Ian Bird

Ian Bird

Community foundation growing in Abbotsford

Foundations working together to tackle systemic issues, says president of Community Foundations of Canada.

Community foundations across the country are working collaboratively to target not only at areas in need of funding but entire systemic issues as well, according to Ian Bird, president of Community Foundations of Canada.

Bird was in town Friday to speak to board members with the Abbotsford Community Foundation (ACF) as part of ongoing consultations with foundations across the country.

“We want to make sure that everyone is like Abbotsford, really doing a great job of engaging the community,” he said. “For us, it’s really important that we come to know what’s happening here in Abbotsford and share what’s happening in other parts of the country so we can learn from one another. “

Bird stressed the importance of the annual Vital Signs report, a survey that helps inform planners, citizens, non-profits and the ACF about areas that need to be addressed.

While community foundations are best known for distributing grants to local non-profits, Bird stressed the importance of providing knowledge and information resources that can help other non-profits better serve the community.

The ACF has targeted child poverty, and the national organization can help by drawing on similar or related efforts elsewhere in the country, Bird said.

“Like any organization across Canada, we want to make sure we’re greater than the sum of our parts,” he said. “One of the things we’ve learned is that communities are looking for a way to amplify the resources they draw together.”

He pointed to food security as one issue being tackled by a range of communities, including Abbotsford.

“Knowing that’s taking place, are there some things on a systemic level that we can do? Can we look deeper than just the symptoms and try to understand what the root causes are?”

Bird pointed to work done in the north end of Winnipeg, where efforts to tackle child hunger went beyond providing meals before school and eventually led the establishment of a credit union branch in an area where most banks no longer did business.

“It’s really stepping beyond the role of a funder, as the only role, to looking at what’s the right mix of responses or strategies that can shift the system.

“It’s inspiring to see what’s underway, to see what the community foundation is doing to step into this other role.”

There are 191 community foundations across Canada distributing nearly $200 million each year. Of those foundations, 45 are in British Columbia, making it a hotbed of foundation activity.

That community foundation activity is unique to Canada, he said, and the west coast community foundations have begun to match the growth rate of the cities and towns they serve.

“There’s nothing else like that in the world,” he said. “There’s something interesting that I think you’re starting to see showing up in a bigger and bigger way here in Abbotsford.

“The growth of this community is something else and now to see that growth in the community foundation is just tremendous.”