By Simone Dalton
Director, Communications, at Toronto Foundation


three-hour bus ride, punctuated by the awkwardness of first time conversations

Rosseau takes our breath away, her chilly arms outstretched in welcome

swaddled bodies alight from the boat shuttle

we are here


“How do you feel?” Andrea Dicks, COO of Community Foundations of Canada asked participants on the first morning of the 2018 Community Foundations of Canada Rookie Retreat. We were seated with socked feet and scarves wrapped around our bodies in the open-styled pavilion on the island. “This feels like a gift,” I responded aloud. But inside I felt concerned about the mounting emails pushing their way through my inbox. I wanted the calm, to not think about my phone that was beckoning outside the bright room with its high ceiling and bay windows.

I wanted to receive all that was on offer during the retreat; I just didn’t know how to turn off those alarm bells for two and a half days.

I was not alone. As grey clouds rolled by outside, the room began to breathe. We began to release those fears and open up to each other, as we took in a series of informative sessions:

  • Cindy Lindsay, Director of Learning with Community Foundations of Canada, led us through a look at the community foundations movement of yesterday, today, and through some predictions of what’s in store for tomorrow.
  • Andrew Chunilall, CEO of Community Foundations of Canada, joined us on that first day to share his experience, writing and research around cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is defined as “a deep and genuine interest in people, together with the belief that whoever you are or whatever position of influence or leadership you hold, you can learn from them.”

    As members of the philanthropic community, we are privileged to hold influence in a number of ways: This may be through our granting or our convening, or sometimes just through a chance meeting over lunch because we are considered an expert in the sector. Andrew’s session reminded us of the challenges of moving through the world with a cultural intelligence lens.
  • Community Foundations of Canada Board Member Victoria Grant is of the Loon Clan, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, and a member of the Temagami First Nation. She opened our hearts and minds to importance of the truth and reconciliation work that is happening in our communities across the country.
  • “The Future of Work” session led on day two by Ashoka Fellow Anil Patel raised questions around how our sector is changing. His presentation touched on how we balance competing strategic priorities, team decision making, the future of our workload, blind spots we may have, and the impact of social enterprises.

    Anil, the co-founder Timeraiser (a program of Framework Foundation), has brought his expertise to a number of projects over the years, including United Way Greater Toronto, Social Venture Partners Toronto, Grantbook, and the Youth Challenge Fund. These days, he is pursuing his love of music and brain science research. In fact, the 2018 rookies contributed to our very own playlist of tunes that get our minds and bodies moving.

The retreat also provided an opportunity for us newbies to become better acquainted with Community Foundations of Canada’s work around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which are aligned with our Vital Signs programs.

During the retreat, community foundation colleagues from around the country shared highlights of their work over the dinner hour. The sharing of ideas continued through the daytime over walks around the island and coffee at the fire. The latter was my favourite spot and where the formal sessions ended with Daren Nordhagen of Foundant Technologies. The use of big data is a reality that companies like his are helping community foundations in the United States and Canada to navigate.

Wasan Island reminded me of the value of placemaking and creating the space to reflect, learn and dream. I have no doubt that the experience nourished us (literally and figuratively — what amazing food!) and gave us all that we needed, at the right time.