New Board Members at HCF Plus Philanthropy, Law and Social Enterprise Conference-Winnipeg

A busy day on tap at HCF with our jam packed first Board meeting of the fall, under the capable watch of our new board Chair, Dr. Gary Warner. We welcome an outstanding group of new board members including Mac President Dr. Patrick Deane, Lawyer and community volunteer extraordinaire Brent Foreman and dynamic young entrepreneur Paul Lee Chin.

Immediately after the Board meeting I will dash to Hamilton Airport for a flight to Winnipeg. I am presenting there, along with some outstanding speakers from the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada, at the Philanthropy, Law and Social Enterprise Conference hosted by my friend and mentor Rick Frost of the Winnipeg Community Foundation. The audience will be predominately law students as well as community foundation partners and I always enjoy the opportunity to speak to the leaders of tomorrow about the power of philanthropy and some of exciting and innovative work that our team is doing at HCF.

Lion’s Lair A Big Success…

We attended the first ever Lion’s Lair at Carmen’s last evening and it was an unqualified success. In addition to a packed house, the energy was palpaple and the stories of the competing entrepreneurs were inspiring. Creating a culture of innovation in Hamilton has been a passion of my friend Mark Chamberlain (and former HCF Board Chair) for many years and his positive spirit writ large at the event. Congratulations to all of the contenders and especially the winners. Thanks also to Ron Neumann at the Innovation Factory and David Adames at the Chamber for the combined efforts of their organizations (plus many corporate sponsors) to make it happen. I am also proud of the leadership provided by numerous HCF Board members including Demet Tsafaridis, Marita Zaffiro, Ruth Liebersbach and “Lion” and host, PJ Mercanti. Well done gang!

What if the Secret to Success is Failure? NY Times Magazine

“Here’s why: learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying — but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging. . . . To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

This is a must read for parents and educators.

Beyond a menu

About a week ago I ended up channel surfing at about 7:30 am on a Sunday morning and even with about 100 channels to choose from, it was pretty meagre pickings.  I happened on the CPAC channel which was televising the conference proceedings from the Couchiching Institute of Public Affairs conference entitled “From the Ground up …Civic Engagement in our Time”.  I was mesmerized for the next several hours.

My favourite speaker was Dr. Kwame McKenzie who is the Director of the Canada Institutes of Health Research, Social Aetiology of Mental Illness Training Centre, Senior Scientist of Social Equity and Health Research, Deputy Director of the Schizophrenia Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  He is also a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.  Whew …….. that’s a very long title for a man that struck me as being very down to earth with a clear and straightforward way of sharing what he believes to be important for true civic engagement.

What really reverberated with me was based on my longstanding suspicion about the use of surveys in community development work.  While certainly recognizing the value of using surveys as a data collection tool to help understand our communities, we can run into trouble when using surveys to determine what kinds of programs and services are needed and desired.  I hope if Dr. McKenzie happens to read this he forgives me for taking the liberty of paraphrasing what he said

Dr. McKenzie used the following analogy related to the dangers of using surveys to determine the needs and desires of a community: it’s kind of like being a waiter in a restaurant – you present a menu but the person being served doesn’t get to make the menu; they don’t get to tell you what they really want to eat and are certainly not allowed in the kitchen!   

I believe that if we are not careful, surveys can lead us into a trap of  limiting our choices to a menu of programs we are comfortable providing:  our resources and skill sets are limited and somehow we need to be open to ideas outside of the regular “daily fare” of strategies and follow the lead of individuals and communities who know what would be truly helpful.

Investing in Hamilton’s Human Capital

If you haven’t already, check out this month’s issue of Scientific American, which has an exclusive focus on cities. In one piece, urban economist Edward Glaeser compares US cities that have recovered from declines with those that have not, and draws the conclusion that human capital is the decisive factor.

Three times in its history, Boston has gone into decline, and three times, Boston has managed to reinvent itself. Each time, the key has been its human capital. High education levels and local investment in R&D mean that Bostonians can shift their talents to new industries when old industries die and new opportunities present themselves.

Contrast Buffalo:

Buffalo is half the city it used to be and one of the most impoverished urban areas in the country. The federal and state governments have poured money into the city, trying to revitalize it, but the sad fact is that it simply no longer serves as the transportation hub it once was. Its forbidding climate and low average education levels are disincentives for private investment.

As Hamilton Community Foundation prepares to release this year’s Vital Signs report, I’m mindful of our great potential to develop Hamilton’s human capital through education – and of the challenges we still face.

In general, we are getting better at supporting students through high school completion. The high school non-completion rate for people aged 15 and over has fallen steadily from 27% in 2000 to 19.9% in 2010. That’s a bit higher than the provincial average of 18.7%. Likewise, the rate of post-secondary completion rose from 43.4% in 2000 to 51.1% last year. (Again, we’re slightly worse than the provincial average of 52.7%.)

Among younger students, our EQAO standardized provincial test scores for students in Grades 3, 6, and 9 are improving, but still slightly below the provincial average, at least for the public school board. (The Catholic board consistently achieves above-average test results.)

However, in all cases, results vary widely from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. For example, the percentage of 20-24 year olds who have no high school diploma and are not in school ranges from zero in some neighbourhoods to over 65% in others.

If we are to put Hamilton on a trajectory of recovery and renewed prosperity, we need to find ways to keep more of our children in school, especially in impoverished and vulnerable neighbourhoods. We also need to build more bridges between our poor neighbourhoods and the two excellent post-secondary institutions right in our midst: McMaster University and Mohawk College.  I’m pleased that they are both looking at how to improve access to post-secondary education for kids in Code Red neighbourhoods; work that I have had the opportunity to witness first-hand as part of the Mohawk Access Cabinet.

Building bridges will require steady commitment, a long-term focus on results and stronger partnerships between stakeholders to achieve shared goals.

Rob MacIsaac Takes Mohawk to a New Level

I had the chance this morning to attend a standing room only Mohawk College President’s breakfast at Liuna Station. The event included awards to Mohawk students, faculty and community partners. The keynote speaker was Ken Steele of Academica Group who provided a fascinating overview of the impact of demographics and funding cuts on North American Colleges and Universities and detailed some of the creative (and in some cases crazy) responses that innovative leaders have made in order to survive. The event was a timely reminder of the importance of Mohawk to Hamilton’s future and of the great job my friend Rob MacIsaac has done in taking that great institution to another level of excellence.

Lessons From Buffalo

Like so many days in this job, yesterday was both fun and educational. I spent it in Buffalo touring a number of sites that reinforced both the promise and the problems facing this struggling but beautiful Rustbelt city. My co-pilot for the trip was Graham Crawford, who shares my love of cities and is a thoughtful and passionate believer in Hamilton. Check out Kathy Renwald’s excellent piece on Graham’s “curating” of his gracious south-west Hamilton home in today’s Spec (–stately-home-in-the-right-hands).

Our host and tour guide for the day was my old friend Bruce Fisher. Bruce is now a professor at Buffalo State and widely published and respected author,  but previously served as Deputy County Executive (City Manager) in Erie County. (look for Bruce’s soon to be released book Borderland,  a fascinating series of essays on the challenges of Great Lakes Cities on both sides of the border including Hamilton)

Among the many sites we visited yesterday, the high point may well have been the Fontana Boathouse, a remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright designed structure that now serves as a home for the West Side Rowing Club, welcoming the public and capitalizing upon Buffalo’s extraordinary architectural history (check it out here .

We had a great discussion about some of the common challenges facing Buffalo and Hamilton and particularly lessons that we can take-both good and bad-from some public policy decisions that have shaped Buffalo’s recent history (here are some thoughts on that subject from an old Spec column of mine)

April 11 2009 Lesson our politicians can learn from Buffalo.

An HCF milestone

A very proud moment for us at HCF happened last week when we issued the first loan from our Community Investment Fund! For those who don’t know, HCF established a Community Investment Fund with $5 million of its unrestricted funds. Find more on community investing link here

In HCF’s case, the first loan has been made to Hamilton Artists Inc. a long-standing artist-run centre that “supports and reflects the diverse environment in which we live”. HCF provided HAI with a bridge loan while they worked to complete the construction of their new building at the corner of James and Cannon. Have you seen it yet? If not, prepare yourself for a stunning transformation at one of Hamilton’s most visible corners!

While it is HCF who has ‘made’ this loan, it is in fact a team effort. Critical support and expertise was provided by Nora Sobolov and her colleagues at the Community Forward Fund. And staff, volunteers and board members at HAI were diligent and responsive throughout this process. Their comments embody why HCF is committed to this project and to the premise of community investing.

“Thank you to the whole team at the Hamilton Community Foundation for supporting this project and enabling our confidence and security to restart the project and complete it with your loan providing the capacity to do so.”

With many other potential community investment opportunities emerging, I look forward to sharing here more stories of HCF using its assets in unique ways to support positive change in Hamilton.

Heart of Hamilton at Heart of the Hammer

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many people who are committed to making their neighbourhoods safe, quality places to live, work and play.  One of these people is Rebecca Doll – volunteer extraordinaire in the South Sherman hub and owner of the “Heart of the Hammer” café at King and Sherman.

I knew that Rebecca had the café for quite some time, but never had the chance to visit until this week.  Suzanne Brown and I were doing a walkabout in the area and stumbled across the café.  The timing was great since by this time we were dying for a cup of tea.  What a lovely surprise to find this oasis tucked within a street that is obviously going through difficult times.  From the bright and cheery art on the walls to the comfy couch and chairs, there is truly a sense of community in the café.  It is a gathering spot for neighbours and friends to hear music, discuss their aspirations for their neighbourhood and enjoy the most wonderful brownies I’ve ever had.

If you are looking for somewhere to ease the stress of the day, grab a coffee or light lunch, stop in – and give my best to Rebecca.   More information is available

Reflections from an Anthem Singer

Here in beautiful Montreal, my mind is a constant swirl of thoughts and conference experiences, so I will try to tame some of my swirl here on this blog.
As a first time attendee at the annual international conference of IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals), my overwhelming thought so far is Wow. Wow. Wow.  Dedicated administrative professionals from all over the world have gathered in Montreal for professional development and leadership advancement.  We’ve all heard the phrase “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.”  With more than 1,000 conference attendees from around the globe, I am surrounded by friends.  Smiling, friendly faces at every turn, people from close and from afar, every one eager to reach out to shake hands (which usually quickly turns into a hug), introduce themselves, and to share some of their own conference swirl.
This weekend, I had the honour of participating in the conference opening ceremony in my role as the anthem singer.  I’ve been rehearsing back at home in Hamilton over the last many weeks.  For reasons that make sense to me, I did most of my practising in the car by myself as I went back and forth to work, and I tended to crank it up at stoplights.  The other drivers around me must have assumed that I was singing along with the radio’s top 40…bet not one of them would ever guess that I was singing O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner!
Each time I sang, I used mental imagery to try to visualize what it would feel like to stand on stage in front of all of those people and sing the anthems.  I tried to imagine what I’d be feeling as I sang, the weight of the microphone in my hand, what the listeners would be feeling, what I would see as I looked out in the audience.  And there was, of course, the ever present question of what I should wear.
The most important part of my prep, though, was finding the right instrumental accompaniment tracks.  It’s much like when you shop for a new outfit – you definitely know what you’re not looking for, and you’ll know the right one when you find it – it will just speak to you.  After many hours searching through iTunes, the internet and the library collection, I was so excited to come across what I felt were the two perfect back tracks.  The track for the Canadian anthem was a very simple but beautiful guitar piece, and its simplicity puts the focus on the words.  Yes, that one would be perfect.  The Star Spangled Banner piece actually contained no music at all; it was an acapella track with very tight and very beautiful five-part harmonies.   Yes, I think that one would be perfect too.   Both were unique, but stayed true to the anthems.
I arrived in Montreal early Saturday morning, went straight into two half-day professional development workshops, followed by a first timers’ orientation session.  A very busy day, but a good day.  Then it was time to go for my sound check and music rehearsal.  I walked into this huge ballroom, where chairs for 1,000+ people were organized theatre style.  The stage was beautifully set up with a purple/teal/green theme through lighting and curtains.  I met the members of the production team from Nashville who were there to handle all of the music, lighting, microphones, etc.  They were wonderful to work with, very good at what they do, and I felt that I was in really good hands.  I had an opportunity to do two run throughs.  It felt right and I felt ready for the next day’s ceremony.  It was only later that evening that an IAAP friend pointed out to me that I had gone through my day with my shirt on inside out.  Yes, stood on that stage and did my thing, not once realizing that my tags were on the outside.  I’m still laughing about that one.
Sunday morning arrived, and it was time for the opening ceremony.  Found myself back stage with the enthusiastic flag bearers as we waited for “the moment”.  We were all excited to be taking part in the opening ceremony.  We could hear the buzz in the room as people hugged their old and new friends, and made their way to their seats.  The energy in the room was absolutely palpable!  Then it was time.  Time for a couple more deep breaths (and one last check to make sure my shirt was not on inside out-LOL!).  The ceremony started with the Parade of Nations, with great fanfare and with great affection for each of the flag bearers as they brought the various national flags onstage to thunderous applause.  The Mounties escorted and presented the Canadian and US flags on stage, and then it was anthem time.
I walked out to my spot on stage, in front of those 1,000+ people, took one last deep breath in the spotlight, and the music started.  From the very first note, it was a moment in time that I will never forget.  The music soared across the room.  These were our anthems, with words ever meaningful.  People stood, with their hands over their hearts.  Cameras flashed across the room, reminding me of flickering candles.  The music continued to soar.  As the last notes faded away, the room erupted in applause.  All of my rehearsing did not prepare me for the power of that moment, as each one of us lived the anthems together.  Wow. Wow. Wow.
As the business portion of the meeting started and I quietly made my way from back stage over to my delegate seat, a woman in the audience stood up and gave me the one of the tightest hugs I’ve ever had.  She had tears in her eyes and it was clear that the anthem had great personal meaning to her.  I was so touched, and I wish I knew who it was who was hugging me (it was dark where we were standing and I couldn’t read her name tag).  If you were that lovely lady, please know that your hug at that moment was so special and I will always remember that you reached out.
Since that morning, I have been surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful comments and warm hugs.   Everyone speaks the language of music.  I continue to be humbled and honoured to have been part of that opening ceremony and to have been able to represent my country in this very special way.
I will return to the office and to my staff role at HCF later this week with new learnings gleaned from the fabulous educational sessions and parliamentary procedures that I have been part of at this conference, and with a renewed energy for my work with the CEO, management team, Board of Directors and my awesome HCF staff colleagues.
And I will return with an amazing life highlight experience tucked safely in my memory bank.