Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation
Philanthropy for Sustainable Change
The Early Child Development Funders Working Group is not the pithiest of handles but the foundations behind it are not about branding; they’ve come together around a goal – publicly funded early education for every child – available, high quality and voluntary. The objective underpins their respective equity and social justice agendas. Far from being a pipe dream, the partners consider their mission progressive, ambitious and achievable.
The FWG, for short, is a collaboration of eight family foundations– some old and some new; some large, some small, stretching from Alberta to Newfoundland. They first met in Toronto four years ago in an exploratory meeting to see how and if they could expand the effectiveness of their philanthropy with respect to young children.
“There was no prototype. The process evolved with the work,” recalls Jane Bertrand, the program director for the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation. First a few foundations joined around smaller projects; ultimately they all came together to produce and promote Early Years Study 3. EYS 3 was designed to provide the public and policymakers with the rationale for investing in early education. It introduces the Early Childhood Education Report, an arms length monitoring of governments’ progress toward meeting this goal.
The back story is a two decade journey. In 1992, a government- commissioned report, A Quebec Crazy for its Children, galvanized public opinion and ultimately changed the lives of Quebecers. The catchy title was a reminder of how important it is for every kid to have a least one adult who is crazy about her. At the same time as Quebec was launching its children’s revolution, Fraser Mustard and Margaret McCain released another commissioned report, the first Early Years Study. It became a conversation changer for traditional stakeholders and sparked interest in child development in the scientific, financial and health communities. Meanwhile the Atkinson Charitable Foundation put science into action with Toronto First Duty, a real life model showcasing the Early Years recommendations – a place where policymakers and others were able to touch and feel how communities could effectively support their children. The Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation took this further in a legislative partnership with the Quebec government to create Avenir d’enfants, the next step in Quebec’s family policy.
Knowing you can’t manage for improvement without measuring change, The Lawson Foundation committed to the multi-year research and the development of monitoring and assessment tools that are now used by researchers and practitioners across Canada and abroad. The group’s diversified portfolio includes the Muttart Foundation’s ongoing commitment to child care access and quality; the voice and space for innovation in First Nations communities supported by the McConnell Foundation and the work of regional foundations such as the Pratt and Hallman in facilitating new studies, and identifying and promoting new voices for early childhood. The work of these foundations reflects remarkable convergence of stakeholder and public opinion.
The powerhouse that came behind the Early Years Study realized much more than initially imagined. It was the FWG who developed the main recommendation of the report. Chagnon provided the inspirational story of Québec’s successes in developing its early childhood services, and contracted research for the study quantifying the enduring social and economic changes that have resulted.
Through the group’s networks every provincial and territorial government has been briefed on the study’s findings. The authors have made over 100 public presentations and given even more media interviews. Collaborations have extended internationally to include the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Aga Khan Foundation who are promoting the findings internationally. Most compelling, the study is getting results. Policy makers are applying the advice it provides to revamp their early childhood services.
At the prestigious Atlantic Public Policy Forum held in Halifax this January, Margaret McCain was honoured for her efforts in bringing the early education story to policy makers. In introducing Mrs. McCain, PEI Premier Robert Ghiz credited his government’s collaboration with her foundation for taking PEI from near the bottom, to among the country’s top performers in the provision of early childhood programs.
Angie Killoran, executive director of The Lawson Foundation, calls the takeaways from the collaboration “transformational” for her work.
“We have enjoyed cross-training on how foundations can influence policy change.We have shared tools that can be adapted for local use.We have gained a new understanding of the vast regional variations in values and approaches that make up Canada.We have been energized by the success of our joint venture. Most important we have new colleagues, indeed new friends, who are available to us. ”
Margaret McCain believes partnering with governments is an effective means to push policy change but she draws clear lines. “Foundations are not designed to replace what governments should be doing, nor are we about usurping the public dialogue,” she cautions.
“But we can marshall the best evidence and we can shine a spot light on what works and why. ”
The group believes it can move the agenda forward by adopting proactive, focused and supportive funding partnerships. The Early Childhood Education Report, due for release again in 2014, continues as part of the toolkit members use to inform democratic discourse. By perfecting the right combination of praise and nudge, foundations can remind policy makers of their time-sensitive task of helping to prepare our youngest citizens today for the Canada of tomorrow.
The author of this story is Kerry McCuaig, the Atkinson Foundation Policy Fellow, Atkinson Centre, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and advisor to the Early Child Development Funders Working Group.