Atkinson used the common funder’s tool of grant making to support good ideas and efforts—but it went further. It helped found and nurture Toronto First Duty to document and champion good practice as a means to inform public policy. It invested in building solid research and policy responses as part of the effort to realize change. It convened neutral space for stakeholders to organize their thinking and to strategize. An Early Years Fund was established to ensure its partners could always count on the resources needed to stay ahead of the curve, such as newswire posts, meeting supports, polling and quick research pieces. These are all good examples of a funder rolling up its sleeves and getting involved to support its mission.
The Chagnon Foundation used similar tactics to help establish Avenir d’enfants, a joint initiative of the Foundation with the Quebec government. Avenir d’enfants is the next step in Quebec’s family policy. It supports local networks throughout the province to consolidate resources to better provide early childhood activities and initiatives.
Knowing you can’t manage for improvement if you don’t measure to see what is getting better and what isn’t, the Lawson Foundation committed to multi-year research and the development of monitoring and assessment tools now used by researchers and practitioners to reveal the effectiveness of programs and policies on a number of scales.
The work of these foundations has fostered a remarkable convergence of stakeholder and public opinion in their respective jurisdictions in support of new approaches to early childhood and family service delivery.
Funders help in other ways. We have ideas, resources, connections, leadership and pretty good inroads with decision makers. We also have the distinct ability to play bridge-builder between the community and policy makers.
Just as good investors know the value of a diversified portfolio, foundations have done well by investing in a range of approaches to address access to preschool. These approaches are demonstrated by the Muttart Foundation’s ongoing commitment to child care access and quality, the voice and space for social innovation in First Nations’ communities supported by the J. W. McConnell Foundation, and expanding early leaders in child development taken up by the newly formed Pratt Foundation. In addition, regional foundations such as the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation are facilitating new studies, identifying and promoting new voices for early childhood and sponsoring symposiums and other information-sharing platforms.
Recent examples are the “Brainstorm” and “Saving Education” series that appeared in the Toronto Star. These innovative works by Atkinson-sponsored journalists call on policy makers and educators to adapt education practices to modern communities and the new knowledge about early brain development.
Foundations are not designed to replace what governments should be doing, nor are we about usurping the public dialogue. Rather, by adopting focused and supportive funding partnerships, we can work with stakeholders to inform democratic discourse, reminding policy makers of their timesensitive task to help prepare our youngest citizens today for the Canada of tomorrow.
Next: Introduction: Mothers and others needed for healthy human development
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