Mike House is the Canadian regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
“I fundamentally believe that kids have so much potential inside of them, and we don’t necessarily know what the potential is when they’re born or four years old or even 17,” says YPO member Mike House, president and CEO of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. “The one thing that we can do is give them the best possible chance of health so they can realize whatever that potential is.”
That is at the heart of the mission of Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation: to transform children’s health by raising money in support of the pursuit of excellence in children’s health care and educating communities about the hospital’s needs and impact. More than 100,000 donors help Stollery invest in the best people, programs, equipment and research to advance children’s physical and mental health care each year.
Understand yourself and what values you stand for, and then try to align what you’re trying to do to change the world with those values. ”
— Mike House, Canadian regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award share
The Stollery is the most specialized children’s hospital in Western Canada, a hub for pediatric heart surgery and a national leader in organ transplantation. House tirelessly drives private financial contributions, fundraising and community engagement to make a difference in the lives of children, their families and society at large. In 2021, under House’s leadership, the Stollery Children’s Foundation raised over CAD40 million, resulting in funding of CAD20.2 million to the hospital, CAD5.3 million to research and CAD14.9 for training, equipment and facilities, programming and more.
Defying the odds
House’s commitment to community and passion for helping children is rooted in his own personal experience. “The reason why I do what I do and why it’s so important to me is I was one of those kids,” explains House, who was diagnosed at four months with cranial stenosis, a condition in which a baby’s skull fuses too early. His parents visited over 20 different surgeons before finding one that would take on the odds: 70% mortality, 20% severe disability and 10% success rate. He fell in the latter group three surgeries later at the age of 7.
“I take a look at my life, the family I’ve got, the charities I’ve worked for, the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been raised for civil society and the safety net, and none of that would have happened if somebody hadn’t bet on me before they knew what I was capable of,” says House.
Through the lens of business
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, House learned at an early age that “no matter what you do, business matters.” He pursued a master’s degree in business administration in finance from the University of Alberta with the idea that he had a greater purpose than just making money.
“I am very proud of the fact that I’m one of the very few people my age who actually went into the nonprofit sector directly out of business school,” says House. Looking at a nonprofit as a business enabled him to treat donors like customers and the cause like a mission and vision.
Before landing his dream job at Stollery, he served as the assistant dean, development and stakeholder relations for the Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta; a senior consultant with KCI Ketchum Canada; and a marketing and communications leader in the arts and culture sector.
“I never have to worry about what I want to do when I grow up,” adds House. “I know every day (what my purpose is), and that it’s always dynamic.”
Defining your values
For those considering making an impact, House suggests values are a good place to start. “Understand yourself and what values you stand for, and then try to align what you’re trying to do to change the world with those values,” he continues. “If they’re in alignment, basically you’re just being your authentic self.”
For House, those values are abundance, accountability and respect. Abundance is “this idea that we’re better off when we’re helping other people, whether it’s pitching in in a small way or providing some support to a cause that’s requiring it,” he says.
To be accountable, House promises only what he knows he can fulfill, which has helped him become a better delegator and build capacity in the process. “The trick for me is learning to be a lot more vulnerable and to better evaluate the risk associated with decisions that are made,” he says.
Respecting that not everyone has the same information, opinions and perspectives has been critical to understanding the community he relies on to be successful. “My rules are never to embarrass the politician or medical professional in public and always take the high road in arguments,” he says. “That has allowed me to deal with changes in government, ministers, premiers, civic leaders – because above all of that are the kids who matter, and we need to help them.”
Transforming the system
“Charities have traditionally been the funding unit for transformational change in society,” says House, who wants to mobilize his donor community to do more than provide care for children once they are sick. Over the last decade, the Foundation has worked to bridge different constituencies to fundamentally change the province’s health care system through a greater focus on early intervention and mental health, family-centered care, as well as emerging determinants of health — like precision medicine and more.
“We shifted our perspective from being like a bank to having a voice that represents the parents and kids who want to see things get less expensive, more efficient and more equitable,” says House.
At the top of their to-do list is creating a more equitable health care system capable of serving more people through a franchise hospital environment. While Alberta, Canada, has 106 hospitals for 4 million adults, it only has two for the 1 million children in the region. Stollery Children’s Hospital is a hub for pediatric care from the Yukon and Northwest Territories to British Columbia and Manitoba. In 2021, it handled more than 317,00 patient visits, 53,000 emergency room visits and 12,00 surgeries. Nearly 40% of those patients came from outside the Edmonton area.
“Ideally we would love to create a network of care so that kids don’t have to drive five hours or take a plane seven hours to get to the Children’s Hospital, but they’ve got it in their community when they need it,” says House. “And then that hub at the Stollery is still there for emergencies.”
Working for little heroes
The little fighters battling for their lives offer the best glimpse of the impact the Foundation is making. House shares that one of his proudest moments on the job was watching Sophia, a young patient with pulmonary hypertension, being healthy enough to detach from an oxygen tank to jump on a trampoline.
“That’s what we do it for: to let Sophia be a kid, not a medical patient worrying about when the transplant’s going to happen,” says House.
Derek, diagnosed with brain cancer, found his voice as a champion for the Stollery, speaking up about bullying he experienced while losing his hair during chemotherapy. Derek succumbed to the disease before he turned 18 but was able to leave an indelible mark on those in the community in that short time.
“It just goes to show you never know when it’s your time,” says House. “If you can maximize the time you have to make a difference in the lives of people, that’s really what it’s all about.”
The children have also been some of the best advocates for implementing change at the hospital. One patient showed how they were able to heal faster with the help of a dog – because they were motivated to get out of bed – and administrators recognized the therapeutic – and cost-saving – value of pet therapy. The hospital now offers pet therapy seven days a week to reduce anxiety, enhance coping skills, provide unconditional love and create a normal childhood experience.
“Pet therapy is a great example of how kids have taught us that drugs and prescriptions and medicines are not the only modality of health that works. Sometimes it’s about your approach,” says House.
Because of its child- and family-centric approach to care, the organization embraces the abundance of ways that community members of all ages can help. House’s own daughters, now 15 and 17, have had an opportunity to develop their own passion for helping others through raising funds at lemonade stands and attending the annual children’s gala.
“It’s one of the powers of philanthropy that’s even more important than money,” says House. “It’s about passing values on to the next generation of your family, demonstrating what you believe in and living it and then letting your kids find their own passions to make a difference in the world. It makes your community better.”