Op-ed: How a new generation of Ottawa’s business community is giving back

Philanthropy

By Patrick Twagirayezu and Christian Robillard

On this Giving Tuesday, Ottawa companies, charities and individuals are coming together to support causes they feel passionate about.

It’s also a day to recognize another important aspect of philanthropy ​– how it can help younger generations contribute in the workplace, in entrepreneurship and in other ways to make our community a better place to live for everyone.

According to The Giving Report published by charitable groups Canada Helps and Imagine Canada, Canadians under the age of 35 were responsible for only 18 per cent of the more than $10 billion that was contributed to charities across the country in 2017 (the most recent year for which there is full and searchable data).

That might suggest that younger Canadians aren’t as engaged in philanthropy as they could be. But many people in the Ottawa business community say young people are helping advance social causes in a variety of ways. 

Glenn Sheen, regional director of community marketing and citizenship at the Royal Bank of Canada, notes that RBC has programs that allow employees to drive the bank’s donations and philanthropic engagements. 

For example, in some cases, RBC makes donations to causes championed by employees based on the hours they spend volunteering. Simply put, the more an RBC employee volunteers for a particular cause or charity, the more RBC will donate to that cause or charity. 

Sheen says that while young employees are initially surprised to see this type of support from their employer, they quickly get accustomed to it, and it contributes to better engagement in the workplace. 

Meanwhile, e-commerce software powerhouse Shopify also proactively supports its young employees in their philanthropic and community-building efforts. 

Katie Boothby-Kung, Shopify’s senior manager of social impact, helps social enterprises launch online storefronts and scale up their businesses using the company’s platform. 

She says Shopify actively encourages its own employees to start their own social enterprises. Boothby-Kung started a social enterprise of her own with support from her employer four years ago, and she feels that her experience as an employee has been enriched by the fact that Shopify has not only given her the autonomy to make a difference for its merchants, but also to make a difference in her own community. She adds that Shopify’s community-driven approach has inspired many of her colleagues to start social enterprises of their own. 

More and more local industry groups are also seeing another benefit of philanthropy: it can play a key role in developing and engaging future business leaders. 

For example, the Ottawa Construction Association established the Ottawa Young Construction Leaders group to help younger members of its member firms build up their network of relationships in the industry. Many OYCL activities focus on philanthropic projects that range from fundraising to completing construction projects for community organizations. 

Ottawa lawyer Patrick Lavoie of Gowling WLG, who chairs the OYCL, says it’s personally fulfilling to support the community through philanthropic endeavours. In addition, he says, his involvement with the group has helped further his professional development. 

Lavoie says many of his industry colleagues have built lasting relationships while learning to work as a team on charity initiatives. 

He points to the practical example of how he spent a day with another Ottawa lawyer who practises construction law as they volunteered on a construction project for Christie Lake Kids. They later ended up working on the same construction law file, a collaboration that was enriched by their shared experience serving the community through OYCL. 

Ibrahim Musa, founder of the Cuts for Kids Foundation, says the lines between business and philanthropy are blurring. 

From his perspective, youth are creating innovative solutions to respond to community, cultural and social needs ​– initiatives that often double as self-employment. 

Through the Cuts for Kids Foundation, Ibrahim has used this approach to provide traditional haircuts, free of charge, to children from low-income families in the Ottawa community for a number of years. Musa sees the emergence of social entrepreneurship as a means for young people to transcend the traditional boundaries of philanthropy and entrepreneurship. 

In addition, philanthropy is not reserved for young people who have already entered the workforce.

Cece Weider, a Grade 10 student at Glebe Collegiate, is one of the three sisters behind the creation of the annual YSB SleepOUT for Youth fundraiser. The annual event brings together members of the community who spend a night sleeping outside at TD Place stadium to raise funds and awareness for the Youth Services Bureau’s programs and services aimed at homeless youth. 

This year, YSB opted to hold a virtual Stay Up Ottawa event due to COVID-19. Weider says the pivot forced her to be a better communicator as she encouraged other youth to participate, adding the leadership and communication skills she has gained through her philanthropic work will have an impact on her career choices.

So as we celebrate the importance of doing good in our community, it appears that the future of philanthropy in Ottawa is in good hands.

Patrick Twagirayezu is a management-side labour and employment lawyer at Emond Harnden LLP, and also works with numerous organizations in Ottawa on issues relating to youth poverty and civic engagement. 

Christian Robillard is a fundraising expert and consultant, as well as the co-founder and host of Beyond the Bake Sale, an organization and podcast focused on helping individuals and organizations give, and raise more time, talent and treasure for the causes they care about.