We are all creatures of the times we live in and how we experienced life as we grew up. Our attitudes to giving reflect those experiences.
I live in an age which has seen the end of the British Empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now, perhaps the decline of America, like a giant air balloon slowly deflating. In the meantime, the ‘peaceful rise’ of a dynamic China and other Asian countries, matched with the rise in our own overambitious government entitlement programs, creates a new level of expectation for our citizens.
When I went to McGill University, a slice of pizza at Gertrude’s on a Friday would be my one treat – otherwise I lived on peanut butter, tuna sandwiches and beans on toast (yes, I like bread). I rarely bought a pre-made meal which is why I was jolted by a blog written in response to Karen Selick’s comments on Food Banks. This student was horrified at the thought of another student not being able to buy a cafeteria item. What’s wrong, I wondered, with the cheaper option of packing a cheese sandwich and an apple for lunch?
The end goal of helping the poor is desirable but the debate rages around “how” we give. Selick points out that there are better ways to achieve the same goal – temporarily feeding a person in dire straits. The use of supermarkets as the location to pick up goods seems a no brainer. Business owner, Graeme Jewett of Marsan Foods, tells me his company makes various President’s Choice frozen dinners but also a 97¢ frozen dinner, which has some meat and is preservative-free, for Giant Tiger stores. Can the Food Bank really beat the operating cost of getting an equivalent item onto Food Bank shelves? Could the savings pay for that 97¢ meal?
The Food Bank style of charity - giving to ease symptoms - is not to be confused with venture giving – philanthropy - which targets the underpinnings of society, asks why poverty occurs and seeks to level access to opportunities.
Andrew Squire used to stay up all night doing his music, and longed to own his own sound studio in Toronto. Then, he benefited from the philanthropy of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) which redistributes money toward loans for high risk entrepreneurs.
Andrew says, “It’s private companies like CYBF who taught me the skills to be an independent business owner by providing me with $1,000 a month for a year and giving me a mentor. CYBF insisted that I write business plans, make financial projections and answer questions about the revenues and strategy of my business. By transferring their entrepreneurial skills, CYBF encouraged my passion for music into a business. I won the sound contract for a Sprite commercial and now I have my own studio – King Squire Audio. Of the 20 people in my CYBF program, more than half are now hiring other people. The cost - $240,000- is peanuts compared to what the government is spending on big conglomerates.”
Andrew agrees with Selick, that how skills or how resources are given increases the impact of levelling the playing field. “The CYBF model should be exploited as it is entrepreneurs who are running the program. Letting government ‘do the giving’ would be inefficient. It was private business people who taught me how to raise money and who gave me the right ideas about the tough world of business and this came through CYBF.”
“I think a lot about our Canadian identity,” says Andrew. He believes, “The government is a dominant player in the economy but it is made up of non business people and this is probably one of the reasons for the high level of antipathy toward entrepreneurs in our country.”
“Government programs seem more suited to our historic position as a resource colony fuelling other nations. What about our entrepreneurs who provide over half of Ontario’s jobs? We’re ignored. I thank the philanthropy of business people who gave me a chance, because deep down they understand me.”
The Food Bank is well meaning with its belief in the redistribution of wealth but I believe in the redistribution of skills to people like Andrew Squire, who has shed his dreadlock image and projects a quiet confidence. The Food Bank tips the pendulum toward socialism. I nudge the pendulum toward free enterprise. The totality of resources is never sufficient to meet all goals at the same time. Life is dialectic – private enterprise versus public duty. But effective giving is something we can all have the courage and honesty to face.