Standard Life: Standing for Something

The Opportunity



Internal and external pressures are demanding that pure profits can no longer be the sole motivator for business. Rather than just traditional wealth creation, business has the opportunity to use its scale, resources, and innovation imperative to be a catalyst for a better world and to reinvigorate and empower business at the same time.Standard Life engaged JS Daw & Associates to help strengthen and deepen its existing community investment (CI) program. They sought guidance in identifying a social purpose that would provide a clear strategic direction for the program, and lead to greater organizational cohesion and engagement.


Standard Life had three existing focus areas in place through their “Investing in Tomorrow” strategy: youth employability, school persistence and financial literacy. Through initial workshops and discovery research, we determined that youth mentoring was the perfect intersection between these social issues (youth employability and school persistence), the business strengths and opportunities.Through a collaborative process, we came up with the idea for The 20/20 Project.

If hindsight is 20/20, the 20/20 project allows a mentor’s hindsight to become a mentee’s foresight. By the year 2020, we hope to match over 2020 youth with engaged and passionate mentors while giving them a clear vision for life. By 2020, Standard Life will be recognized as the corporate champion of mentorship. This is not only our point of difference—it is our promise to Canadians.”



Standard Life has its offices and largest customer base in Toronto and Montreal. We recommended that Standard Life place special emphasis in these cities and customize to the needs each community. For example, in Toronto youth employability is a major challenge, and in Montreal the school drop-out rate is the highest in the country. 


In September 2014, Manulife Financial Corp. paid $4-billion to acquire the Canadian business of Standard Life PLC. This unexpected turn of events threw a wrench into the implementation plans for the 20/20 Project.The global collaboration agreement meant that Manulife would be managing and distributing Standard Life’s investment funds in Canada, the United States and Asia. The acquisition created confusion in terms of the future direction of the Community Investment program.Throughout this project, we maintained 3 key principles:

  • Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water: When we started our work with Standard Life, they already had a great foundation for their community investment program. With the “investing in tomorrow” strategy, they were already focusing their efforts of youth employability, school persistence and financial literacy. However, they were not telling the story of their contribution in a powerful way. We took this as an opportunity to build on the work they were already involved in, and reframe the story, bringing greater focus to their strategy to foster greater community and business impact.

  • Maximize limited resources: Like most companies, Standard Life had limited staff and financial resources to invest into this program. Instead of seeing this as a restriction, we saw it as on opportunity to develop an extremely focused strategy. In order to do this, we helped Standard Life narrow in on a specific aspect of the solution as opposed to the broader systemic issues. Part of this was also deciding to focus specifically in the communities in which Standard Life operates.

  • Expect the Unexpected: In today’s fast paced business climate, anything is possible, and change is inevitable. Our strategy needed to be nimble and adaptable to different circumstances. We are so glad to see that many aspects of the strategy moved forward, despite the unexpected acquisition of Standard Life’s Canadian operations.


Although it has not been branded as “The 20/20 Project,” Standard Life has continued to pursue this renewed commitment to youth mentorship. As a corporate champion of youth mentorship, Standard Life supported a national advertising campaign for Big Brothers, Big Sisters in November 2014.“We are thrilled to have the support of Standard Life to promote the need for volunteer mentors through this ad campaign”, said Steve Jones, President and CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Canada. “We have thousands of kids across the country, waiting for a mentor, and this campaign demonstrates how anybody can make that difference.”Taking on a signature program is an exciting but challenging process that can deliver exceptional community and business value when strategically