By Julie Calve for Alliance 2030

June 2017: A shock wave reverberates across the country. According to the UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 14, Canada ranks 25th of 41 countries when it comes to children’s well-being. And the picture gets even worse when you take a closer look at the details: 31st in relation to the suicide rate, 33rd concerning neonatal mortality, and 37th in terms of food security…

A grim birthday present: 2017 marked the country’s 150th birthday.

Innocenti 14 confirmed many citizens’ and organizations’ observations, including those of the Foundation of Greater Montreal (FGM). Urgent action was needed. But what could be done?

At the time, the FGM was in the process of revamping the structure of Vital Signs of Greater Montreal, its biennial flagship publication for evaluating the health of Montreal’s communities. What approach would more effectively identify local issues and challenges? How could these issues be tackled in the context of Canada’s 150th and Montreal’s 375th birthdays?

Rather than dwell on a regrettable past, the FGM decided to focus on the future, making the well-being of children the central theme of the 2017 issue. It was modelled on the Innocenti Report Card, which integrated and adapted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in its assessment of the well-being of children.

“We have been accused of being against a lot of things: against homelessness, against pollution, against hunger,” explains Gauthier. “People were telling us: ‘But what are you FOR?’ The Sustainable Development Goals have become this affirmative answer to our efforts to improve the situation. We are for zero hunger, we are for healthy diets, we are for a sustainable environment, we are for quality education. We are for everything contained in the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Other advantages: comparative analyses. Based on the same method used in the Innocenti report cards, Vital Signs can now situate Greater Montreal on a Canada-wide scale, which also makes it possible to closely monitor the further development of the situation. We are right at the heart of the definition of sustainable development.


Goals shaped by local realities

January 2018: The FGM’s Board of Directors adopted a SDG-oriented approach in its 2018-2021 strategic plan, which was deployed with immediate effect across all the organization’s activities, including its programs. According to Gauthier, the idea to join a planet-wide movement with shared goals also produced a “very stimulating” effect on the Board of Directors as well as all of the FGM’s staff.

Shared goals indeed; however, of varying degrees and in accordance with local realities. One example: The rate of food insecurity among families with children in the Greater Montreal area is among the highest in Canada: 11% against 8% country-wide. “This came as a shock to us and to the entire community. It became evident once we began to dig deeper into this issue.”

The FGM brought together all relevant stakeholders—governments, municipalities, health organizations, food banks, foundations, etc.—to focus on Montreal’s Zero Hunger Initiative. Based on an ecosystemic approach, an actual map showing the issue’s prevalence across the territory was elaborated. An overview of Phase 1 of this initiative, Métaportrait des publications portant sur la sécurité alimentaire à Montréal depuis 2006 [available in French only], was published in October 2018.


Collective impact 

The publication of the overview is only the first stage in a concrete process being conducted by what Gauthier describes as a task force. “We want to be able to pinpoint the most pressing issues and undertake collective action and resource allocations to address them.”

In the same spirit of partnership, the FGM has taken a seat around the table together with eight other foundations active in Greater Montreal in connection with Collective Impact, a Centraide initiative. The project, with over $21 million in funding from partner foundations, aims to reduce the effects of poverty by enhancing skills development in local communities.

Regarding its own community action projects, the FGM likewise has integrated five Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) into its Community Initiatives Program. To be eligible for selection, a project must satisfy at least one of these SDG.

Does this set an example to be emulated by other foundations and community organizations? “It isn’t too complicated to take one or two or three goals and to say we are going to work on them in accordance with the concerns in our communities,” Gauthier points out, referring, among other things, to the wealth of available documentary resources. 

“We find ourselves implicated in mutually supportive work on a Canada-wide and international scale. It is very stimulating to work this way, to join in the push for real change on our planet.”