Janis Rukavina Thomas
Chair and Founding Director
My life began in a remote, northern Ontario town. There is something about living in an isolated community that makes its constituents hardy and giving if not slightly irreverent. Pretensions are quickly met with relentless, sharp humour. I suppose any number of reasons account for this but, for illustration sake, vainglory has no place when waddling to school in a negative 40 wind chill wearing a skidoo suit. Life in a northern town is conducted on a level playing field and the experience somehow wraps itself around your DNA so that if (although these days it’s more often a matter of when) you leave you carry that notion around like a big stick. Regardless of the relativities in life—money, beauty, power—at our core we all want the same things; food, shelter, love (fingers crossed) and for our lives to matter. We’re all just struggling members of one race.
In 2004, while in the UK on business I attended an event of The Funding Network, a giving circle founded by Dr. Fred Mulder, a Canadian expat living in London. Immediately upon entering the reception area of the modest doctor’s surgery I was struck by the relaxed atmosphere and the spirit of goodwill that permeated the room. I sat through the presentations by the five small charities, touched by their selfless commitment to changing the world one small step at a time. Here then was something I could relate to—they just wanted to create a level playing field for those in need—and the attendees (like a community) were going to help them do exactly that. When I arrived back in Toronto I set about recruiting a Board to launch a Canadian version dubbed The Funding Network—Toronto. This model has proved to be an authentic reflection of what I know and hold true—that philanthropy is not an elitist practise. The definition of philanthropy simply is ‘the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind’ and so the amount one gives is not as important as the methodology used. Deciding to whom to give, how large an amount, when, and for what purpose can be a challenging process and The Funding Network—Toronto provides a unique forum to help people from all walks of life exercise their philanthropic muscle. This giving model provides an opportunity to hear from different charities one might otherwise have never known about, ask questions and then decide which projects(s) to support—you are able to meet the people who are on the front line, elbow deep in innovative, social change work. For me, there is enormous satisfaction in knowing that my donation, when cobbled together with those of the other participants, makes a direct and immediate difference in the world.
“If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.”