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In his own words: Prince Charles on his charities and love for Canada

Prince Charles is seen during a bush foods demonstration at the Desert Park in Alice Springs, Australia March 2, 2005.

Russell Boyce/REUTERS

You founded your first charity – the Prince's Trust – in 1976, using your severence pay from the Royal Navy. Now, your charities raise millions of dollars and pounds and employ hundreds of people. You are described as a social entrepreneur. How would you describe yourself – and your motivation behind the Prince's Charities Canada?

I suspect the truth is that I am one of those people who has never been very good at sitting back and expecting others to sort out problems. I like to try and solve them. From the very beginning I have wanted to improve the lives of others and build sustainable communities.

For example, I have long believed in the enormous difference that can be made to young people's lives, and the development of their true potential, if they are given the opportunities to develop their confidence, build their own businesses, and become leaders in their communities. I have also seen the powerful impact that CEOs can have beyond the boardroom if they are exposed to challenges in their communities and then work together to solve them.

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I established my Prince's Charities Canada so that I could connect the accomplishments of my charities in the U.K. and across the world with organizations in Canada in order to make a difference in the lives of Canadians.

And I like to think that these increasing efforts in Canada are starting to make a difference. For example, my Seeing is Believing programme challenges Canadian CEOs to roll up their sleeves and use their business and leadership skills to help disadvantaged young people get jobs in some of the hardest-to-reach communities. More than 120 business leaders have taken part in eight of these Seeing is Believing initiatives in Halifax, London, Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto. We are already seeing the results. For instance, I have been delighted to see the success of a First Nations hiring initiative led by Mandy Shapansky of Xerox Canada and Carol Wilding of The Toronto Board of Trade. After participating in one of my Seeing is Believing initiatives in Toronto, Mandy and Carol have made extraordinary progress in creating new networks to help more aboriginal young people acquire the jobs they deserve. I am proud to say that this initiative has meant that nineteen young people have now secured employment.

The Prince's Operation Entrepreneur gives military veterans the opportunity – and tools – to make the transition from military service to starting their own business. What has struck you about the Canadian servicemen and women who have applied for the program here? And is there one graduate whose business has surprised you?

Canadian servicemen and women give so much in support of their country. I am keen to ensure that when their duty is done they have everything they need to make a smooth transition to civilian life.

Military veterans have such an array of skills that many of them can do really well if they start their own businesses. My Prince's Operation Entrepreneur helps to provide the education, mentorship and financing needed to match these skills with veterans' entrepreneurial aspirations.

I am enormously encouraged that after only two years the programme has so far helped launch forty-one businesses employing twenty-four people in places like Halifax, Victoria, Edmonton and Quebec City. One of these businesses was started by a Royal Canadian Naval Officer, Scott Harrigan, who took his skill with naval knots and now makes the most brilliant handmade dog leashes! The challenge now is to keep up with demand as more and more realize that a military career emphasizing leadership, risk-taking and careful planning has prepared them perfectly for owning a business.

The Prince's Foundation for Building Community is another one of your charities [seeking to broaden its work] in Canada. Explain what you hope to achieve with this charity. I know you have a particular passion for sustainable urbanism. Tell us about that.

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I have long believed that a great deal more needs to be done to create urban areas that encourage a sense of community and pride of place and which improve the quality of life for everyone who lives there. I have seen at first-hand that if you put people at the centre of the design process rather than the car and if you actually ask them what they want for their communities, you tend to end up with a more humane and timeless form of development.

While the work has only just begun, my Foundation is aiming to support efforts already under way by Canadians to build truly sustainable communities that are at a human scale, which put the pedestrian at the heart of the design process and which reflect the rich diversity of cultural identity.

For example, my Foundation is building a new partnership with the Willowbank School for Traditional Arts, of which I have just become Patron. Willowbank is devoted to the shift towards a more ecological and sustainable approach to heritage conservation that celebrates the continuity of cultural traditions. My aim is to support and encourage exactly these kinds of approaches in Canada.

While, of course, every community is different, the principle of genuine community planning tends to reveal that people generally want the same things: affordable homes, places to work and shops that are not too far away; attractive public spaces and safe, liveable streets. It turns out that this applies in Britain, Australia, in Gabon and in Jamaica – as long as people can be offered an alternative vision to the current monocultural one. I am sure that Canadians share the same goals for their towns and cities.

Nearly 25 years ago, you launched Duchy Originals – an all-organic food brand that includes such items as ale and biscuits. Duchy Originals are sold in grocery stores in England – and in Canada. You were an early advocate of organic agriculture and food – why? What are your concerns with the environment and how agriculture is affected?

I wanted to try and show that it was possible to produce food of the highest quality by working in harmony with Nature in a way that would benefit both environmental and human health, as well as family farmers. I wanted to do so by following agro-ecological principles, adding value to them through the skills of expert and artisan producers, and then to re-invest all of the profits in good causes. This was what I can only call a "virtuous circle".

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Genuinely sustainable farming maintains the resilience of the entire ecosystem by encouraging a rich level of biodiversity in the soil, in its water supply and in the wildlife – the birds, insects and bees that maintain the health of the whole system without over-dependence on chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, artificial fertilizers, dangerously limited crop diversity and transgenic organisms. Sustainable farming also recognizes the importance to the soil of planting trees; of protecting and enhancing water-catchment systems; of mitigating, rather than adding to, climate change. To do this we must have a mixed approach.

Our global ecosystem is, to say the least, under stress, and there is so much pressure on our food systems. We have to put Nature back at the heart of the equation.

This all depends upon us deepening our understanding of the crucial relationship between food, energy, water and economic security, and then rewarding producers who base their farming systems on these principles.

I also believe we need to take responsibility for environmental stewardship. Just last year a promising young forester, Jocelin Teron, was awarded my Prince's Award for Sustainable Forestry, managed by the Canadian Institute of Forestry. I am also delighted to say that we are now launching a second Award, namely The Prince of Wales Forest Leadership Award. It provides our future forest leaders with a wonderful learning experience early on in their training, helping them be the leaders of sustainable methods of forest management in both the United Kingdom and Canada. I believe that Canada has a tremendous opportunity to develop its resources sustainably and I hope to encourage young Canadian leaders to do just that.

You travel extensively in the Commonwealth and to other countries but you keep coming back to Canada. Beyond the eventual constitutional role that you will play as Head of State, what draws you back here? What is your first memory of Canada?

Canada is a very special country and I have felt very much at home here since my first visit over forty years ago. This is my seventeenth visit to Canada and I have been enormously fortunate over the years to travel the length and breadth of this remarkable country. I was also brought up on stories about Canada by my Grandmother, who had a deep affection for the country and her people.

I suppose what draws me back the most is the Canadian people. Every time I visit Canada I am struck by people's warmth and national pride. I have always found Canadians to be determined, resilient and progressive – forever willing to take on new challenges to build a stronger society and a better place for future generations.

Another reason that I am drawn to Canada is the opportunity to support Canadians in making a difference through their service to others: whether it is to build more sustainable communities, to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth find opportunities, or to work towards developing Canada's vast natural resources in a way that is harmonious with Nature and leaves something behind for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

One of my first memories of Canada is travelling to the Arctic, diving under the ice and riding on an Inuit dog sledge while dressed entirely in caribou skin clothing. Unfortunately the snow conditions made the sledge ride rather more difficult and exhausting than I had imagined and all of the dogs became hopelessly entangled in their harnesses, while a trip to see the midnight sun at Tuktoyaktuk ended in thick fog!

What work are you doing to support aboriginal Canadians?

Let me begin by saying that I have been greatly honoured to be welcomed into quite a large number of First Nations communities during my many journeys to Canada and to experience the diversity of their peoples and cultures. Most recently, in 2012, I was delighted to visit the First Nations University in Regina to see the remarkable work done there by people from so many communities across Canada.

If I can just give one example of my own connections to First Nations, my Prince's School for Traditional Arts is working in partnership with the First Nations Ahousaht community in British Columbia to reintroduce the younger generation to traditional art forms and to foster self-esteem and self-confidence. The whole idea, by fostering these connections, is to honour First Nations' wisdom by promoting intergenerational learning and sharing so that the rich culture and history of this ancient First Nations community endures. My charities are working with First Nations communities across Canada to explore similar initiatives that, hopefully, can engender skills and opportunities for the future.

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