On the importance of children in philanthropy: Q&A with UIC’s Nancy Hotson, Shraddha Walker

On the importance of children in philanthropy: Q&A with UIC’s Nancy Hotson, Shraddha Walker

“People don’t give kids enough credit for their capacity for empathy and understanding”

Nancy Hotson and Shraddha Walker are members of the UHN Impact Collective (UIC), a group of philanthropic, forward-thinking leaders working to support University Health Network (UHN) through UHN Foundation. Their goal is to advance the future of health care and improve awareness for where—and how—philanthropic support matters most. The UIC has been a crucial and steadfast pillar in the UHN community, supporting frontline workers and the future of the organization.

We speak to Nancy and Shraddha about UHN, what inspires them, and the importance of including children and the critical role they play in giving back.

How did you become involved with the UIC?

Nancy: Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. At the neurologist’s office, I told them: “Please refer me to the best of the best.” They directed me to one of the most talented neurosurgeons at UHN, Dr. Gentilli—an unbelievable man who unfortunately passed away recently from a brain tumour himself. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what would happen or how I would emerge from the surgery. But Dr. Gentili performed an amazing 12-hour surgery and I came out of the procedure totally fine and tumour free! He gave me my life back. I was so grateful as I was being discharged that I asked the doctors and nurses in the room: “How can I give back?” And I’ve been involved ever since, especially with UHN Foundation’s Brain campaign in support of the Krembil Brain Institute.

Shraddha: I first got involved with the UHN Foundation in 2017. I joined the Diwali — A Night To Shine event committee. I loved it; it was such a great way to give back and get involved. I’ve been involved in various avenues of community and giving back for some time now — largely in the arts scene — but this was my big foray into health care. I ended up co-chairing another amazing Foundation event called LIVE it Up! in support of the Ajmera Transplant Centre at UHN before I was invited to the UIC last year. What first started as an academic curiosity into the world of transplantation science and technology became a huge shift in perspective. These weren’t just concepts that existed in academic journals, but they were real innovations that make tremendous differences in our lives, from hospitals and doctors who pour everything they have into turning fantastic technologies—seemingly straight from science fiction—into reality.

What events with the UIC are you looking forward to in 2022?

Shraddha: One of our biggest events last year was our virtual Are You Smarter Than Your Fifth Grader event; we hosted another successful iteration of that event on February 25, and my kids loved it. I’m really looking forward to UHN Foundation’s Rally for Rehab at the end of March. We’ve been so excited to partner with my kids’ teachers at Bennington Heights Elementary to develop a school-wide program around this event, and hope that we can encourage some other schools to follow the Bulldogs’ example to raise funds and awareness for this cause.

Nancy: Shraddha and I are also involved with the new UIC Women in Philanthropy Initiative, which is helping to involve women and empower them in their philanthropic donations. I’m excited about that. I’m hoping we also get to do some of the UIC’s Serving Knowledge Supper Club events in person.

Tell us about the importance of including kids in health care and philanthropy.

Nancy: When we include our kids, they can see that there’s so much more to medicine and health than their paediatricians and general practitioners. There are opportunities to learn from the technology, the research and beyond—especially for these little imaginations. With Covid and virtual schooling, kids have been stuck behind screens and social media – teaching them about why things have to be this way because of the pandemic helps them understand the world beyond their own lives. My oldest son’s school participated in UHN Foundation’s Give a Shift, and the funds that we raised supported the highest priorities at UHN – including their Covid emergency fund. Afterward, he came up to me and asked: “Covid affects the brain a lot, right? So is the Brain Campaign getting some of the money, too?” Philanthropy really does spark something in the kids, and they need to know that they too have the capacity to be kind, compassionate humans who look out for each other. It calls to mind an important lesson: in a world where you can be anything, be kind.

Shraddha: People don’t give kids enough credit for their capacity for empathy and understanding. They’re resilient and powerful, and they can understand the importance of giving back. My kids are a bit younger, but even in kindergarten, they asked questions about the Terry Fox Run for a whole month when they did it in school. They wanted to know more about cancer research, and what was happening in this field. It was inspiring to see them trying to understand why they were doing it and what they were doing it for while working towards this philanthropic goal. There’s also events like UHN Foundation’s Rally for Rehab; kids have likely had a grandparent, family member or a friend undergo rehab because for a multitude of reasons like a stroke or broken limbs. For them to understand something that affects people on so many levels, in so many age groups, then drawing the parallels to understand the incredible work being done at UHN—it becomes truly meaningful, and they’re able to understand how this impacts their lives and the lives of those around them.

How do you foresee children becoming a key part of philanthropy moving forward?

Nancy: When you get the kids involved, they’re not only learning about the importance of giving back – they’re also learning, period! It’s not just about philanthropy. Let’s say we give them a choice to make a donation: we can ask them, “Where do you want to give back? Do you want it to go towards neuroscience funds at the hospital or Covid recovery funds?” Giving kids the ability to figure out where they’d like their dollars to help most empowers them to make informed decisions for themselves and assume that philanthropic mindset from early on. It helps them focus their efforts on what can be done to help improve the situation for everyone, and I think if you teach them young enough, it’s something that keeps growing as they age.

Shraddha: There are a lot of opportunities for kids to get involved and learn the importance of giving back while making it a part of their lives. We want kids to make it as natural as brushing their teeth or going to school. It’s absolutely something I try to impart on my children at home, and it’s gratifying to see my kids express their desire to get involved—they’ve set up lemonade stands in the past to raise money for different initiatives. And it’s a choice that I’ve empowered them to make for themselves. I believe that when you give children the opportunity and autonomy to make meaningful choices for themselves, you’ll drive lifelong support and engagement. By teaching our kids to be more cognizant and curious of the world around them, we’re building a natural desire to make a difference.

For people looking to give back to their communities – whether it’s through volunteering, charity work, or involvement with the UIC – what advice do you have to give them?

Nancy: I encourage anybody interested to give back to the health care community to reach out to me or the UHN Foundation. There are a million ways to get involved. Whether it’s an hour of your time, a donation or participation in one of the Foundation’s initiatives, every bit makes a difference. We want people to learn more about the amazing quality of care that our doctors in Canada provide, and the industry-changing technologies they’re inventing at UHN like the Krembil Brain Institute or the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

Shraddha: Find initiatives and causes that excite you. You don’t have to sign away big cheques to make a difference – there are many ways you can give back at a grassroots level and get actively involved.  Once you figure out the areas you’re interested in, reach out, find like-minded people within your community, and find ways to make it overlap with your life. Make it a part of your day-to-day; entrench it as a part of who you are, and it will come back to reward you tenfold.