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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


BRIAN EMMETT OF IMAGINE CANADA, REFLECTS ON HIS FIRST YEAR AS CHIEF ECONOMIST FOR CANADAS CHARITABLE AND NONPROFIT SECTOR fter 33 years as a federal public servant and another six years consulting primarily to the federal government, I joined Imagine Canada as Chief Economist in March 2013. At this point in my career, my brain cells had been more or less permanently arranged to view the world from the perspective of an economist and a bureaucrat. I expected culture shock and the biggest surprise to me is that not much shock occurred. But there were some surprises Of course, some things about the world of charities and non-profits were new to me. I had not been aware of the size of the sector and its contribution to both GDP and to employment; in fact, I had not thought of the sector in economic terms at all. More than this, I was unaware of the scope of services the sector provides from pursuing social justice to environmental objectives to health and education and to culture and the arts and recreation and more. It is an almost overwhelming span. On a more practical level, I found the sector much less bureaucratic and rules-bound than the public service a pleasant and relatively straightforward place to work. People seem to be able to actually get things done! The same, but different However, somewhat to the surprise of my new colleagues, I have been as much struck by the similarities between my new world and my bureaucratic experience as by the difference. In both sectors I have had the pleasure of working with well-educated, highly motivated colleagues people who come to work every day because they are interested in and dedicated to what they are doing and want to make a difference in the world. More fundamentally, Ive learned that charities and nonprofits along with government exist for somewhat similar reasons. I believe that the private sector and the marketplace do not provide Canadians with all the things we value: defense for example, in the case of government, and the pursuit of objectives like social justice in the case of both sectors. This leaves public servants and people working in the charitable sector struggling with many of the same issues. Given that we are pursuing values that are fundamentally important to the Canada we want to live in, how do we demonstrate to a results-oriented society that we are actually achieving something of value as opposed to simply setting desirable goals? Ahead - selecting areas benefiting from an economic approach This leads to another big practical difference between the sector and government: the government has a LOT more resources than the sector to devote to meeting these challenges. The charitable sector has to make do with what it has and this means the Chief Economist has to set priorities in a rigorous and tough minded way, selecting the areas that will benefit most from an economic approach.

BRIAN EMMETT Chief Economist for the charitable and nonprofit sector




Imagine Canadas board of directors and its advisory committee members from across the sector have decided to focus on three priorities: First, continuing work to support proposals to the federal government for the Stretch Tax Credit for Charitable Giving in the 2015 budget. This reflects the urgent need of charities for more resources to do an increasingly difficult job. Second, working with the sector to flesh out its contribution to the Canadian economy, to jobs and growth in this global knowledge economy. Third, further developing the strategic thinking underpinning the evolving narrative for the sector, one which will show how the sector contributes to making Canada the country we want economically prosperous and socially just. Our economic resources are limited and the range of issues is large. However, working with partners in universities, in charities and in private companies our objective over time is to position charities and nonprofits as unique resources for Canada, a productive and innovative sector which delivers on important, sometimes intangible fundamentals. Contributions to this ambitious work program are welcome. Prospective partners should feel free to contact me anytime.

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