David Bissett invests in solutions

One might wonder if reading celebrated Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell’s essay “Million-Dollar Murray” served as a tipping point of sorts for Calgary philanthropist David Bissett. “It really got me thinking,” says the founder of Bissett Investment Management.

Gladwell’s 2006 piece in the New Yorker magazine details the challenges of Murray Barr, a chronically homeless man in Reno, Nevada, and the costs to society as a whole. Barr’s plight shines a spotlight on the huge social and financial costs of trying to manage homelessness instead of investing in solutions to end it. It is a short story, but long on food for thought.

Bissett, however, is doing much more than think about Gladwell’s arguments.

In 2007, he and his wife Leslie gave $2 million to Alice Bissett Place, named in honour of his mother. The 144-unit complex in Inglewood provides affordable housing for homeless, low-income and at-risk Calgarians, and was built through a partnership of the Calgary Home Builders Foundation, the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) and Horizon Housing Society.

In 2009, a second contribution of $2 million helped facilitate the financing of an additional 231 affordable housing units.

“Over time, Mr. Bissett has been extremely generous by sharing his wisdom and wealth with the Calgary Homeless Foundation,” says Gerrad Oishi, Vice-President of Social Enterprise at the CHF. “He learned about homelessness and then he took action.”

Bissett is well known for philanthropy in the education sector. The Bissett School of Management at Mount Royal University is named for him and, this past February, he gave SAIT Polytechnic what is believed to be the largest scholarship endowment from an individual ever given to a college in Canada.

Now, in his resolve to help end homelessness, Bissett has pledged a Transformational gift to the RESOLVE Campaign in support of the CHF. This will help ramp up construction by contributing to cash flow, and then will be reallocated to Acadia Place’s mortgage retirement, allowing for the lowest possible rental rates for Calgary’s most vulnerable.

In addition to his philanthropy, Bissett has been generous in sharing with RESOLVE the business acumen that made him so successful in the financial services industry. His community-minded insights were instrumental in shaping the RESOLVE Campaign prior to its launch.

“We are honoured to have a community leader like Mr. Bissett interested and involved in RESOLVE,” says Sheryl Barlage, Executive Director of RESOLVE. “It is people like him who are going to help us end homelessness in Calgary, once and for all.”