CEO, Community Foundations of Canada
Vice President of Social Impact & Innovation, RBC
RBC and CFC are putting power into the hands of young Canadian leaders, enabling a compelling and transformational shift.
Despite rising levels of anxiety and mental health concerns, today’s youth continue to be change-makers and innovators.
Youth in Canada face many challenges, including inequity, financial insecurity, housing unaffordability, and an uncertain future exacerbated by the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting them. They’re concerned about social issues ranging from health and food security to education, inclusion, and reconciliation.
“This generation of youth is the most informed, most engaged generation of our time,” says Mark Beckles, Vice President of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC. “They’re also the most educated, intuitive, and innovative in their thinking. And they organize quickly, and digitally. It would be unthinkable to address these issues without first engaging them. Youth need to be at the centre of change.”
Putting youth at the decision-making table
The idea of engaging and empowering youth is the driving force behind the partnership between Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and the RBC Foundation. The resulting program, the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, aims to shift power into the hands of youth ages 15 to 29 in oft-overlooked rural and remote communities across Canada.
“These challenges require a multi-sectoral approach, because no one organization — no matter how big or powerful they are — can solve these issues alone,” says Andrew Chunilall, CEO of CFC.
As a network of 191 community foundations operating across Canada, CFC was a natural partner for RBC. From coast to coast to coast, through grassroots relationships and bold coalitions, CFC works to create system-level change on the issues that matter to Canadians.
“The way that RBC has chosen to engage is really relevant in the context of the fast-changing conditions that our communities are operating within,” says Chunilall. In being nimble, facilitating transformational social change, and putting youth at the heart of the work, RBC is taking a lead in showing how large corporations can be driven by community value, taking a balanced score card approach that includes community, employees, clients, and shareholders.
Trusting youth with the power to lead
In each participating community, the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge enables youth and their local community foundations to team up to turn their bold ideas into reality. Projects focus on important areas of social change including education, the environment, and reconciliation.
When the pandemic struck last year, the partnership was forced to pivot — pausing all elements of the program, thus allowing for flexibility and extensions for project implementation, and shifting gears so the partnership would be responsive to the changed reality and needs of youth. Projects adapted by shifting in-person events to webinars and utilizing digital tools, to respect social distancing and address changing needs as a result of COVID-19. Unique challenges of working in smaller communities were also highlighted, such as the lack of broadband connectivity.
Despite these circumstances, the Challenge brought young voices to the decision-making table to help build strong and vibrant communities.
“When you look at the portfolio of these projects, they’re youth-led, youth-informed, and they address issues that matter to young people,” says Chunilall. “And our job, through this partnership, is to support and empower them.”
“If this was going to be authentic and meaningful to young people, we realized that we should create the platform for them to share their ideas but then step aside and not influence where we thought these projects and initiatives should go,” adds Beckles.
Inspiring projects from coast to coast to coast
With the support of the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, the Our Eskasoni Cares project provides support for community health and personal hygiene practices in Eskasoni First Nation on Eastern Cape Breton Island. “Together, with the proper mindset, we can achieve and succeed through a pandemic as long as we work together, for each other, with each other,” says youth leader Bree Menge.
Other inspiring youth-led initiatives include Eco-Iqaluit, which is teaching residents to harness the power of solar energy in Nunavut, and Cook It Up in St. John’s, which is tackling community food insecurity.
As the Challenge is proving, engaging and investing in youth is essential to the vitality of our communities and to Canada’s long-term success.
With the support of the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, Canduit strives to connect youth in the community with organizations and businesses to work together on real-world problems.
We’ve built virtual workshops and speaker series and also created online tools for students to work on projects with companies online, including discussion boards, video conferencing, and project tracking tools. Although our focus remains on regional organizations and businesses, distance learning has allowed us to connect students with companies and organizations around the world.
Leah Davidson, youth leader
Project: Full Stop
Grande Prairie, AB
With the support of the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, youth leaders Hailey McCullough and Bailey Randolph are on a mission to end period poverty by giving individuals the opportunity to access free menstruation products at the
Grande Prairie Public Library.
I’m hoping Project: Full Stop has a national impact, and brings a conversation forward to the government and legislature about reforming the Canada Labour Code to see period products as a necessary supply in all employee washrooms. I would love to see it in all public washrooms, but let’s start here.
Hailey McCullough, youth leader