and building a coalition of funders to see the first part this program through, we hope to build a full-scale national program that can deliver exciting new community-led opportunities from coast to coast to coast.

Organizations can gather from this experience, that knowing all of the answers is not possible or necessary for success, instead, handing control to those who will benefit from the work empowers better decision-making, outcomes, and relationships. As fundraisers, we can demonstrate that by bringing community to the decision-making table, we will raise more money from more sustainable partnerships over the long-term while building the reputations of ourselves and our organizations as trusted friends of the communities we help to support.

A Global Approach in the Era of Skepticism

Last year I had the privilege of visiting Europe as part of a delegation of Canadians furthering Transatlantic relations. As part of the delegation, I was the lone representative of civil society amongst a sea of bureaucrats, businesspeople, academics, and politicians, giving unique insight into the conversations taking place on the range of topics that were part of our programme.

Our visit began in Berlin with the awarding of the prestigious Eric M. Warburg award to Canadian Foreign Minister Hon. Chrystia Freeland by German thinktank Atlantik-Brücke for Canada’s role in advancing human rights and multilateralism on the world stage. This too provided unique insight, in seeing Canada’s brand on full display to a European audience.

Young diplomats of Canada meet with Peter Beyer, member of the German Bundestag (CDU) and Coordinator, Transatlantic Relations at the German Foreign Office

Throughout the journey, recurring themes were the focus of discussion, but the topic which held most relevance to my role in philanthropy was this: multilateralism is increasingly under threat and must be proactively advanced if we are to continue a cooperative approach to our affairs on the world stage. If we do not, global institutions will be undermined by populist forces and rule-of-law will be interpreted by the hegemonic superpower of the day. As philanthropic professionals, practitioners of the advancement of the common good of our humanity, we should all be concerned by forces that threaten partnerships and cooperation that bring us together, and wedge us apart in the process.

It was also a reminder that we have many friends in the world. While we see conflict and disagreement with some nations today, in Canada’s case with Saudi Arabia and China most notably, we have also seen new opportunities for cooperation to advance common values and outcomes. Whether our philanthropy is focused on a climate crisis that sees no borders, or on international aid, or on education and the rights of women, or otherwise, we all have a calling to resist turning back the clock on human rights, environmental protection, social services, health care, or the other advancements that we have made together.

Today it is harder than in recent memory to take a message to the wider world, because of our increasingly polarized society. Philanthropists from George Soros to Warren Buffett, who have donated billions of dollars of their own self-made money, are subject to conspiracy theory accusations of political agendas through their philanthropy. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where the very belief in a rules-based order, in democratic process, in decency, have become a political stance rather than the societal custom we have taken for granted.

Even still, we cannot allow the attacks and polarization to take away from our missions toward a better, more inclusive society. The good news is that we have many friends in the world who share our beliefs, and by working together, now more than ever, we can rise to the challenge and continue to push our humanity forward despite the tide of populism.

As our delegation sat around the conference room of the Canadian Embassy, Minister Freeland spoke about the successes that Canada has had. CETA and USMCA on the trade side, lifted visa restrictions and increased opportunities for exchange of professionals and students, and cooperation with our allies around the world to defend institutions like the United Nations, WTO, World Bank, WHO, IMF, and others that are under pressure by the United States government. Her point was that despite these setbacks, Canada remains a player on the global stage, ready to partner with NGOs and businesses and governments to work toward common goals in our common interests.

The experience of being in Germany and having discussions about Canada’s role in the world impacted me significantly. Knowing that the values we stand for – democracy, human rights, universal healthcare, and multiculturalism to name some examples – provides a light for other nations, including those which have experienced the horrors of fascism, to see possibility and opportunity through our pursuit of an open and just society. So many of us not only believe in these values, we depend upon them. The choice now is whether to continue our advancement of humanity, the very meaning of philanthropy, or whether we will be complicit as silent actors as forces of populism push back against our progress.

To Thine Own Self Be True

As part of my role running a fundraising department for a small charity, I recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting Canada’s 28th Governor General, David Johnston, for a tour of our palliative care residence and then moderating a discussion with our community as a fundraising event for our organization. A career high to be certain, and a learning experience like no other.

The basis of Mr. Johnston’s presentation was focused on his recent book Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country. In this wonderful book Mr. Johnston presents stories and anecdotes from his life experience, education and upbringing while clearly outlining his theories on what it takes to build trust on a personal level with others and within our organizations and government. The book is written in a very conversational way that resonates with the same warmth, wit and wisdom that Mr. Johnston exudes in person.

There are so many excellent examples of ways to foster trust within his book, but one in particular stood out for me. Mr. Johnston grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, and went to Harvard University. In an early chapter entitled “To Thine Own Self Be True”, he tells the story of being admitted to one of the Final Clubs at Harvard, a type of fraternity, in 1960. As he points out, this was before the height of the American Civil Rights movement. Admittance of any new student to this club had to be approved by its selection committee, but was very much reliant on the unwritten approval of the Alumni, from whom the funding for the club came. While Mr. Johnston was a member, there was an opportunity to admit a student from Nigeria, an extremely skilled soccer player and young Black man.

Mr. Johnston points out that the number of Black students at Harvard at the time were very few, a situation that would only change many years later. But in this example, Mr. Johnston explains that when the club did not allow this Black student membership, it did not sit well with him. He writes “the selection committee said they made their decision to deny the Nigerian student because they believed club alumni, who supported the club financially, were not ready to have as a member a man whose skin is black in colour.” (Johnston, 2018) When he learned of their decision, Mr. Johnston resigned his own membership. In his unassuming manner, Mr. Johnston explains he did not do this in protest or for the purpose of making a statement. As he says “I was simply uncomfortable being a member of a club that had just denied membership to a man based solely on the colour of his skin. I believed in equality, humility, and empathy, so the club’s decision rubbed me the wrong way.” (Johnston, 2018)

Mr. Johnston goes on to say that as an eighteen year old student, he did not have the self-awareness to have been able to explain at the time that his reaction was representative of his own personal values, and that as a result he had to make a decision, no matter the outcome or result of that decision. He says he simply was made uncomfortable with the situation, and that made his decision easy. But since then, he has recognized that the experience illustrated the importance of “getting a fix on my values and then trusting these moral instincts to guide my behaviour”. (Johnston, 2018)

This resonated with me deeply. My personal approach has always been similar – perhaps a result of my own upbringing and hearing my parents’ voices explaining that to treat others as we would want to be treated is the best way to go through life. My sister and I were encouraged to look inside and “to thine on self be true” and embrace the Golden Rule that is so prevalent in so many cultures and religions around the world. If only we could all tap in to that inner voice and instinct to recognize our own core values and be strong enough to act upon them – to be an ally by standing up for what we believe in, and not presuming to speak for another individual, but instead stand behind them in support.

This is at the core of the reason I got involved with the AFP Fellowship program. I want to give voice to building trust through the lens of diversity and inclusion. I have learned so much; my own core values of honesty, empathy and equality have been strengthened through this opportunity, yet I recognize I still have much to learn about using my voice and being an ally. I am grateful to the AFP Foundation in Philanthropy Canada for the exceptional opportunity they provide through the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy, to the Fellows of 2018-19 for setting the example of how to make a difference, and to the Right Honourable David Johnston for leading the way.

Janet Fairbridge is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellow with the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada.

Photo Credit: Dave West Photography