By Liane Benoit
The Jeanne Sauvé Foundation (JSF) was established in 1989 by the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé, former Governor General of Canada, as her legacy to the youth of the world. Her intention was to create an incubator for leadership through a permanent forum that would offer exceptional young people the opportunity to come together, meet and discuss the major global issues of the day. The premise of the Foundation was that the development of leadership skills, like any others, requires practice, cultivation and opportunity. She hoped to ensure that when JSF participants assumed positions of power and authority in their later years, they might do so bolstered by the greater knowledge, understanding and associations that naturally arise from international experience and exposure.
Madame Sauvé's vision for the Foundation came from her own experiences as a youth activist and leader. She had moved to Montreal in 1942 to work with Jeunesse étudiante catholique (Young Catholic Students Group) and within a year had become National President of the women's section (her co-president Gérard Pelletier, was to become a close friend and fellow federal Cabinet minister in subsequent years) . She served as a spokesperson and advocate for the JEC until 1947. Then, in 1949, with her husband, Maurice Sauvé, she became actively involved in the founding of the World Assembly of Youth (WAY), an international youth congress that was being established as an adjunct to the newly-minted United Nations, and was designed to promote global cooperation and understanding among the young people of the world. Maurice Sauvé served as WAY's first president from 1949 – 1952 and Jeanne Sauvé was its first Secretary. At this time, she was working as assistant to the Director of the Youth Secretariat at UNESCO.
In later years when she traveled the world, whether in her capacity as Minister, Speaker of the House of Commons, or Governor General of Canada, Madame Sauvé was to encounter many of her former WAY colleagues. She was convinced that the international relationships and exposure to ideas that resulted from their participation in these international assemblies in their youth were an invaluable asset to them as leaders in their later lives. Through the JSF forum, she hoped to offer this opportunity to generations to come.
In her address at the inauguration of the first JSF youth forum, Madame Sauvé articulated her aspirations for the work of the Foundation. Her vision was of a body that would be highly inclusive, one that would transcend differences: cultural, linguistic, religious, political, social and that should address young people from all sectors: business, university, political parties, science, unions, the Arts, farmers, etc. While it was clear that her intention was to draw in youth leaders from every field of interest and preoccupation, she was unapologetic in her decision to accept only participants who could legitimately lay claim to this elite level of representation. If fostering the development of leadership was to be the Foundation's ultimate goal, it was self-evident that only those who had proven their capacity for the role through the exercise of power within their respective organizations should have access to the benefit of this experience. She felt it particularly important that these young people be exposed to the dynamics of international discussion in their youth so that they might be influenced by the breadth of ideas, perspectives and belief systems that would emerge through the assemblies' open deliberations.
In defining the objectives of the JSF International Conferences for Young Leaders, it was of key importance to Madame Sauvé that the conferences not require the participants to reach consensus on the issue under discussion or to focus their energies on the development and acceptance of general resolutions. In her words, the forum is essentially a meeting place, open to all. It is not meant to allow for votes…or final statements. The forum will inhibit no one; it must always be hospitable to all expressions of thought and opinions and must serve to nurture the minds and hearts of those who will attend. Thus she defined the experiential nature of her design: it was to be a forum with no prescribed agenda other than to cultivate and inspire the breadth of vision and knowledge that inevitably results from experiences of intense social and intellectual engagement in contemporary issues of global importance.
Madame Sauvé's preoccupation with the issue of global leadership arose in part from her own dismay with the discredited reputation of political leadership throughout the world and what she perceived to be an almost universal disdain for "power". Having always sought positions of authority throughout her life in the belief that power was the instrument by which one could influence and accomplish positive change in society, Mme Sauvé was disheartened by the prevailing notion that all power was corrupt and all political ambition, by extension, suspect. She alluded to this demise of credibility in leadership in her opening address to the conference when she noted that,
"leaders in all spheres of activity and, notably, in politics have lost a great deal of their credibility. It is a world phenomenon inherent in part to the crisis of authority that blows over the world…another cause of this loss of credibility is the lack of transparency of too many leaders…."
Through the Foundation's focus on the development of leadership, Madame Sauvé hoped to encourage a renaissance of the nobility of this vocation, quoting through the words of Aristotle, her aspirations for the leadership ideals that the Foundation would promote:
"A good leader must have moral fortitude, which will allow him to persuade people, to convince them, and to act; he must have passion which will allow him to obtain their affectionate support; he must have intellectual vigour which will allow him to found his action on solid reasons."
To the attributes of moral fortitude, passion, intellectual vigour and solid reason, Madame Sauvé added the need for transparency, noting that, "the true leader brings the people to bear witness to his actions and knows how to develop a climate of confidence between himself and those he administers." Thus a blueprint was laid out for the encouragement of a new generation of leaders to take their place on the world stage; one that would be inspired by the highest ideals, their ideas tested by the challenge of vigorous debate, and their friendships forged by the product of common experience.
Madame Sauvé died three years after the launch of her Foundation. Her son Jean-François Sauvé succeeded her as President and, with his wife, Diane de Mailly-Nesle Sauvé, and long-time associate Harold Sonny Gordon came to the conclusion that the assembly format that had worked so magnificently for the young leaders of the post-war generation was no longer as vital and unique in the age of international non-governmental organizations and new media. A new mechanism was sought to encourage the promotion of internationalism and communication that had been the tenets of Mme Sauvé's life.
In 2002-2003 the Sauvé Scholars Foundation was created to establish and administer a unique entity: the Sauvé Scholars Program
The Jeanne Sauvé Foundation continues to examine the development of future, complementary initiatives in the field of internationalism and leadership to further the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé's commitment to the youth of the world.
In her own words
Radio Canada Interview with Mme Sauvé
23 February 1990
La fondation Jeanne-Sauvé
En 1990, une fondation pour la jeunesse du monde est mise sur pied à l'initiative de la gouverneure générale. (available only in French)