Year One Turns OCAF Vision into Reality

After guiding the Ottawa Climate Action Fund through a year of planning and organization, Advisory Board Co-Chairs Brian Toller and Tracey Clark are breathing a sigh of relief that the heavy lifting is done—and the stage is set for their hard work to translate into action and results.

“The first year was like any other start-up,” says Toller, President of Tolcor Investments Ltd. “Mind you, we were a well-capitalized start-up. But we still had to figure out all our processes, our governance structure, how our advisory board would work, and how to seamlessly integrate within the Ottawa Community Foundation (OCF) and fulfill all the requirements in our funding agreement with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.”

One big milestone along the way was Tina Nicholson’s arrival in August, 2021, as Director of Partnerships and Programs.

But after the first six months, “we were able to get out there and start making connections, find super partners to work with at the EnviroCentre and Ecology Ottawa and the City, and begin addressing a lot of really significant issues around climate change in Ottawa.”

Clark, Vice President, New Business at Shorefast Social Enterprises Inc., points to the community profile OCAF has been able to build in a very short period of time.

“There are so many things to be done to address climate change, and OCAF has been able to clearly define its role focusing on climate equity here in Ottawa. Our message of Carbon Down, Community Up communicates this very succinctly,” she says. “I’ve long felt that we need community-led solutions in Ottawa, and that begins with direct investment in community organizations that can deliver local impact.”

The traditional community foundation model emphasizes granting and donors, but “the thing I really like about OCF and where we’re going with OCAF is the idea of having direct impact in the community. That sense of immediacy is what inspires me to be involved—we’re not there yet by any stretch, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Toller and Clark both credit OCF’s Director of Strategic and Community Initiatives, Rebecca Aird, with building the initial vision for OCAF and Executive Director Steve Winkelman with bringing it to life—even though pandemic restrictions limited face-to-face contact.

“The branding that we have is absolutely remarkable,” Clark says. “Our positioning is really resonant, and it’s covering a part of the dialogue that we haven’t seen enough of before. How we deal with climate equity is one of the unique opportunities for OCAF to make a catalytic contribution. I’m very excited at how that possibility has already crystalized.”

Toller points to the combination of sound investment management and wide networks and connections, from community colleges to energy utilities, as key ingredients for an organization on a mission to get things done.

“For us, the convening is just part of it, because we do have money,” he says. “But if the convening says, for example, that there’s an untapped market for wastewater heat recovery across the city and no one is taking a lead on that, we can step in with some funding for data analysis” and set the stage to get those systems built.

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