For Greta, with gratitude

You’ve made us realize that it is time for a rethink, and for courageous action.

In 1946, Albert Einstein, spurred by the knowledge that the threat of nuclear annihilation meant that humanity needed to displace war as a means of resolving human conflict, ran an ad in the New York Times that read in part: “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels”. In the years since, his words have been simplified to: “a problem cannot be solved with the same mindset that created it”. Just as Greta Thunberg is doing today, he sought to awaken humanity to dangers that supercede our capacity to solve them using conventional approaches.

The extent of the climate emergency and the implications for the future of civilization are becoming clearer by the day. Our children are telling us that the answer lies in massive decarbonization. But what mindset will bring this about?

We have only to look back to WWII for an example of an all-out effort to meet such a challenge to collective wellbeing. As forthcoming books by Seth Klein and Margaret Klein Salamon make clear, the mass mobilization that occurred then can inspire us today. On another front, the process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples shows us that we can dismantle colonial structures to make room for new and better relationships with one another and the earth.

The good news is that we can do this, and that most of what we need is already available in the form of affordable clean energy, zero-emission vehicles and building technologies, exponentially growing amounts of capital to invest in sustainability, and broad public support for bold action. To these we can add Indigenous wisdom, robust scientific capacity, the rapid evolution of human systems design, behavioural economics and more. Together, these tools and approaches afford us the capacity to carry out what economist Mariana Mazzucato calls ‘mission-based innovation’, leading to societal transformation.

Currently however, GhG emissions in Canada are still going up, and the decarbonization imperative is being hobbled by corporations determined to extract carbon resources before their value plummets, by rampant consumerism linked to growing inequality, and by fractured and fractious governance. Instead of being aligned around common purpose, our mindsets are often at odds with each other.

We have work to do, and the path ahead is becoming clearer…

Canada’s social sector is embarking on wholesale and historic renewal. We’ve won the unfettered freedom to engage in non-partisan policy advocacy, and a panel of experienced leaders is working with the Canada Revenue Agency to modernize governance of the sector.

Currently hundreds – and hopefully soon thousands – of charities and non-profits will be participating in the federal Investment Readiness Program, preparing to use repayable capital from the Social Finance Fund to set up or expand social enterprises that integrate financial returns with social and environmental objectives. Further, such enterprises are going to be able to ‘sell’ services, programs and outcomes to governments. A solutions economy is at hand, in which outcomes like chronic disease prevention and greenhouse gas reductions can be financed through ‘P5’s’ – purpose-driven public, private, philanthropic partnerships.

Public interest journalism is about to become a designated charitable activity. For an example of what’s in store on that front, check out Concordia’s Institute for Investigative Journalism – a coalition of 11 universities and colleges that put 120 journalism students to work with a dozen news organizations on the story of the lead in our water systems. Now imagine what this network can accomplish when it turns its attention to reporting on solutions, as it plans to do.

At the McConnell Foundation there are four components to our strategic orientation for the coming decade:

  1. inclusive transition to an equitable net-zero carbon economy
  2. Indigenous reconciliation
  3. community wellbeing (including newcomer welcoming)
  4. increasing society’s capacity to use social innovation and social finance for systemic change.

While these seem like the right places for us to focus, we’re conscious that effecting change at the necessary speed and scale is going to take a fundamental reframing of our work, as well as that of our philanthropic peers and our community, public and private sector partners, around catalyzing transitions. Embarking on such a shift involves something like what Einstein was referring to – a change of heart, an evolutionary mindset, and shared clarity of vision.


How do we all contribute to transformational change?

The first recommendation of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance is to ‘map Canada’s long-term path to a low-emissions, climate-smart economy, sector by sector, with an associated capital plan’. In keeping with this, we are supporting the Transition Accelerator, a new organization whose purpose is to build coalitions that can take proven low-carbon business models to scale. Work is underway in Alberta on hydrogen-fueled zero emission long range freight transportation, and in Quebec on electrification of the Northeast. Mobility as a service and an agrifood strategy are in development.

In addition to large scale, longer term efforts like those, there is a pressing need to support  communities in charting their transition pathways, integrating environmental, economic, human and social priorities. Along with several other foundations and networks, we are exploring the role that a ‘collective field catalyst’ could play in advancing this work.

At the beginning of a new and critical decade, we sense that as old ways are jettisoned, a new and better world is possible.




Stephen Huddart

President and CEO