"We've concentrated on children because they're really the most vulnerable. If we can give them health and a little education, that moves the whole village up a notch."
Colin Glassco is a quiet champion of children at home and abroad. By providing them with clean drinking water, food programs, and buildings and equipment for schools and medical centres, he has made a profound difference in their lives.
Colin was born in Vancouver on April 6, 1943 to Colin Stinson Glassco and Alice Mary (Freddie) Balfour. With Colin Sr. serving with the navy in the Second World War, Colin and his mother moved to Hamilton, Ontario to live with his grandparents. After the war, they chose to stay in the city and the family grew to include a second son, Roger. Colin went to school in Hamilton through the ninth grade before attending boarding school in Port Hope. While there, Colin developed an interest in business and also earned a pilot’s license. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen’s University and then a Master of Business Administration degree from McMaster University two years later in 1967.
Colin began his career in the financial services sector in 1967, working as a regional manager with The Hamilton Group. In 1973, he took advantage of a job offer in London, England where he served as a Managing Director with Medenta. An opportunity to move up the ranks to the position of Assistant Vice President with Citicorp Leasing Canada brought Colin back to Ontario two years later. A subsequent transfer to the company’s Calgary offices in 1978 introduced Colin to the city and province that he would soon be proud to call his permanent home. A two year assignment stretched to three and then four. As the job grew so did Colin’s impression of Alberta, a place where he found that, “everybody was full of entrepreneurial spirit and enjoying the great outdoors.”
Colin’s work in the financial services sector took a detour in 1981, due largely to a chance encounter. He developed a passing acquaintance with an oilman in his office building and decided to invest in his company. That decision eventually led Colin to take a chance by founding an oil and gas firm. The company went through a series of mergers before Colin sold his stake in 1989, leaving him free to pursue other business interests and to foster a growing desire to give back.
After retiring from the oil and gas business, Colin had an opportunity to travel overseas with an organization that provided bed kits for children in third world countries. The experience was a great adventure and a chance to do some good and helped inspire him to create the Colin B. Glassco Charitable Foundation for Children. The mandate of the Foundation is to seek out children’s issues in Canada and overseas and address those issues through financial and organizational assistance as well as on-site support. In the early days, Colin was essentially the Foundation’s sole funder.
In 1998 Colin had the opportunity to take part in a trip to Vietnam with Project Outreach, a group of doctors and nurses that travelled to serve people overseas. There he witnessed the reaction of a child being able to see for the first time. Colin wanted as many children as possible to experience that same miracle.
He consulted with the Canadian charity Operation Eyesight to find a region where the Colin B. Glassco Foundation could focus its work and was pointed toward a doctor running eye clinics in rural Zambia. Colin travelled to the country in 1998 and found the greatest need in a very remote area called the Gwembe Valley. He began supporting the initiative to perform cataract surgeries and to counter trachoma, a widespread but easily preventable condition that can lead to blindness if not caught early on.
Colin soon realized that trachoma was not the only challenge facing the people of the Gwembe Valley. He expanded his focus to include drilling local wells for each community, thereby eliminating what was often a four hour walk to the nearest water source which was invariably unclean. In addition to improving access to this essential resource, the wells have resulted in better hygiene and reduced eye disease, enhanced opportunities to raise animals and grow gardens and easy access to water for the purpose of making bricks. As of 2014, the Foundation had drilled over 550 wells.
The Foundation progressed over the years, building eight schools and seven health clinics in the Gwembe Valley and a neighbouring district by 2014. The Foundation also has a number of initiatives in and around the capital Lusaka. These include funding monthly paediatric eye clinics assisting over 180 children each year, equipping a children’s ward at the Lusaka Eye Hospital, and funding surgeries and supplying equipment at an orthopaedic hospital where it also built and equipped a mothers’ shelter.
Also in Lusaka, the Foundation became involved with The Chishawasha Orphanage, which, as of 2014 is home to some 75 orphans and a school for an additional 45 local children. Over the years it has built five residences, a twelve room school complete with a library and an all-important computer lab and drilled two water wells to serve the facility. The Foundation covers all of the operating costs each year.
The focus has further expanded to projects that empower women. In 2012 the Foundation initiated a ‘goat pass on’ project which has allowed the women, representing more than 500 households, to build up herds of goats that can be used as a source of both food and income. Other plans are underway to create mills that will allow villagers to grind corn crops with greater speed and efficiency.
Colin continues to look for new opportunities and frequently travels to visit Foundation programs, often accompanied by his colleague and the Foundation’s Director, Debbie Norman. Colin always works with Zambian government officials and community representatives to ensure that the Foundation’s projects are where they need to be and have the local support required to be sustainable.
Closer to home, Colin has focused the Foundation’s work on a wide range of initiatives that have benefitted children in Alberta and across Canada. Colin has been an ongoing supporter of Canuck Place in Vancouver, which offers pediatric palliative care. The Glassco Foundation Special Events program was created to ensure that children who come to Canuck Place can enjoy fun and carefree moments. The Foundation also supports a School Breakfast Program in the small Dene community of Lutsel Ke, on Great Slave Lake, NWT.
Past Foundation investments also include the Dreams Take Flight program, Camp Kindle of the Kids Cancer Centre, and the Nellie Breen Children’s Playground and Colonel Walker Playground in Calgary.
As the Foundation’s reach in Zambia and across Canada has grown, so too have its resources and roster of donors. From 1996 to 2014, the Foundation raised approximately $15 million, with donors from all parts of Canada and the majority hailing from Alberta. Its operating budget for 2014 was approximately $1.4 million. Colin exacts maximum benefit from every dollar contributed to the Foundation by paying for all administrative costs out of his own pocket so that 100% of all donations can go to the children. He also maintains a personal connection with each donor, providing personal notes of thanks and regular updates on Foundation projects.
Colin Glassco’s vision and generosity have been recognized with numerous honours. He received a Certificate of Appreciation for Humanitarian Service from the Zambian-Italian Orthopedic Hospital and the Statesman Award from The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology in 2004. He received the inaugural Alumni Award of Distinction from Hillfield Strathallan School in Hamilton in 2005.
A humble man who truly embodies the spirit of philanthropy, Colin has begun fostering the next generation of philanthropists and caring citizens. He works with various schools and children’s groups under the auspices of the Children helping Children program to encourage young Canadians to take a broad view of the world and give back to those in need. They have a truly inspiring role model in Colin B. Glassco.