October 7, 2021

30 Seconds on 30 Years with Gary Willson

In celebration of our 30th Anniversary, we (virtually) sat down with a few of our past chairs to take stock of their time with the Foundation, and the impact the Foundation has on the real estate industry and Alberta.

Here’s what Gary Willson, Chair of the Board from 2013 to 2015, RPP MCIP, and Principal of GW Associated Planning Consultants Ltd. shared with us in roughly 30 seconds:

How many years were you involved with the Foundation?

I was involved with the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s Board from 2010 to 2015. While I formally started my duties in 2010 as a public member representing the business sector, I was invited to serve an ‘apprentice’ year in 2009. This was due to the Board at the time wanting to use both my contributions and those of another individual. As the other person was quite skilled in affordable housing, a topic of significant interest to the Board, I was invited to spend 2009 observing and learning but not voting.

Why did you get involved?

I have always been interested in how real estate influences the planning and development of communities. This interest began to grow during my undergraduate studies in urban geography and economics. I was presented with stories and studies about how people selected their neighbourhoods to reaffirm their sense of self and how this sense of self helps imbue residential and environmental settings with meaning.

My work with Melton Real Estate’s Commercial Division in Calgary in the early 1970s furthered my interest. I applied and honed this interest through graduate studies and my career in community and environmental planning. When I heard from colleagues active with the Foundation about its activities, I was very keen to see how I might contribute to its purpose; supporting groups and organizations in articulating and realizing what is important to them in their respective communities and settings.

Do you have any favorite projects funded in your time as Chair?

Each project is unique. While I appreciated the focused and almost formal interaction with the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and the University of Alberta’s Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies regarding support for their respective real estate programs, I recall the excitement when the Foundation first supported the Alberta Emerald Foundation’s award of Excellence Land Use Category.

The Emerald Awards, established jointly by the Alberta Government and McLennan Ross LLP in 1992, “showcase and inspire environmental achievements” of Albertans. It was exciting for the Foundation to represent the real estate industry through this event and witness the winners in all the categories.

It was also exciting to implement one of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s key principles of philanthropy that is, the Foundation’s team providing some counsel to the Alberta Emerald Awards organization regarding its internal operation. This assistance, an expression of goodwill, also helped support the health of the philanthropic community in Alberta.

What impact has the Foundation had on Alberta and the industry?

I believe the Foundation has contributed significantly to establishing standards by which philanthropic foundations operate in Alberta. I recall one professional and very successful facilitator describing the Alberta Real Estate Foundation as a “small foundation that punches well above its weight.”

In another instance, at an Environment Funders’ reception in Toronto on the top floor of TD’s head office, a senior representative of RBC’s Blue Water Project acknowledged the expertise of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s personnel. This woman recognized that while not the richest of organizations, the Foundation was “one of the most thorough” in its funding process. She said the Foundation approving a particular project, regardless of the amount, was an indicator that the application was worthy of serious funding. This ‘first in funding’ was a grand achievement.

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation has played a major role since its inception in 1991, in Alberta’s philanthropic endeavours. The effectiveness of this role will continue to grow as the Foundation evolves. It’s funding of affordable housing development in both rural and urban settings, the accommodation of sustainable land uses, the preservation of a variety of historic and significant community attributes, and the support of sound planning and management of the province’s many natural resources will further establish and maintain the province as a place where its citizens want to stay and where Canadians want to experience.

What are the key issues you see the Foundation addressing in the future?

It is important for the Foundation to evolve. It needs to increase its profile and strengthen its relationships with the real estate industry. I think it needs to maintain the recognition that it has worked hard in receiving so far, while giving attention to increasing the industry’s awareness of what the Foundation has done to date in increasing the industry’s profile throughout Alberta.

Thank you, Gary!

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