Neighbourhood Philanthropy: How Goodwill Builds Stronger Communities

Margaret Mead was spot on when she told us to never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. These people, with their compassion and beating hearts, weave a social fabric that cares for others, feeds families, and shelters the forgotten. They give what they can where they can. They inspire hope closer to home.

Neighbourhood philanthropy is a term of endearment I’ve adopted in my professional practice since relocating back to my hometown near Toronto. Nestled in between the urban sprawl and respite farmland, I observe the profound change being influenced by small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens each and every day. From high school students to faith leaders, their goodwill, whether monetary or voluntary, is becoming the cornerstone of which their community is built on.

They give not so they can receive. They give because they know it truly does take a village.

What is neighbourhood philanthropy?

Neighbourhood philanthropists think locally and act locally. They take an intimate approach to their giving, making a donation to a cause in their own backyard; benefiting someone that they probably pass every day on the street without even realizing it. They donate because they grew up doing it.

An example of neighbourhood philanthropy is the Give Where You Live educational curriculum. Launched by TELUS and Free the Children in 2013, the program is designed to empower youth to give back and positively contribute to their community. The program has since become a national phenomenon known as We Day, a movement where socially conscience young Canadians gather to learn how they can effect positive change, how they themselves can become ambassadors of hope at home. Through engagement and participation, organizations like Free the Children are cultivating a generation of social entrepreneurs and community animators who are learning how to use design thinking to tackle systemic issues that are ailing people in their communities at street-level. These issues include unemployment, mental health, violence, and homelessness and food security. In learning how to use design to respond to pressing community challenges, not only are young people reinventing philanthropy, they are becoming responsible neighbours too.

According to an address at We Day Ottawa 2015 over 2 million Canadian youth participate in service learning projects to help better their hometown. In the nation’s capital, 150,000 students supported 1,000 community causes this year alone. As someone who’s first Girl Guide cookie gave me a taste of fundraising and whose passion for philanthropy took me across the world and back home again it’s amazing to see our youth practicing grassroots civicism.

Thinking locally and acting locally has to be a community-wide endeavor in order for neighbourhood philanthropy to be impactful. The Toronto Foundation perhaps embodies the ethos of neighbourhood philanthropy best through it’s Recipe for Community initiative. Stating “its one way we’re improving our city from the ground up, one neighbourhood at a time,” the Toronto Foundation’s ingredients for a vibrant neighbourhood includes park spaces, community gathering, food and nutrition, youth engagement, cycling, and small business development. This is also a collaborative project, connecting funders, residents and city hall to increase safety and create a sense of belonging for people living on the margins. Toronto’s recipe for making community is a direct result of businesses and people giving where they live, creating sustainable human-friendly space and infrastructure.

charles-koh-365298-unsplashNeighbourhood philanthropy isn’t a hand out or a hand up. It is a hand-in-hand approach to strengthening our communities. It is about using goodwill as a preventative measure in social planning and community building. It is about never doubting that a small group of committed citizens can change their neighbourhood for indeed it – and their philanthropy – is the only thing that ever has.

I encourage you to give where you live and be the change today.

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