Catalyzing progress: philanthropy’s power to transform hearts, minds, and systems

Apr 17, 2024

I Can for Kids (iCAN) consistently advocates for income-based policies and responses to prevent and alleviate the financial struggles that lead to food insecurity. In contrast, food-based initiatives continue to dominate the way our city attempts to address a poverty-driven issue despite an endless rise in the number of food-insecure children and households. Few donors recognize how their valuable contributions will transform a system that perpetuates a separate food system and amplifies feelings of alienation and powerlessness among populations who lack the income to meet their basic needs.  

Philanthropists underestimate their power to inspire collaboration and innovation among stakeholders who wish to tackle longstanding issues in radically new ways. We’ve witnessed firsthand how philanthropy generates the greatest amount of momentum towards more efficient, dignified, and evidence-based responses to food insecurity. In this blog, we describe the specific ways that donors and funders have empowered iCAN to fuel a rapid change that encourages government, health, and social service sectors to establish and advocate for much-needed policy solutions.   

Driving innovation by taking risks

More often than not, it’s philanthropists who rally the enthusiasm needed to fund fresh ideas that offer new promise to shift the needle on serious social issues. Bold investors who take calculated risks on credible opportunities enable grassroots organizations to discover breakthrough solutions, disrupt the faltering status quo, and drive transformation more efficiently. These partnerships not only accelerate novel insights and learning, but also ignite a chain reaction where other innovators adopt and add ideas to maximize progress across entire systems. 

iCAN’s donors and funders remain at the forefront of a new movement to shape a more collaborative, cost-effective, and dignified response to the root cause of food insecurity. Our champions pay attention to the countless families who continually describe how Calgary’s system of charitable food programs cannot effectively alleviate financial barriers, emotional stress, or regular access to healthy food. Philanthropy serves as the major catalyst behind our pioneering efforts to explore and share the power of innovative models that outpace the lacklustre results of conventional approaches. One of our donors shared the motive behind their support for our program:

“One big reason why we’ve chosen to support I Can for Kids is our admiration for the way they are disrupting the conventions and inefficiencies of addressing food insecurity in kids and families through food programs. Once a food program themselves, we totally respect the way I Can for Kids innovated a different path that ensures families can get healthy food in a focused, dignified, and highly impactful way. That is what innovation is all about – creating real change with real results!” Bryan Trudel, Co-Founder and CFO, Avatar Innovations Ltd.

Advocating for evidence-based change

Donors and funders hold substantial power to compel all sectors and services to recognize, embrace, and integrate evidence-based practices into every effort to alleviate food insecurity. Philanthropic endeavours fuel the beginnings of systemic changes by entrusting innovative charities to rewrite outdated narratives and inspire new perspectives, dialogue, and collaboration. When backing accountable programs who regularly gather quality data and measure impact, donors and funders help build a stronger case for radical change.

One of our major champions, Nutrien, stepped up as a funding partner to empower us to validate the many benefits of to validate the many benefits of a grocery gift card approach compared to traditional food programs. We subsequently published a peer-reviewed article in a major public health journal to share our results with health professionals and policy makers across the globe. Thanks to philanthropy, iCAN continues to contribute to the growing body of evidence that spotlights the numerous advantages of income-based responses to food insecurity and poverty. 

I Can for Kids provided Nutrien with an opportunity to support research on an alternative approach to meeting food needs. We are inspired by the innovative collaboration of the University of Calgary and I Can for Kids in this study, and now we strive to find more applications for this approach.” Nutrien

Scaling innovation to influence public policy

Philanthropy enables non-profits to generate more influence on the perceptions, choices, and actions of leaders across governments and multiple sectors. By funding and promoting the success of innovative ideas and programs, philanthropists help inspire policy analysts and academics to seriously examine the hidden potential of strategies that tackle low income and poverty as the root cause of food insecurity. This growing awareness will progressively lead to stronger public policy and scalable responses across multiple sectors.

iCAN used to be a food program. Through the commitment of our generous donors, we established, validated, and promoted a local yet scalable grocery gift card model. Through the support of many champions, we now know with total confidence that our new approach alleviates food insecurity more efficiently and effectively than food-based responses. Since 2020, we’ve partnered with other communities in Alberta to guide them through the design of their own grocery gift card programs. We also consult health programs, other municipalities, and organizations across Alberta and North America who have grown weary of the food hamper model and wish to embark on an evidence-based approach. The following testimonial highlights how partnership with likeminded funders can maximize the synergy of our collective efforts to establish stronger policies and solutions:

“We are honoured to support I Can for Kids. We are kindred organizations in our efforts to find efficiencies and promote collaboration across partners so that we can optimize our impact. We applaud your focus on truly moving the dial on this serious public health concern and are honoured to support it.” The Grocery Foundation

Progressing onward

Through support for our innovative model, our champions continue to drive a long-needed shift towards more effective responses to food insecurity. Our donors agree that it’s time for everyone to truly work together to create a future where everyone has access to enough of the healthy food they need. iCAN would like to thank our valued community of philanthropists for the significant role they play in reshaping the landscape of charitable responses and encouraging everyone to address the root cause of food insecurity.

When you donate todayyou’re investing in an evidence-based and dignified response to support the escalating number of food-insecure kids and families across Calgary.

To join iCAN’s expanding list of donors, sponsors, and champions, check out the different ways you can get involved or donate

To learn more about I Can for Kids and their unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit www.icanforkids.ca 

About Donald Barker

Donald Barker has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 25 years. He also has a professional background in communications and has long advocated for populations who face adverse, unjust, or systemic barriers that lead to higher rates of poor social, mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Donald currently volunteers as an Advisor with iCAN to support our transition towards evidence-based approaches that help improve the well-being of children in Calgary who live in low-income and food-insecure households. 

About I Can for Kids Foundation

I Can for Kids works closely with multiple agency partners to target and distribute grocery gift cards to food-insecure families who are most in need. The iCAN grocery gift card program is a more dignified and inclusive approach to dealing with food insecurity, allowing families to shop where everyone else shops and to choose foods that are appropriate for their health and cultural needs. Explore their website to discover more about iCAN’s impact over the years.

For more information and media inquiries, please contact iCAN Executive Director, Bobbi Turko at bobbi@icanforkids.ca.

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