Cities as a commons: Sharing vision, resources and power

by Alex Gillis

Uber, Airbnb and other sharing enterprises allow people to buy rides, rent homes and hire people for everyday chores, but are those initiatives really about sharing?

“They are full of the steroid of venture capital,” explained Julian Agyeman, co-author of the book Sharing Cities and professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, in the United States. “These are not sharing enterprises anymore. These are about making lots of money, and about exploiting workers and neighbourhoods.”

Last month, at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, Agyeman spoke about true sharing enterprises, the types that involve “just sustainability,” as he puts it, a sustainability that melds human equality with environmental issues, merges social justice with ecological sustainability. He was one of four international experts at an event organized by Evergreen and the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Cities for People initiative, an event that’s part of collaborations to foster inclusive, innovative and resilient cities.

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Spotlight on new grants

The Trustees of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation approved funding for several organizations and initiatives, including:



Rideau Hall Foundation ($125,000)
Funds will be used to support Imagine a Canada – an initiative that engages children and youth across the country in expressing a vision of a reconciled nation.


Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission ($325,000)
Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission will use this grant to help governments at all levels address challenging questions related to climate change and carbon pricing.



Engineers Without Borders (up to $420,000)
This grant will be used to support the expansion of the Engineering Change Lab, which addresses issue such as ethics failures, lack of cultural and gender diversity in engineering and the role of innovation in helping make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada ($450,000)
A grant from the Foundation will support the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society in developing policy, training and education material to improve conditions for First Nations children across Canada.








Webinar: The role of food in healthcare

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 from 1:00pm-2:00pm Eastern

Join Sustainable Food Systems program director Beth Hunter for a webinar on the role of food in health and healing. Learn about our research and preliminary findings, and to hear from one of HealthCareCAN’s members that has made significant progress in this area. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, and consider ideas and strategies that may be valuable to your organization.


How school “health champions” can foster student wellness

New initiative at Saanich School District provides a potential model for other districts

Students from School District 61’s Coastal Kindergarden at Ogden Point, Victoria.

By Cara McKenna

Factors such as stress, lack of sleep and improper nutrition can have a big impact on students’ ability to learn. That’s why numerous B.C. schools have enacted plans or policies to nurture the social, emotional and mental health of students. But just because one school sees results, doesn’t necessarily mean others will follow. A new project at Saanich School District aims to better spread promising new ideas from one school to another. It’s a prime example of what WellAhead, an initiative of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, is hoping to see more of provincially and nationally.

WellAhead is a philanthropic initiative aimed at better integrating social and emotional wellbeing in K-12 education. Even though focusing on holistic wellbeing has been proven to improve academic performance and life outcomes, schools don’t consistently make wellness a priority, said Mali Bain, WellAhead’s B.C. lead.


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Committing to responsible investing

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is announcing today that it is committing to implementing responsible investing practices across 100% of its endowment. These practices include a range of approaches—for example, targeted negative screens that remove specific industries from the portfolio; positive screens, through which portfolios are constructed with best-in-class companies; and shareholder engagement and activism on priority issues. The full responsible investment strategy will be developed over the coming months.

In recent years, there has been considerable discussion and activity on the broader topic of responsible investing, based on the belief that environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors affect shareholder value across industries and over time. Read the rest of this entry »

Granting and impact investment priorities for 2017


The following is for the benefit of any organization approaching the Foundation for support or collaboration in 2017. For more information about granting, please visit our Granting web pages.

In 2017, the Foundation will focus new granting on the following:

  • Cities for People (increasing equality of opportunity; strengthening the civic commons; supporting urban innovation labs and networks)
  • Indigenous-focused philanthropy (reconciliation as social and economic innovation)
  • WellAhead (school-based child and youth wellbeing)
  • RECODE (supporting social innovation in post-secondary education)
  • Energy and the Economy (shifting the economy to a sustainable state through changes to energy production, distribution and use)
  • Public Sector Social Innovation (catalyzing social innovation in government through partnerships with civil society organizations. McConnell funding can support convening, policy briefs and similar activities with grants of up to $25K).

The foundation’s Sustainable Food granting initiative is now focused on the Nourish initiative —  which seeks to improve the future of food in health care — and on food security in Northern Indigenous communities, and is not considering new unsolicited proposals.


 Two additional funds remain open to general application:


There are several other priorities that we will continue to support in partnership with other foundations, investors, and governments:

  • Integration of our impact investing and granting goals, including by developing program-related investments (PRI’s)
  • Amplifier Montréal — a multi-sector initiative to transform Montreal into a more inclusive and innovative city
  • National and global social innovation networks and exchanges.

Finally, at the end of the year, the Foundation will conclude its current funding relationship with Social Innovation Generation (SiG), while taking steps to ensure that the knowledge and networks SiG has developed are sustained.

Spotlight on new funding

The Trustees of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation approved funding for two organizations:


School Mental Health ASSIST ($300,000)

A grant to School Mental Health ASSIST will be used to share lessons from its evidence-based implementation science model across Canada and to build teach capacity in Ontario schools to promote mental health in their everyday practices.


Northern Manitoba Food, Culture & Community Collaborative ($500,000)

The Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Collaborative (NMFCCC) will use the funds to further develop projects and share approaches, including social enterprise, that focus on improving food security and building resilient local food economies in Northern Manitoba.

Walrus Talks Social Innovation: An open letter to the Prime Minister



(You can watch the video of this speech at the bottom of this article.)

Visuals: Adjacent Possibilities (featuring work by Carla Lipkin, Jennifer Phelan, Lenka Clayton and Kathryn Pinker)

Dear Prime Minister,

I’m writing to you from Walrus Talks Social Innovation in Toronto (also known as the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas of the New Credit) in the era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is social innovation, and innovation is an Indigenous value. As Senator Murray Sinclair said at the 2015 Indigenous Innovation Summit: “Innovation is not just about new things. It’s also about bringing the past into the present to address our current situation”.


September 25th, 2015 was a hope-filled day, when you joined 150 world leaders in New York for the proclamation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the global action plan to reach a sustainable and equitable future by 2030.

Today the world is a very different place. Just when we most need concerted action on issues like climate disruption and international migration – populism, cynicism and insularity have trumped the political agendas of our closest allies. In the face of such formidable challenges, Canada has something new to contribute: our growing capacity for social Innovation.

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ENRICHES: Caring for the caregivers

By Alex Gillis

On a recent visit to the long-term care hospital, Filippo noticed that his brother hadn’t eaten all day. “He was with a group of people, drinking coffee and talking too much,” laughs Filippo. He’s in his seventies and regularly cares for his sibling, who’s recovering from a stroke. “I helped him to eat some fruit, and I collected his clothes to wash.”

As a primary caregiver, Filippo spends two or three days per week providing support to his brother, but he needs support himself, as do tens of thousands of senior caregivers in Toronto. A new collaborative called ENRICHES — supported by the Foundation initiative, Innoweave — is attempting to fill this gap.


Filippo, a senior caregiver, and Helen, who provides him with mentorship and advice.

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Letter in response to “Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda”

In early October, in collaboration with post secondary institutions, thought leaders, and partners, the following letter was sent to the Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development; the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism; and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. We invite you to read on and join the conversation.

Dear Ministers Bains, Chagger and Duncan,

We are writing in response to your call to action for Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda and specifically your question:”How do we work together to better equip our young people with the right skill sets for the economy of the future?”

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is a private foundation that works in Canada on systemic social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges. Through granting and investing, convening, and co-creation with grantees, partners and the public, including the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, as well as the undersigned colleges, universities, national charities, and the Royal Bank of Canada we support social innovation and social finance initiatives aligned with our mission.

Students graduating from our post-secondary institutions will inherit some of the most complex challenges our society has ever faced. They need academic and hands-on skills, collaborative capacity, critical knowledge, global perspective, and a drive to serve the common good.

We wholeheartedly agree that “The goal of education should be to make every Canadian ‘innovation ready’—ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, learn and grow.” Additionally, it is also our experience that, as you say, “support needs to be provided to entrepreneurs who aspire to turn their ideas into successful businesses that improve people’s lives and make the world a better place”.

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