Selfless Family Enterprises are Pivoting in Creative Ways


From small businesses to major foundations, enterprising Canadian families are delivering resources where they’re needed most.

Canada’s agile family-owned enterprises are in a generous mood. If the COVID-19 pandemic has done anything positive, it has rekindled a nationwide spirit of giving.

The past weeks have pushed numerous distilleries into the hand sanitizer business. Graphics companies have pivoted to social distancing sign-making for supermarkets and hospitals.

Others, such as Ontario’s family-owned Can-Am RV Centre, are offering camper vans to healthcare workers who need to quarantine away from their families.

Bigger players like Bauer, the hockey equipment manufacturer owned by Quebec’s Desmarais family, made headlines recently when it began manufacturing medical visors for healthcare workers. The company is doing so at cost and profits accrued from sales have been earmarked for charity.

Then there’s Canada Goose. The third-generation coat-maker has ramped up efforts to pivot operations to make personal protective equipment in eight production facilities in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. At full capacity, as many as 900 eager employees will support efforts to shore up hospital shortages.

Selfless Giving

The company can make 60,000 gowns a week, with plans to deliver up to 1.5 million, at cost. Any accrued profits will go to national COVID-19 relief funds. “These unprecedented times call for decisive, collective action,” says Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss. “Now is the time for Canada to invest in made-in-Canada solutions.”

With so much at stake, the level of generosity almost defies reason. Canada is officially in a recession, according to the C.D. Howe Institute. The downturn, the think tank warns, could be protracted.

Unprecedented times call for decisive action

Yet family businesses continue to pivot, despite difficult trading conditions. They are helping to ease surging demand on food banks and pitching in to support mental health initiatives as isolation measures take their psychological toll on house-bound families.

In Quebec, Canada’s coronavirus epicenter, 56% of parents say their children’s emotional states have deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a CROP opinion poll carried out for Fondation Jasmin Roy.

More than 80% of adults surveyed say they feel worried and insecure. “This is extremely worrisome,” says Jasmin Roy, the foundation’s president. “The crisis has had a major impact on Quebecers in general and on young people in particular.”

Acting with Agility

That hasn’t stopped Toronto’s Open Farm, an ethically-sourced pet food company, from thinking out of the box. The family-owned business has partnered with online counselors BetterHelp to offer free therapy to North American clients. “We’ve doubled down on this mission,” says Isaac Langleben, Open Farm chief executive.

The pandemic has family enterprises pivoting with agility. But has it also ushered in a new era of philanthropic initiatives?

Overall, Canadians give 1.5% of their income to charity, according to CanadaHelps, a portal that matches donors to charities. Although charitable donations fell in the early days of the pandemic, March saw the number of donors jump by 62% compared with a year earlier, while the number of donations rose by 65%.

Kindness took a direct approach last week when the family-run Sprott Foundation granted $20 million to two food rescue centers with a goal of feeding Canadians in need. “We set out to find the fastest and most effective way to get food into the hands of those who need it most,” says Eric Sprott, foundation chairman.

This follows McCain's $1.3 million donation from the family enterprise’s namesake foundation to provide support to food banks, shelters, and school programs in three provinces.

The final chapter of the pandemic has yet to be written, yet family enterprises look to figure prominently.

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