Tina Buchan is looking for “dreamers who can also execute.” With her family’s charitable foundation, she is funding worthy projects in Africa and at home in Toronto, applying concepts from the business world to non-profits. “We aspire to fund sustainable projects… Perhaps somebody has got a really great idea and traditional sources can’t be that nimble, can’t be that creative or imaginative. So we’re looking to be seed financiers in philanthropy.”
In Africa, The Buchan Family Foundation is primarily focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country Buchan has long been fascinated by. “Over the last 3 years I’ve been trying to learn about the DRC, and almost feel like I’m becoming an activist. Now I find myself getting concerned about—why isn’t this country talked about more?” The foundation has contracted a Montreal-based NGO to build three medical clinics in the DRC within driving distance of the capital, Kinshasa. The clinics are being built at an average cost of $235,000 each, and the goal is to have all three become self-sustaining through the implementation of health mutuals. Local families will pay into the clinic, and know that they have a place to go should health issues arise; these funds will keep the clinics running once construction is completed. “What we want to do is show that they can be built. We’re a relatively small foundation… We’re creating a manual about all the building requirements, so we can show how you do it. And then lever our smaller resources to attract real big funders.” The foundation is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and Buchan hopes this project, one of several she is funding in the region, will help bring some more international attention to the situation in the DRC.
Here in Toronto, The Buchan Family Foundation has been a major funder for the Arthritis Program at Toronto Western Hospital, building a state-of-the-art lab that will be used solely for arthritis research. “I’m an arthritis sufferer. I’ve got two new hips, and one new knee, and I’ve had a spinal fusion, and it’s not a very sexy cause… I can unequivocally say that whenever I went to Toronto Western I got absolutely superb care. I do think there’s something very, very special about that place.” Buchan was especially impressed by the commitment to fundraising shown by the hospital’s doctors; all of the doctors on the Orthopaedic Surgery and Rheumatology teams have pledged their own money to the Arthritis Campaign. “In total $1.25 million of their own money [went] to this initiative. That in and of itself is so unusual.” Thanks to the Buchans’ lead gift, The Buchan Family Arthritis Research Centre is scheduled to open in 2013.
Tina Buchan is just getting started. She’s helping to fund a Toronto-based study on rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) and its potential use in treating depression, and is looking at sustainable agricultural and educational projects in the DRC. “When you’re in the fortunate position that I am in, you say OK, we have the ability to give back, and you sit there and you look at the myriad causes you could support,” she says. “We want to fund rising stars, not super stars. It’s just a different approach.”
WORDS: RONIT RUBINSTEIN
PHOTOS: MARK TYM