With the rise of populism and nativism around the world, it’s more important than ever for us to build more inclusive communities in our interconnected world. And philanthropy has a key role to play.

As some of you may be aware, Canada marked its sesquicentennial as a nation-state in 2017. The anniversary of our first 150 years as a country was a wake-up call for many Canadians. It offered us an opportunity to examine who we were as a country, and examine what we wanted for the future… to ensure that our communities will be inclusive, resilient and sustainable for the next 150 years.

For some, Canada’s 150th was a time to celebrate. For others, particularly the Indigenous communities of this land,  it was a chance to highlight the need for truth and reconciliation. In such an anniversary year, it was hard to talk about our future without also talking about where we have come from.

At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York that year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a sombre speech that reflected on the country’s founding. He spoke of our dark past, saying that, “For First Nations, Métis Nation, and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect, and abuse.”

As a country, one of Canada’s most profound and lasting cultural narratives is rooted in multiculturalism and multilingualism, yet we know that our  country is far from being inclusive—a plight felt most deeply by those who have lived on this land the longest. While Canada has at times shown itself to be a welcoming place for immigrants, migrants, and refugees, there is a long journey ahead to ensure that all people living here feel like they truly belong.

In the next twenty years this task will get even harder. The makeup of our communities is changing, and Canada will soon become even more pluralistic, multilingual, and diverse with the continued growth of visible minority, Indigenous, and newcomer populations. Statistics Canada predicts that by 2036 up to 30 percent of all residents will have been born outside of Canada; another 30 percent will speak a first language that’s neither English nor French; and 20 percent will be born in Canada, but have at least one immigrant parent. In short, the Canada of tomorrow will be very different from the Canada of today.

Acceptance is still an issue despite the country’s growing pluralism, and its introspection regarding reconciliation. Cultural intelligence, which is the measure of a person’s capacity to function in a multicultural environment, is inconsistent across the nation. Yet it’s necessary for understanding Canada’s identity, including its subcultures to which we belong. Having a high cultural intelligence, as a country and as individuals, means being fully aware of what makes us who we are, and of how our culture influences the way we work with other people.

At the time, some criticized the prime minister for being too inwardly focused during his speech to the General Assembly. What do our country’s failures regarding Indigenous peoples have to do with its present place in the world? But reconciliation is a core part of building Canada’s cultural intelligence, and that newly gained knowledge will help us operate effectively in unfamiliar surroundings, whether at home or abroad.

Community Foundations Canada represents 191 community foundations across Canada. We are a network of place-based philanthropic organizations that, in communities large and small across the country and the world, work hard day-in and day-out to make our neighbourhoods, cities, regions more resilient, inclusive and sustainable.  We are choosing to respond to some of these challenges in a few key ways. We do not pretend to have all the answers, but we are committed to new ways of thinking and doing that can fundamentally address concepts of inclusion, power, privilege. Working at improving our own cultural intelligence, for example, and looking for cross-cutting, collaborative frameworks are part of these efforts.  As one of the signatories of the Philanthropic Declaration of Action, CFC is committed to stepping up in its work to support the future of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada.  There is a role philanthropy can play in this social project, and it begins with demonstrating leadership in listening to the voices of those who have traditionally been excluded from important conversations and decisions about our future.  We also have the responsibility in this day and age to look at how our own power contributes to, or perpetuates inequalities. And we are committed to doing so.  

Our work  around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—seventeen goals that make up an ambitious agenda to end poverty, confront climate change, and reduce global inequalities by the year 2030—address many of the topics that matter most to our communities. They also provide a clear path towards a strengthened sense of belonging and a greater cultural intelligence. In Canada, actors including the federal government and others across sectors are increasingly stepping up to address the 2030 Agenda. We are connecting individual SDGs to the challenges that face Indigenous and other marginalized communities. Through community-driven data programs, to ambitious new networks such as Alliance2030, we are actively seeking out ways to align, support and connect our resources and thinking to these global goals. There is of course much work ahead to be done, but we believe we are headed in the right direction.

Globally, we have seen what happens when cultural intelligence comes under threat. The realities of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom continue to play out with complex consequences for communities. A political will rooted in populism and nativism is prevalent  in the United States and elsewehere. Islamophobia is alive and well around the world. Racism endures in many insidious forms. This divisiveness is in contrast to the very concept that underpins the SDGs: Leave no one behind.

Whether we like it or not, the concept of cultural intelligence is integral to us all, living in the era of globalization. If there’s a refugee crisis in Syria, an earthquake in Mexico, or an epidemic anywhere, the impact is felt in our communities. We are not socially, culturally, or economically isolated. What happens abroad finds its way home…wherever that may be.

As we look to the future, our country’s great experiment will be put to the test. It’s our job to respond with the kind of empathy and leadership that’s needed in this global age. We can do this by committing to the SDGs and building our collective cultural intelligence. The livelihood of our future depends on it.

      — Andrew Chunilall, CEO, Community Foundations of Canada

*An earlier version of this piece appeared in Canada’s The Walrus magazine, published in 2017.