Why Prince Charles believes seeing is believing

Getting CEOs out of their comfort zone to help Aboriginal youth
Britain’s Prince Charles gestures during a visit to a historical site under reconstruction in Al-Diriyah February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Fayez Nureldine/Pool (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: ROYALS POLITICS) - RTX194SC

Ever since Prince Charles created his first charity, the Prince’s Trust, in 1976,  he’s focused considerable time and energy on improving the life of disadvantaged young people in Britain. In 2013 alone, the Trust  helped nearly 56,000 people, including helping them set up their businesses or continuing with training. A lot of that work is done in association with existing social agencies and charities. Now some of those programs are being implemented in Canada through the Prince’s Canadian Charities.

When Matthew Poulin arrived in Toronto from the northern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout, he was 24 and hadn’t finished high school. His two sisters, who work in Toronto as flight attendants, advised him to check out the Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training Centre. It was the right call. “I was actively seeking the Aboriginal community, and that’s how I found all this opportunity and support,” Poulin recounts.  “A lot of Aboriginal youth feel helpless or lost in the city, a lot of jobs feel out of reach to them.” The advisers helped him finish that one missing credit needed for a high school diploma so Poulin, a member of the Bearskin Lake First Nation, could go onto the computer system technology program at George Brown College.

Through Miziwe Bik, he got into a pilot program in Toronto called Seeing is Believing, being started by the Prince’s Canadian Charities. The program matches Aboriginal job seekers with employers. Poulin spent last summer in a paid internship at Xerox Canada, upgrading internal websites. “It was really nice to use the skills I was learning in a hands-on environment,” he recounts. He graduated a month ago and has a fulltime job as an operations specialist for an IT firm. He credits Seeing is Believing for the job. He isn’t alone. So far the fledgling program has linked up 18 Aboriginal job seekers with employment and is in the process of expanding its services.

While the program may be new to Canada, it isn’t in Britain. Started in 1990, it has a simple philosophy: “to help business leaders see for themselves what a difference responsible business can make.” Since “CEOs solve problems for a living, we engage them because they have the power make change,” says Josh Hellyer, who works for the Prince’s Canadian Charities on the program, which focuses on disadvantaged youth. So executives can see the needs and difficulties in person, they leave their corporate offices and spend time at organizations like Miziwe Bik where they learn first hand of the obstacles facing youth looking for work. “It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and seeing things you don’t normally see,” Hellyer explains

Mandy Shapansky, CEO of Xerox Canada, was a participant at one of the first events at Miziwe Bik and Native Child and Family Services Toronto. It was an eye-opening experience, she recounted at a reception expanding the program. “In Canada, employment challenges faced by Aboriginal youth represent significant opportunity from a human development perspective,” she says. “The Aboriginal population is one of the only sources of demographic growth in the Canadian labour force. Focusing in this area of human development just makes sense. I believe the concept of a visit day or ‘seeing is believing’ is unique, and motivates one to take action.”

One of the first people brought into Xerox was Matthew Poulin. Since then the first has hired two people through Seeing is Believing. Still, Shapansky is realistic about its goals, and results: “No single effort is going to change an entire generation but the focus is on making a difference one life at a time.”