Community Foundations and SDGs

I just connected with a group of academics out of Quebec, the Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Research Network who want to push the envelope on philanthropy and its work on the SDGs. What better than to interview Andrew Chunilall, CEO of Community Foundations Canada.

Full interview here:

Here is a summary of some key points Andrew makes:

The United Nation Sustainable Development Goals highlight the importance of the need to collaborate on a global level. We need to think solutions that work globally, and yet remember that each solution is embedded in a local cultural context, one size does not fit all.

Canada has to get off the resources train. We can no longer depend for our wealth on resource extraction. He states, ” For Canada to prosper, the wealth being generated cannot come solely from our resource industry, which is now facing competition from foreign elements. We must instead engage in economic innovation when striving for self-sustainability and stop depending on Canada being a safe harbour for foreign wealth.”

For example Andrew states how allowing foreign capital to park itself in housing leads to housing as investment, which points to houses sitting empty in Vancouver neighbourhoods. This is one component of the housing crisis in Canada. But he points out placing a tax on empty homes is an unproven solution, a local solution to a global problem. Is there possibly a way to think of a global solution to this global housing problem? Andrew leaves this provocative question unanswered.

The COVID pandemic has shown us that we can’t move back to what was in place before, the pandemic has revealed the cracks in the social and economic infrastructure.

One of the most interesting points Andrew makes is his opinion that the culture of Canada is trending towards a huge structural shift as more non-European immigrants and new Canadians, whose language (and culture) are neither British Anglophone nor Francophone, take up residence in the country.

However, a transformation of Canadian culture will inevitably take place over time, be it at the policy or judicial level. It is not that anyone is advocating for that change to happen necessarily, it is more a process of facilitating the natural occurrence of cultural evolution.

What I like about Andrew’s work is that he is not afraid to speak of the unequal power dynamic that silences voices and communities. Andrew is a strong proponent of local knowledges and how the hegemony of ruling politics sets the agenda which marginalizes many voices.

Who cares what the law says?

This is perhaps Andrew’s strongest point. The pandemic has “given us the opportunity to re-evaluate our social contract, which starts at the cultural level.” Here Andrew draws a distinction between what I would label the de jure and de facto components of public policy. Here Andrew cites the Civil Rights Movement in the United States:

“The Proclamation of Emancipation states that all Americans are free from discrimination and should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. While this may be true technically, culturally it is not the reality. We have not dealt with the cultural side of racism, and until people‚Äôs behaviour changes, until there is a cultural shift, who cares what the law says?”

De jure everyone is equal, but de facto, there are huge disparities based on race in our society.

Andrew Chunilall is an important voice on the Canadian and Global philanthropic scene, and I’ll be interested to track the movement of the Canadian Community Foundations and the SDGs under his guidance and leadership.