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State of the economy doesn't change need for charitable giving

Posted on 10/03/2009 12:00am

By Graham MacLachlan, Vancouver Sun

April marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the biggest hospital fundraising campaign in Western Canada -- the $200-million Be a Superhero campaign to build a new BC Children's Hospital.

We knew from the outset that it would take a heroic effort to get everybody in the province involved. To reach our $200-million goal, we have asked individual and corporate donors to consider making sizable donations -- often the largest contributions they have ever made.

To date, many thousands of British Columbians have stepped up. People from all walks of life have used their chequebooks to express their desire to leave a legacy for generations of BC kids -- the promise of a healthy future.

They know that BC Children's Hospital is a truly unique and invaluable asset. It is the only medical centre in B.C. that provides advanced and specialized care exclusively for children and youth. This means Children's is the only place in B.C. where children and youth can receive a kidney transplant, have a cancer treatment plan established, or receive advanced life support. Only Children's has the critical mass of clinical expertise and child health-focused research programs required to diagnose and treat seriously ill children.

Thanks to this combination of specialized clinical care, research and education, staff at Children's are not restricted to simply delivering care -- they have the unique ability to steadily improve it.

British Columbians recognize as well that the hospital plays a role in caring for children in locations across B.C. -- and this is one of the priorities of our campaign. In the past year, Child Health BC, a Children's Hospital initiative, has been working with caregivers in communities around the province to improve access to pediatric care.

It has opened specialized clinics in Richmond and Prince Rupert, and provided audio-visual communication capabilities to caregivers in the Vernon area. It is poised to open a multi-disciplinary pediatric clinic in Nanaimo and is working with caregivers in Prince George and Kamloops to enhance pediatric services there. The activities of Child Health BC are donor-funded. Although we have yet to break ground for the new hospital, campaign contributions are already making a difference to families across the province.

Around the time of the campaign launch, we heard "the first $100 million is the easy part and then the real work begins." Talk about an understatement. Little did we know that the world was about to change and our Superhero Call to Action would take on a whole new meaning. Despite the economic issues, we continue to make progress. The provincial government, in its throne speech, reiterated its commitment to construction of a new BC Children's Hospital with the participation of a private sector partner. In what is traditionally called a P3 or public-private partnership, the private sector works cooperatively with government and is responsible for commercial functions such as project design, construction, finance and operations.

In the case of BC Children's Hospital, we suggest a new lexicon, the P4 -- public-private-philanthropic partnership.

Philanthropy, by definition, is voluntary giving by individuals or groups to promote the common good. The philanthropic partners in the BC Children's Hospital project are members of the community who are intent on seeing their $200-million investment augment the government's plan to provide a high standard of health care for our youngest citizens. The health of our children is of paramount importance and it is our duty, as corporations and individuals, to ensure that future generations of young British Columbians have access to the best possible care in a top-notch children's hospital.

The expectations of philanthropists are not vastly different from those of business investors. They expect a return on investment, accountability and participation. To this end, and for the benefit of all the campaign supporters, BC Children's Hospital Foundation's board of directors receives regular project updates and has opportunity to provide input in the planning process.

Yet foundations, conduits for philanthropy, also have a certain freedom to operate in a way that is quite different from most businesses and governments. In 2009, in his first annual letter as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates wrote: "Foundations provide something unique when they work . . . in areas like health or education, where the market doesn't naturally work toward the right goals and where the innovation requires long-term investments. These investments are high-risk and high-reward. But the reward isn't measured by financial gain, it's measured by the number of lives saved . . . ."

Certainly the scope and scale of investments undertaken by the Gates Foundation entail greater risks than ours, but the anticipated rewards in either case are immense. We press on with our campaign with the knowledge that the urgent need for a new Children's Hospital remains and that children's lives will be saved as a result of our efforts. The state of the global, national or provincial economy does not diminish the need or urgency or the potential reward.

We are pleased to report that we have made considerable progress. The community has raised $80 million toward the $200-million goal. Still, we have a long road ahead of us. We can't simply sit back and wait out this period of economic contraction. As the thousands of Superheroes who have so generously supported this important initiative know, we have children to care for and a new hospital to build.

Graham MacLachlan is regional president, British Columbia, RBC Royal Bank, and chairman of the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.

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