From Scotland to Canada – a view from the PFC Conference


Jonathan Christie


The similarities between Canada and Scotland run deeper than our cultural and historical ties.

In both countries, around 30 per cent of the population is under the age of 25. Both countries also have huge swathes of unpopulated areas and rural communities – almost 20 per cent of people live rurally in each.

As someone who is heavily involved in philanthropy, particularly youth-led activity, in Scotland, I was interested to see how the thinking in Canada compared to that of home given these similarities in population demographics in terms of how philanthropy is considered and delivered.

During a partnership visit with the Canadian founder of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative which we at The Wood Foundation deliver in Scotland, I was invited to attend the Philanthropic Foundations Canada Youth Unconference, followed by its main Conference.

I was blown away by the strength of conviction, critical thought and honesty from the engaged and passionate delegation of philanthropic youth leaders at the Unconference. There is clearly a burgeoning generation of thought leaders who will play a central role as philanthropy in Canada evolves.

In Scotland, 2018 has been the ‘Year of Young People’ providing an opportunity for this same generation to amplify their voice on issues which affect their lives and challenge the status quo. The private, public and third sectors have got behind this campaign in a very positive way, with real respect shown to the power and potential offered by intergenerational dialogue. It will be interesting to see how this momentum is developed into 2019 and beyond.

At the Conference I was moved by the impressive Katja Iversen, President of global advocacy organisation Women Deliver. One point that has resonated for me in the discussion of youth-led philanthropy was her comment that ‘young people should no longer be viewed as the decision makers and informers of tomorrow, they are the decision makers and opinion formers of today’. This is a sentiment that, I believe, is shared by many in Scotland and Canada but one which we have a duty to promote and further enable.

Sevaun Paletzian, CEO of Civic Action which is tackling tough social, economic and environmental challenges, delivered a thought-provoking presentation about what she sees as the absolute need for progressive, intergenerational dialogues to address inequalities in society. Engaging and empowering youth voice and action was once again highlighted as imperative to the success of philanthropy.

Philanthropy is delivered at different levels in both our countries – from large foundations and arms of international organisation to small, grassroots charities. Our diverse populations – in terms of geography, age, socio-economic status and race – mean that local perspective and action is key, particularly in rural regions. That is something we are very aware of in Scotland and, through discussions at the Conference, this is clearly a major factor in Canadian philanthropy as well.

The opportunity to pause and consider philanthropy through a different lens was incredibly valuable and conversations on priorities and paths for philanthropy were refreshing. The whole experience affirmed that the work we as a global philanthropic society do to develop young people’s role and ability to make a difference will undoubtedly better the world now and well into the future.

Jonathan Christie is Deputy UK Director at The Wood Foundation

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