Belinda Stronach says life is, at times, a matter of circumstance. Though she has always been extremely active in her 905 community and as a philanthropist, it wasn’t until after she got the opportunity to travel to Africa — where she witnessed the devastating effects of poverty first-hand — that she decided to launch her own foundation.
“I really do appreciate the good fortune that I’ve had in my life, and I think it’s important to be able to give back,” she says.
What began as a vehicle through which to manage Stronach and Rick Mercer’s Spread the Net campaign to fight malaria has become a full-fledged charitable organization with initiatives at home and abroad. The Belinda Stronach Foundation now focuses on three main areas: girls and women, Canadian Aboriginal youth and global initiatives.
The Lifford Wine Agency recently hosted its fourth annual Ladies’ Night event, this year in support of her foundation.
“They wanted to do something that recognizes an organization that empowers girls and women, so we’re really excited about that,” says Stronach.
The funds raised will go toward these efforts and, specifically, future G(irls)20 Summits — meetings designed to take place ahead of annual G20 meetings, to put women’s issues on the global agenda. Stronach’s foundation recently pledged as much as $5 million in the next five years to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to facilitate this.
The CGI is only one of the many organizations Stronach’s has partnered with. She says she finds her motivation in teaming up with like-minded individuals.
“That’s what inspires me: working with volunteers, creating momentum toward greater change,” she says.
Stronach recalls a 2008 trip to Liberia where she visited hospitals. She couldn’t help but notice the lack of medicine and equipment.
“A $10 net, when you hand it to someone, it’s a life-saving gift,” says Stronach. “You really see it in people’s faces, how much this means to them.”
It’s these interactions that really drive home why she’s doing this, she says.
Last April, the Spread the Net campaign reached its initial goal of distributing 500,000 bed nets.
Stronach’s foundation also recently launched the pilot program One Laptop Per Child, to deliver laptops to Canadian Aboriginal youth, creating educational opportunities.
But Stronach’s tireless efforts aren’t limited to her foundation. After a personal battle with breast cancer, she raised $1 million toward establishing the Belinda Stronach chair in breast cancer reconstructive surgery at the University of Toronto.
As for the future of her foundation?
“Sky’s the limit,” says Stronach. “We don’t really think about where the ceiling is. We try to tackle issues one at a time.”