Engaging Youth

The Foundation will consider proposals from youth-led organizations and networks that engage a range of youth in addressing major social issues.


Engaging Youth

Strategic Vision

The Foundation envisions a society enriched by its commitment to the engagement of young people as active participants, recognizing their unique perspectives, skills, and values.

Program History

During his lifetime J.W. McConnell consistently supported organizations that served disadvantaged youth, such as the YMCA and Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs. In addition, the Foundation supported many university students with scholarships.

This focus on youth has continued; in the past decade almost $50 million has been allocated to projects benefiting youth. Table 1, which lists many of these projects, distinguishes between adult-led activities directed at young people, and projects or organizations initiated and run by youth themselves.

Our more recent grants reveal a decided bias in favour of youth-led organizations rather than organizations delivering programs to youth. This support has been directed to three distinct cohorts:

  1. Campus-based organizations—ranging from Meal Exchange to Journalists for Human Rights to Forces Avenir. Some of these organizations have grown into dynamic movements of young people. Engineers Without Borders, for example, in ten short years has established vibrant chapters in virtually every Engineering faculty in Canada and has received acclaim for its programs dealing with water, sanitation, and agriculture in Africa.
  2. Youth leaders with powerful ideasTaking IT Global was one of the first social networking sites, linking young people from dozens of countries who share aspirations to create a better world. Free the Children started as a small group in Toronto that wanted to improve the lives of children in poor countries. CanadaHelps was a remarkable initiative of three enterprising Queen’s students who built an online portal for charitable giving, now channeling well over $20 million annually for Canadian charities.
  3. The YouthScape program—launched in 2006 to involve excluded or disengaged youth in planning and implementing community development initiatives. YouthScape taught us, and the local sponsors, a lot about the value of involving young people, and about the challenges in doing so. The YouthScape network has produced a video, a Guidebook and several reflective papers that share the lessons from this initiative that concluded in 2010.

The Way Forward

Our experience with YouthScape has led us to become engaged with emerging hubs of youth-led organizations that are pooling resources, learning how to effectively engage mainstream institutions and becoming a coherent voice for youth on policy issues. The evolution of our youth programming portfolio—from scholarships for individuals, to support for exemplary youth-led organizations and finally, to support networks of youth leaders and organizations—reflects our learning about social innovation.

We will continue to explore ways in which the Foundation can work collaboratively with the broader youth engagement community to ensure greater impact.

Key Lessons

  • While a competitive “Request for Proposals” may generate the most coherent proposals, some organizations doing the most innovative work with youth may remain below the radar screen or be less experienced at writing proposals.
  • A well-run small grants fund can successfully nourish the dreams and talents of young people to initiate a project. In order to change municipal and organizational policies, adult mentors can be useful allies to help them navigate the dynamics of complex systems.
  • Civic institutions and traditional youth-serving agencies may have a successful track record in attracting previously engaged young people (students, athletes, etc.). However, it is much more challenging to be accessible and relevant to young people who do not see themselves as “belonging” to a broader community. Organizations that are serious about including marginalized youth often need to start by reviewing their own values, structures and behaviour in light of where these youth are at.
  • We are learning about the approach that outstanding “youth-friendly” organizations embrace to promote authentic civic participation by young people: youth engagement is not a discrete project, but rather, a way of living. It begins by listening to the young people and affirms their rights and skills rather than focusing exclusively on their needs.
  • There is no coherent “youth engagement” field; leadership, networks and funding opportunities tend to be organized around specific issues such as education, recreation, health, job skills training, crime prevention, etc. People are most easily engaged by working on a specific issue in their community.

Table 1: McConnell Foundation grants to youth programming, 2000 – 2010

Projects Dates Amount
A. Youth as Beneficiaries of Adult-led initiatives
Green Street 1999 – 2010 9,675,000
ArtsSmarts 1996 – 2008 9,720,000
Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation 2005 – 2009 85,000
Community Service Learning (10 universities) 2004 – 2010 9,000,000
Roots of Empathy 2004 – 2008 730,000
Pédiatrie sociale 2007 – 2010 600,000
La Maison des Enfants 2003 – 2006 230,000
Ray-Cam: MoreSports 2002 – 2005 220,000
True Sport Foundation 2006 – 2010 2,500,000
KidSport / Foodbanks 2008 – 2010 325,000
JUMP 2005 – 2010 781,289
CCCO / Earlscourt 2007 – 2010 485,000
Scouts Canada 2000 – 2006 204,000
Pathways / Toujours Ensemble 2008 – 2012 1,500,000
Adult-led organizations with significant youth input into programming
LOVE 2001 – 2004 337,500
L’Institut de Nouveau Monde 2006 – 2009 450,000
Equitas 2005 – 2011 600,000
Motivate Canada 2008 – 2013 2,072,000
Ray-Cam: YELL 2007 – 2010 336,000
PEYO 2002 – 2005 104,000
Eva’s Initiatives 2006 – 2009 290,000
B. Support for youth-led organizations or initiatives
Engaging youth to impact a specific domain, campus based
Engineers without Borders 2005 – 2008 490,000
Journalists for Human Rights 2005 – 2009 185,000
Meal Exchange 2002 – 2004 550,000
Sierra Youth Coalition 2003 – 2009 445,000
AQPERE 2006 – 2009 297,000
WUSC 2005 – 2008 335,000
Engaging youth to impact a specific domain, not campus based
National Youth in Care Network 2007 – 2011 632,800
Otesha 2006 – 2010 340,000
Santropol Roulant 2004 – 2007 226,840
YouCan 2003 – 2010 580,000
Empowering youth as volunteers or citizens as an end in itself
TakingITGlobal 2006 – 2009 700,000
Framework Foundation 2004 – 2006 80,000
Framework Foundation 2007 – 2010 517,000
Forces Avenir 2006 – 2010 525,000
Free the Children / Volunteer Now 2005 – 2008 540,000
Power Camp National 2004 – 2007 472,500
Power Camp National 2007 – 2010 544,000
Apathy is Boring 2006 – 2009 189,000
C. YouthScape 2005 – 2010 2,123,500


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