A Lifetime of Social Purpose
Honoring the lives of elders behind vision of Ron Schlegel
Friday October 5, 2012 -- Kristian Partington
Ron Schlegel has been connected to business with a social purpose his entire life. He’s a farmer and an educator; an entrepreneur and a philanthropist.
He’s a man of exceptional vision who is dedicated to a new health-care paradigm with a major focus on reshaping the way the elders of our society are cared for as age limits their physical abilities.
He knows their spirits continue to grow and thrive until their final breath, and he’s built a thriving long-term care enterprise that draws profits on many fronts.
These aren’t the nursing homes most people imagine when they think about care settings for the elderly.
Schlegel Villages is a collection of 11 villages spread out across southwestern Ontario, Canada that are considered leaders within the sector — not just in Canada but around the world — in reshaping the culture of aging in our society.
Three new villages are under construction, and others are expanding.
Ron has funneled millions of dollars into research through his financing of the Research Institute for Aging at the University of Waterloo, and each village is connecting front-edge research with practice.
The result is a culture within the organization that sparks the best in everyone — from front-line caregivers to researchers to leaders — in pursuit of every imaginable opportunity to make the lives of the people they serve better.
From my position with Axiom News as a generative journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to dive headfirst into the world of social enterprise through a partnership with the Social Venture Network (SVN).
I’ve spoken with leading social financiers, such as Echoing Green president Cheryl Dorsey, and people like Bruce Poon Tip, who has redefined travel through his company G Adventures, which offers authentic, sustainable, low-impact adventure travel for socially-conscious wanderers the world over.
I also work closely with Schlegel Villages as the lead writer telling the stories of the organization’s journey.
I spent time with Ron last month during the Schlegel Villages operational planning retreat at Blue Mountain Inn overlooking the southern shores of Georgian Bay.
He spoke of his vision and purpose, and of the pride he feels as he looks at the team bringing his vision to reality. He spoke humbly of the lives that are changed every day through the relationships between caregiver and elder — a truly reciprocal exchange of compassion and wisdom.
I thought of what a social purpose business is as I listened to him read a letter written by Canada’s Head of State, Governor-General David Johnston, personally thanking Ron for leading the necessary social changes that will affect our aging population for the better, long after Ron no longer draws breath.
Through successful business practices, and his dedication to the betterment of his neighbours, Ron’s legacy thus far is an example of what’s possible in the world of health and long-term care.
“My next birthday will be 70,” Ron told me. “I wouldn’t need to, in terms of putting the next slice of bread on the table; I certainly wouldn’t need to be doing any more of these villages that we’re building.
“My reward, or return for the efforts and the dollars that we’re putting into continuing to build more is watching these people, the smiles on their faces and their exuberance and the way their quality of life continues and their spirits continue to grow,” he says.
“Even though maybe the physical is becoming more frail, the spirit can continue to grow to the very last breath, so it just inspires me when I see these seniors having such a great time, and that’s my return on investment.”
With these words, my understanding of what a social-purpose business is grows clearer.
Comment on this story by e-mailing kristian(at)axiomnews.ca.