Sharon Avery: Reflections on our Vision 2020 journey

As all seasoned Torontonians know, when you live in this city, you spend an awful lot of time dealing with traffic. And whether we’re driving, taking public transit, or walking, intersections are not places where you want to spend much time. But in philanthropy, intersections are the best places to be.
At Toronto Foundation, we often find ourselves at the intersection of philanthropy, community and social change in Toronto. We strive daily to act as a connecting point for diverse ideas, people and projects to unite for a common purpose. And while these intersections can sometimes be tricky things to maneuver, we often find coming together generates bigger and better impact than if we were acting alone.
There is no better description of Vision 2020, our initiative to mobilize the next generation of philanthropists. The program grew out of a lucky series of intersections. Within the first three months on the job, I was approached no less than three times about starting a program for young philanthropists. After hearing from emerging city-builders Dan Jacob and Roz McLean, and Toronto Foundation’s own Aneil Gokhale, we gathered with some of the city’s most passionate young change-makers to find out what they were seeking. They each expressed a deep desire to learn about impactful philanthropy and connect with a community of like-minded people. There was no question – we knew we had to act.
Since its launch in January 2018, Vision 2020 has brought together 115 diverse young people between the ages of 23 and 50 to learn about the city’s most pressing issues, understand responsible grant-making, and connect with the leaders making a difference. Soon, they will be investing in projects that will strengthen the city’s social fabric.
Over the year, we’ve collaborated with some exceptional community leaders, neighbourhood residents, government and industry experts, and members of the Vision 2020 cohort themselves while visiting neighbourhoods across the city. We began by guiding participants in a hands-on session to develop their unique philanthropic guiding principles. Next, we learned about the nuances of power and privilege from the Wellesley Institute’s Kofi Hope and Zahra Ebrahim, a Vision 2020 cohort member. Later, we explored philanthropy’s role in raising the voices of those with lived experience at a documentary screening.
We also crossed paths with the City of Toronto’s Resilience Office, where Chief Resilience Officer Elliott Cappell taught us the importance of urban resilience, and gave us insight into Toronto’s new resilience strategy as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities. Through this partnership, Vision 2020 philanthropists attended a series of Resilience Labs where community organizations and local residents from across the city designed resilience projects. Later, we guided Vision 2020 participants as they co-created granting criteria and awarded the first-ever Resilience Builder Grants to strengthen social capital and urban resilience at the neighbourhood level.
As we forge the path into Vision 2020’s second and final year, we’re equally excited for what’s to come. You can check out what we have planned and hear what some of the participants have to say in our Vision 2020 Year 1 Report. Stay tuned for more news about what’s next, both for the graduating cohort, and for a new group of young philanthropists.
Until then, we remain happily at the crossroads.
In solidarity,
Sharon Avery
President & CEO
Toronto Foundation
To find out more about Vision 2020, and how you can get involved, contact Nicole Lilauwala at