Ottawa lawyer and public health expert David Sweanor is a bicycle fiend. On any given morning he can be glimpsed cycling the vast networks of bike paths and back roads of eastern Ontario and west Quebec, typically travelling upwards of 170 kilometres before lunchtime. In only four years, David has put 65,000 kilometres on the hardy frame of his favourite carbon-fibre bike, also his vehicle of choice for attending the countless meetings, interviews and events vying for his attention and expertise on a daily basis, not to mention his academic appointment the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.
Ask David about what fuels his life’s journey, and he’ll cover more ground in a five-minute conversation than most of us can muster pedalling downhill. Invariably, however, the conversation will begin with his drive to contribute to a stronger, healthier world for future generations. “My wife and I named our Community Foundation fund after our children because that’s who will inhabit and have to care for the world we leave behind,” he says, “and our goal is to leave it in better shape than we found it, and to help create more sustainable means for them to do the same after we’re gone.”
David seems to embody that singular purpose in virtually every aspect of his life, whether it’s during business hours, leisure time, or through his philanthropy. One of the Community Foundation’s most engaged and eclectic donors, David’s family fund supports some of the most unique and ground-breaking projects taking place in the city and around the world. Encompassing everything from promoting national anti-smoking legislation, to investing in a Vitamin A project in Cambodia, to funding healthy activities that improve the long-term health of Ottawa residents, David’s interests run the gamut of charitable causes and activities.
The common thread that seems to string them all together, however, is innovation. Never one to sit still waiting for progress to happen, David is a true community changemaker. “I’m not interested in funding what everyone else is pouring money into,” he says, “I don’t want our contribution to be just another drop in the ocean. I want to support causes and projects that might not otherwise receive backing, and that can make a really significant, tangible difference in people’s lives.”
Since establishing his fund almost 15 years ago, David has made a point of working closely with the Foundation to fund unique initiatives that will have a measurable impact over the long term. “Sometimes you have to go off the beaten path to find the projects that will provide the greatest return on investment,” he says. “That’s one of the things I appreciate most about having our Community Foundation fund. Not only can we support a diverse array of causes and charities at home and abroad, but the staff is able to share its deep knowledge about the needs and opportunities in the community at any given time.”
The most recent opportunity David leapt at was participating in the Foundation’s first New Leaf Community Challenge, a city-wide initiative to find new and innovative ways to tackle some of the city’s most pressing needs. Focussed on addressing issues around food security in Ottawa, the inaugural live, juried event took place in October at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. As jury foreman, David led a 9-member jury that judged the top three proposals for projects that would work to increase access to healthy, affordable food in the capital.
“All of us who participated on the jury were particularly struck by the wealth of innovative ideas that are just waiting to be put into action by a host of front-line workers and grassroots organizations in Ottawa,” says David. “But one of the most interesting factors for me was seeing how the bringing together of minds from diverse backgrounds over the tackling of a key issue allowed so much creative thinking to take place. It was exciting to be part of the generation of ideas throughout the day, and to see how many more ideas it stimulated for addressing critical local issues in the future.”
For his part, David will continue to be a philanthropist to watch as he blazes new trails for us all to follow as we strive to build a better tomorrow in our neighbourhoods, cities and around the world.