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Early investment, long-term payoff

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Diane Roussin and Ian Gill of the Boldness Project aim to have 80 per cent of the kids born in Point Douglas in 2015 be measurably ready for school by 2020.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Diane Roussin and Ian Gill of the Boldness Project aim to have 80 per cent of the kids born in Point Douglas in 2015 be measurably ready for school by 2020. Photo Store

Point Douglas is home to approximately 3,600 kids under age six -- a number that is growing fast.

Currently, 40 per cent of Point Douglas kids are classified by the Early Development Instrument (EDI) as not ready for school at age five. One in six children end up apprehended by child-protective services, placing enormous social, emotional and economic costs on families. Even those kids who make it to school struggle from the outset if they aren't ready, and they seldom catch up.

A Boldness goal is that 80 per cent of Point Douglas kids conceived in 2014 and born in 2015 be measurably ready for school by 2020. This would be a dramatic turnaround in their well-being.

It would also save the province and Ottawa money. Investments in the right early childhood development (ECD) strategies can have huge payoffs. One Michigan program for inner-city children calculates $16 in health, justice and social welfare savings for every $1 spent on the program. Another calculation, based on a British Columbia analysis shows effective ECD investments could add almost $1 billion a year to the Manitoba GDP.

Instead, Canada dramatically under-invests in ECD, coming up short by $3 billion to $4 billion a year, according to a study by the TD Bank, which also reports Quebec's comprehensive child-care program not only helps kids, but frees up mothers to go to school or work, reducing poverty by 50 per cent.

Turnarounds like that require vision and investment.

"As fiscal rebalancing occurs," the TD report says, "(governments) should give additional thought as to how to invest more, and how to invest more effectively, in early childhood education."

In Manitoba, that process began last year with investments by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the provincial government in a new ECD Innovation Fund -- the first of its kind in Canada.

The express purpose of the ECD Innovation Fund is to support science-based, culturally grounded, community-led and supported initiatives that measurably transform the lives of young children and their families.

The fund, which is being administered by United Way of Winnipeg, will initially be co-chaired by Manitoba business leader Arthur Mauro, and by Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief. It is intended that, in addition to The Winnipeg Boldness Project, the fund will invest in other ECD innovations, including First Nation communities. Further business and philanthropic support is being sought to grow the ECD Innovation Fund and to examine the potential to achieve improved ECD outcomes, including cost savings, through new financial structures such as social-impact bonds.

- Ian Gill

 

'I came to Winnipeg in January last year because of the scale of the problem. I've kept coming back because of the remarkable determination of everyone I met to do something about it. I recruited Ric Young, one of Canada's foremost experts in social innovation and the founder of the Boldness Project, to help us think through how to do something utterly transformational in Winnipeg. Between us, we conducted more than 100 interviews with people in all sectors of Manitoba life. What is evident here is an amazing clarity of ambition and determination to step up for Winnipeg's kids -- a real willingness to do something bold'

-- Ian Gill, principal of Cause+Effect, a Vancouver-based consulting company, is a former newspaper and television journalist and an internationally experienced non-profit leader in indigenous development. He is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, and an online columnist at thetyee.ca.

 

'I have always had an unshakable belief in Point Douglas, in our people's desire to live good and healthy lives. But there are so many obstacles, so many systems that interrupt our attempts to succeed as families and as a community. We're a strong community that is seen as weak. We feel we have solutions for our kids, right here in Point Douglas. For me, Boldness is a huge opportunity to disrupt the status quo. That's why I chose to lead the project here in Winnipeg'

-- Diane Roussin, a member of the Skownan First Nation and until recently the executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, one of the North End's major aboriginal-led service agencies. She has long been one of Point Douglas's fiercest advocates.

 

'We chose to locate Boldness in the heart of the community, right on Selkirk Avenue, because this is the place where we can rise above the "what is" to get to the "what's possible." The unofficial motto of the Boldness Project is Boldness versus Stuckness. We want to be in the thick of the unbelievable urban renewal -- the Merchants Hotel, the North End Business Development Centre, the brilliant women leaders in all the organizations that go to the wall every day for their kids. There's such a can-do attitude and we want to be part of that. You can take all the theory in the world about early childhood and innovation, but if you don't have people with the courage and trust and respect to work in a new way to achieve new outcomes, nothing happens. That's why we're here.'

-- Ric Young, founder of The Social Projects Studio and distinguished visiting professor of social innovation at Ryerson University, is recognized as one of Canada's leading practitioners and thinkers in the field of social change.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 ??65528

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