Canadian business must lead the charge for inclusivity

This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.

Canada’s unemployment is low. Wages are growing. So too are household and disposable incomes. Business investment is also set to climb this year, reflecting a confidence in the country’s economic resilience.

Indeed, the road ahead looks promising. But ask many Canadians about their personal prospects, and their optimism about the future wanes. They feel excluded from the opportunities and advancements taking place around them. This disengagement can be a source of social ills that threatens our collective prosperity – including the business community’s.

Despite our enviable standard of living, and the potential for it to improve through many of the changes that Canada is experiencing now, we are witnessing profound amounts of disruption and displacement.

For instance, innovative technologies are transforming the way we work and, in some cases, even our opportunity to work. While this has led to more flexibility and entrepreneurship, an estimated 3.3 million Canadians experience monthly income swings by 25 per cent or more. These people are often forced to make unconventional financial decisions to stabilize their situation today but that, in turn, makes it much harder for them to plan for tomorrow.

It’s easy to understand why these Canadians may feel like they are falling behind instead of getting ahead. This kind of public angst can be politicized. Just look at how it has been used by protectionists around the world. Lines are being drawn. I’m convinced that success – in whatever form – relies on forces that bring us together, not drive us apart.

Our role, as business leaders, is not just to shine a light on these issues, it is to propose and support solutions, so that we open the doors for an inclusive tomorrow.

For instance, the workplace requires new approaches to the changing skills that employees require. We must find ways to “reinvent” employees for their next role and prepare them to understand and navigate the new technologies impacting their current one.

Of course, public concerns about change stem well beyond the workplace. Urbanization is impacting our quality of life today, just as climate change threatens to do even more so tomorrow. And a highly digitized society does not necessarily mean one with greater connections between people and places.

Given that our bank’s success very much relies on the success of those around us, we have a vested interest in helping individuals and communities thrive in a changing world.

To this end, TD recently launched The Ready Commitment, a multi-year North American program that will leverage our business, people and philanthropy.

Our goals are both local and beyond, recognizing that we have a role to play in contributing toward the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations to transform the world for the better.

In our business we have targeted $100-billion toward initiatives in low-carbon lending, financing, asset management and other programs by 2030.

To tap into the talents of our people, we are the first Canadian company to be a founding sponsor of Impact2030, a global private sector-led collaboration created to mobilize employee volunteer programs that directly contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And we have targeted $1-billion in total by 2030 in philanthropy to create a more inclusive and sustainable future. We will focus on four areas that are important to our customers, colleagues and communities.

Financial security will be a core focus, in part, by helping people gain access to affordable housing and to develop the skills and experiences required to take greater control of their financial situation.

Another area will focus on helping to create a better sense of social cohesion between people and places. More than one-third of Canadians surveyed by TD don’t feel like they are part of their community. We will find big and small ways to foster human connections and create opportunities for everyone to feel included in an increasingly digital world.

Our efforts to enhance green spaces and support the transition to a low-carbon economy will help sustain the health and vibrancy of the environment, which is vital to our economy and quality of life.

And while we have had great advances in health research and innovation, our shifting demographics can create barriers to accessing our health care system, which we will help to address in order to support more equitable health outcomes.

Inclusion is a powerful force that makes us feel better about ourselves and more confident about our future. We engage and participate more fully in our communities. And, in turn, mitigate some of the challenges and maximize the opportunities that come about during periods of profound change.

Bharat Masrani

Group President and Chief Executive Officer

TD Bank Group