Top Businesspeople Who Care

Who says that high-flying executives aren’t giving back enough? More and more Canadians are giving their time, money and effort to make a difference in the lives of others. These three are no exception; I wrote about them in 2003 for CPAmagazine.

“Muchas gracias, senor, muchas gracias,” says the principal of the Pastobamba school in the mountains of southwest Ecuador as he earnestly shakes the hand of Edmonton FCA Wayne Kauffman. A makeshift dental clinic has been set up at the school on this sunny January morning, and Kauffman is about to show the children how to brush their teeth. “They drink cane sugar water and have little idea about dental hygiene,” says the 57-year-old associate executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta, who will send the kids on to see the dentist. Kauffman and his wife, Vivien Wulff, also a CA, are part of a team of 32 Canadian volunteers – including orthopedic surgeons, physiotherapists, dentists and nurses – who have come to Ecuador to offer surgery and medical care to people in need. But Kauffman is not just a volunteer here; he also led the fundraising that made this trip, as well as missions in the area in 2001 and 2002, possible. Through speeches and appeals to Edmonton-area Rotary clubs, he raised $109,000 for this mission alone – money that pays for much-needed medical supplies and equipment.

Of course, the most rewarding part, says Wulff, is to see how the money is being used and how appreciative the people are. Kauffman agrees the hands-on volunteering makes all the difference. “When there are tasks to be done, it’s my nature to not just stand by, but to make it happen,” he says. “It takes a whole team, but I feel like I’ve made people’s lives a little better.”

Kauffman and Wulff are among an increasing number of Canadians in recent years who have been looking for ways to give back to their communities and to humanity as a whole. They are doing so by giving their time, money and effort. Volunteerism in general is up: a 2000 Statistics Canada survey shows the average number of annual hours contributed by a volunteer rose to 162 from 149 between 1997 and 2000. Total charitable giving in Canada has also increased; fundraising consultants Ketchum Canada Inc. estimates donations rose 12.6% to $7.8 billion from 1999 to 2001. Corporations are getting in on the act too: Statistics Canada reports donations as a percentage of corporate pre-tax profit rose by more than 50% from 1988 to 2000 – in dollar terms that’s $1 billion. And, according to Volunteer Canada, a national umbrella group of volunteer centres, employer-supported volunteer programs are on the rise.

But individual business professionals are now searching for unique ways to contribute to society, says David Bornstein, author of the soon-to-be-published How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. “At cocktail parties there used to be obsessive talk about the stock market and leveraged buyouts. A lot of that has shifted to what businesspeople are doing to apply their business skills and money to make change happen in society. It’s the most exciting thing you can do right now.”

Social entrepreneurship and venture philanthropy are “definitely major world-wide trends in business,” says Bornstein, a McGill commerce graduate. He points to high-profile examples such as Bill Gates’ donation of hundreds of millions of dollars to combat AIDS and malaria, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s foundation to support social entrepreneurship. In addition, major US business schools – including Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia – have new courses on social entrepreneurship, with students re-evaluating workplace values.

“I get a sense that with recent corporate crises like Enron and WorldCom, some business students are concerned about being part of that trajectory: going to a glamorous firm, making bags of money and then finding that at the core the firm was unethical,” says Ann Armstrong, who teaches a second-year elective MBA course on social entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto. “Some students are saying, ‘For me and my values, I’d like to use my skills to make a difference.’ ”

CAs are doing their part, too, contributing in ways far beyond sitting on charity boards or volunteering at tax clinics each spring. Take Toronto-based CA Bill Young. The 49-year-old father of two used to work in the private sector, most recently as head of Optel Communications, but always wanted to do more with his life. “I sat on various boards and committees and was a Big Brother, but I was thrilled when the circumstances came together to start Social Capital Partners,” he says.

As CAmagazine reported in December, Young launched the nonprofit SCP in 2001 with a $10-million tech-stock windfall, offering expertise and grants to start-up businesses across Canada, the majority of whose employees are the disadvantaged. One year later, Young is more committed than ever to venture philanthropy.

SCP’s first project – a $200,000 investment in Pivotal Services, a London, Ont., nonprofit company that began by hiring psychiatric patients to assemble product packaging – now has more than $1 million in revenue. The company has 50 employees from outside the economic mainstream and provides them with a crucial stepping stone for re-integrating into society. Young calls this double bottom-line the social returns. “We’re looking for a beneficial social outcome,” he says.

He expects the same from the $65,000 SCP invested in Inner City Renovations of Winnipeg in August 2002. The joint-venture enterprise (which employs 28 staff, more than half Aboriginal Peoples) has transformed 30 derelict houses, mostly in Winnipeg’s depressed north end, into lowincome housing and boasts $100,000 in monthly revenue.

“There’s about 50% unemployment in that neighbourhood,” says SCP’s director of social returns Joanne Norris, one of three full-time staff. “We hire those who have little hope of getting work elsewhere. Most haven’t finished high school, or have spotty employment histories and criminal records.” Working under skilled supervisors, employees earn on average $10 an hour to support their families. They used to rely on food banks, but very few need them now.

Most recently, SCP issued a grant of $60,000 to Quebec nonprofit firm Montrealite, a T-shirt company that employs youths in danger of dropping out of school but who show promise. The idea is to give them jobs in the summer and mentor them in the winter with such incentives as bursaries to continue studies. The venture – which kicked off in summer 2002 with 21 students designing the T-shirts and selling them at four kiosks they managed in Montreal tourist spots – didn’t prove to be as successful as Young had hoped because of difficulties obtaining quality, high-traffic kiosk locations. But Young expects SCP to hit bumps along the road. “We do our due diligence, but what we fund is ultimately on a proof-of-concept basis,” he says. “Few venture capitalists look at pure startups, so we recognize we’re going to have a higher failure rate.”

Because Young feels Canada needs more outside-the-box social initiatives, he gave $200,000 to U of T’s Rotman School of Management for an MBA fellowship for social entrepreneurs. “Partly it’s to get people thinking the way we at SCP do,” he says. “Giving people from the not-for-profit sector a business education may help facilitate more hybrid organizations.”

Armstrong says Young’s scholarship and the SCP example is spreading the word about social entrepreneurship. “Through trial and error, Bill is helping us understand what its challenges are and is hastening its development in Canada.”

Gary McPherson, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Alberta, agrees: “Bill Young is one of the new leaders of Canada’s venture philanthropy trend. His work is innovative, and I hope he’ll make it a success.”

Indeed, Young is “absolutely committed” to the path he’s chosen and is driven by the idea that he can help make venture philanthropy more mainstream. “My motivation is knowing that if I don’t make this work, I’m going to be letting lots of people down,” he says.

Bornstein would also like to see others follow Young’s lead and believes chartered accountants are well-positioned to do so. “They have developed trust relationships and have their contacts built up, so they make good social entrepreneurs,” he says. “I’d love to see more CAs raising money or starting organizations for causes across Canada. It’s a great way for the profession to contribute to society.”

Harvey Kestenberg is certainly doing his part. This Markham, Ont., CA has led the way in Canadian fundraising for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Kestenberg’s involvement with the JDRF began 10 years ago when his three-yearold grandson, Jared, was diagnosed with the disease. “That broke my heart,” says the 63-year-old partner with tax firm Kestenberg Rabinowicz and Partners LLP. “It means insulin injections three or four times a day, finger pricks up to eight times a day and around-the-clock monitoring for the rest of his life.”

He realized Jared’s best hope was medical research and in 1995 entered his family in the JDRF walkathon. By sending letters to friends and business contacts, he raised $2,000. “And I said to myself this isn’t enough.” The next year he raised $5,000, and has increased the amount each year for a grand total of $95,000 in the six years he’s been involved.

“What he’s raised is unheard of,” says Lynn Conforti, JDRF fundraising coordinator for Ontario’s York Region. “For four or five years he was the No. 1 donor in Canada.” Then two years ago, a British Columbia family called Conforti and wanted to know what Kestenberg’s goal was that year because it wanted to beat it. And it did – by bringing in $29,000. “Harvey has really raised the bar,” says Conforti. “The standard he’s set and the money he’s brought in has had a direct impact on the amount of diabetes research being done.”

One such advance is the insulin pump, which has helped sufferers such as Jared, now 14. It sits on his lower back and when he pushes a button a needle injects insulin. “He doesn’t have to stop what he’s doing four times a day to prepare needles,” says Kestenberg. His ultimate hope is for a cure.

So what’s his fundraising secret? Conforti thinks it’s partly the passion he conveys in speeches and letters. But it’s also the way he makes use of the contacts he’s built up in his firm. “I send them letters asking for support,” he says, “and I call, cajole and sometimes pester.” Some people simply ask him what they gave last year and then write a cheque for $1,000 or $2,000.

Jane Rowland, formerly of Imagine, the corporate arm of the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, is convinced that leveraging connections is the key to fundraising success. “I think it’s just human nature that if someone you know approaches you for a donation, you’ll pay more attention.”

“It boggles my mind they care that much,” says Kestenberg. “I have friends who give me $350 and I ask why so much. What if this request came in the mail? And they say, ‘but it came from you.’ ”

JDRF is just the latest organization to benefit from Kestenberg’s generous efforts – he’d previously served four years on the board of a charity for Jewish seniors, and provides, through his firm, financial support to nonprofit organizations such as the Colorectal Cancer Association. He also contributes to a host of causes including hospitals, the Cancer Society, the Hearing Association and others. What motivates him to do so much?

“I had a pretty rough time of it growing up,” he says. “My father worked at a furniture manufacturer, so I didn’t miss any meals, but those early years were difficult.” Once Kestenberg, the first in his family to attend university, got on his feet and was able to give something back to the community, he did. “I believe it’s necessary,” he says simply. “There are organizations that require help.”

As for Kauffman, his original inspiration to get involved in the Ecuador missions was a speech at his Rotary club by Thomas Greidanus, an Edmonton orthopedic surgeon who had led previous, smaller medical trips. But the key to his success is old-fashioned hard work. “The most outstanding thing about Wayne is his perseverance,” observes Greidanus. “He just sticks to it and works away. I’ve had other people say to me in the past, that sounds like a great cause, I’ll help you, but then nothing happens. Wayne takes the cause and runs with it.”

That’s not to say Kauffman takes himself too seriously – his enthusiasm and sense of fun adds to the spirit of the missions. For example, when the medical team visited a school to perform surgery on students with clubfeet, Kauffman brought them soccer balls as a motivation to recover quickly. “He’s always joking and teasing, and just mixes right in,” says Greidanus. “Some of the patients were calling him Dr. Wayne. He thought it was pretty neat to have that title.”

Of course, most of the work comes before the trips. Kauffman spends about 100 hours soliciting donations and preparing grant applications to Rotary Foundations and other organizations. That’s where being a CA is particularly helpful, since the clubs need answers to a host of questions – about the project’s objectives, recipients, budget and bank accounts. In fact, Kauffman is now applying his CA skills in a different capacity – he recently accepted a three-year post as district chair of the Edmonton-region Rotary Foundation.

But what kept Kauffman going was seeing the money he raised in action. Thanks to the missions, some 500 people have received dental treatment and 70 have undergone life-changing orthopedic surgery they couldn’t have hoped to afford on their own. Olga Lopez, for instance, had been wheelchair-bound much of her life and in 2002 Greidanus’s team brought the young mother a prosthesis and performed hip surgery on her. When they next saw her, in 2003, she hobbled up to Kauffman using only a crutch and thanked him.

“Seeing her tears of joy at that moment was very moving, and the fact that she is mobile is amazing,” he says. “By reaching out to people, at the end of the day I feel I’ve made a positive difference. It’s a labour of love.”


Bonnie Munday is a Toronto-based freelance writer

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