Charles S. Coffey
Charles Coffey made an indelible impression on two CAYC members, Gerrie Prymak and Sylvia Taylor, in 2004. The scene was an early child development (ECD) conference in Quebec City. Charlie was one of the featured speakers and he started his remarks with the question, “...you may be wondering, what is a banker doing at an early child development conference?”
At the time, Charlie was a senior executive with RBC in Toronto who understood that business leaders and educators need to join forces in pushing the envelope on early child development. He reached out to the 200 educators in the room and challenged all of them to get out of their comfort zones – to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable”. His message resonated with conference delegates...when Charlie said, “it is Imperative that we raise our children to be healthy, literate, problem solvers and future generation leaders”, there was no doubt he meant that children are everybody’s business!
So how did this one-of-a-kind banker become an advocate for children? The short answer is Dr. Fraser Mustard. Several years ago, Fraser Mustard invited Charlie to serve on the Ontario Government's Early Years Study Reference Group. Charlie also looked closely at the research and began to appreciate that the focus on kids was as much an economic issue as a social justice, education or health issue. He realized that voices representing corporate Canada were sorely needed for ECD and he wanted to be one of these voices.
Fast forwarding, Charlie was invited to co-chair the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto and later chaired the Council for Early Child Development, where he now remains a director (www.councilecd.ca). During the last fifteen years, Charlie has become a knowledgeable, reliable and passionate leadership voice for early child development, as well as an effective influence on business and public discourse associated with ECD.
The bottom line is that Charlie gets it. He knows that groundbreaking strategies and action plans for early child development contribute to Canada's path to prosperity - a vibrant economy and an intelligent and innovative workforce. And he poses the right questions: Why don’t more business leaders consider workplaces that support child care centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs, parental networks, job sharing, flexible hours or extended parental leaves? Why don’t more business leaders encourage investment in children’s initiatives and membership on child advocacy boards? Why don’t more business leaders promote ECD partnerships with governments and communities? And why isn’t Canada working smarter towards a more integrated approach to ECD infrastructure, programs and services that better serve children and families?
Charlie recognizes that an investment in young children means a healthier workplace respecting family needs, increased productivity, enhanced company returns and corporate responsibility, as well as improved recruitment and retention of parent employees. Research also shows that ECD can translate into improved school performance, reduced special education placement, lower school dropout rates and increased lifelong earning potential.
Charlie has been recognized with the Fraser Mustard Award, the Canadian Institute of Child Health National Child Day award, The Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development medal for his exceptional contribution to ECD and the distinguished Order of Canada. When he departed RBC, Royal Bank in Winnipeg (where he led the region from 1989-1992) gifted him with The Coffey Fund - a fund created for investments in early child development within Manitoba. On May 13, 2008, he was in Winnipeg to make the inaugural presentations to four grant recipients: Turtle Island Tots and Families, Prince Edward Babies to 4 and Their Caregivers, R.B. Russell Infant Centre and “Little Red Spirit” – all early child development and parenting centres. At “Little Red Spirit”, the real award was found in the faces of the children. Charlie read a story with a wonderful 3 year old child – afterwards, she spontaneously gave him a sign by drawing a circle on her chest to indicate she enjoyed the time they spent together. Charlie responded by drawing a heart on his chest. The two of them beamed at each other. Charlie knows that cultivating a sense of belonging is critical to a child’s growth and ego-strength.
Today, Charlie continues to speak about ECD across North America. He also believes that: Talk – Action = 0. Last December, UNICEF's Report Card 8 ranked Canada last (a tie) in terms of its analysis of early childhood education and care in the 25 most affluent countries – it became clear that more action is required, now! Charlie likes what he’s hearing about President Barack Obama’s plans to create a Presidential Early Learning Council to increase collaboration and program coordination across federal, state and local levels.
“I’ve learned that as a country, as families, as businessmen and women, politicians, teachers, mentors, and as community leaders from all walks of life, we have a shared responsibility to build a secure and nurturing society so that our children have the opportunity to grow, learn, work and succeed.” These words from Charlie Coffey may also explain why this banker was singled out as a true friend of children.