PhiLab Interviews Isabelle Thibault, Executive Director of the KANPE Foundation

Par Diane Alalouf-Hall , Ph.D. student and Quebec Hub Coordinator
09 January 2019

Isabelle Thibault is the Executive Director of the KANPE Foundation. She has over 15 years of experience as an account director and manager for many of the most notable advertising agencies in Quebec (Sid Lee, DentsuBos, Cossette) and was in charge of more than a hundred major projects (Fido, Loto-Québec, Coppertone, Volkswagen, nonprofits and public agencies). Isabelle is a celebrated and enthusiastic leader whose main focuses include strategic planning and orientation, as well as field work and team management.

The path to autonomy is on location

Diane Alalouf-Hall: How to define the role and mission of the KANPE Foundation?
Isabelle Thibault: The mission of the KANPE Foundation is to bring support to the most vulnerable families in Haiti to help them achieve financial autonomy. KANPE means “to stand up” in Haitian Creole. It is an image that represents our mission well. We really are a foundation, our main role is to collect funds that will then serve to implement projects and programs geared towards financial autonomy.

KANPE works almost exclusively with Haitian organizations or experts, who will themselves provide services or training programs to the most vulnerable populations that we have been working with since 2011. In the majority of cases, we are not the leaders of the project, other than for a few exceptions. This way of working is based on the fact that Haiti is full of competences, knowledge and labour in multiple domains and it is important to support them. It is not always necessary to send foreign experts, particularly regarding education, health and agriculture. There is an expertise in the field and it is crucial for us to support it. This is not to say that we refuse foreign experts, but before we turn to the North, we first try to mobilize local experts. More specifically, we seek out experts in the region we mainly work with: the Central Plateau. We work hard to find the best local Haitian organizations and local talent who can accompany the communities in reaching their objectives in matters of health, education, agriculture, entrepreneurship, leadership and reinforcement of local infrastructures.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: How do you identify the issues upon which you respond?
Isabelle Thibault: Before answering the question, I have to come back to our four main partners. The first one focuses on the accompaniment of women towards financial autonomy. The second acts in the health sector while the third works in the education sector. Finally, the fourth is specialized in agriculture. They are four Haitian organizations whose staff is 100% Haitian. They are organizations that have existed for dozens of years, who are renown for their expertise and who obtain funding from major foreign funders, such as the World Bank or the European Union for example. For us, it is very important to work and think in this way. The whole challenge is maintaining this practice.

Why? First of all, it dispels the idea that expertise can only come from abroad. This idea that it is solely foreigners or past colonizers who are the carriers of knowledge and solutions is outdated and tends to kill the local economy and the confidence that populations can have in themselves. Second of all, for us, when a person living in extreme poverty is faced with a Haitian doctor, agronomist, teacher or nurse, who speaks their language and understands their culture, the message is positive. This expert becomes a “local” success story. It is important for us that the population we serve, who is vulnerable and impressionable, have inspiring role models that come from their own land. We recognize the work of volunteer experts from the North, who work for other organizations, but we do not wish to follow that path.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: How does KANPE take part in the perspective of social transformation regarding empowerment? What is their role in the chain of actions that are undertaken?
Isabelle Thibault: For instance, through the doctor we hire. They will work in Haiti, invest in the local economy, buy their house in Haiti, send their kids to school in Haiti, etc. We thus encourage skilled people to stay in the country and support their community. Furthermore, we put a lot of effort in working with the needs brought up by the community itself, in order to allow for adaptive responses. The first time I went to Haiti, I met with the leaders of the largest Farmers’ Association of the community to ask them what their needs and priorities were. The first thing they told me was that they needed an ambulance to complete the services offered by the medical clinic. I was speaking to farmers who represent an association of around 250 members and they spoke for the community. Afterwards, they continued with the agricultural needs: supplies of black bean seeds to restart the food chain and education on how to better manage soils and allow for reforestation. The conveyed objective was to “feed our children ourselves and have the capacity to pay to send them to school.”

In light of this information, we found a partner on site called Mouvement Paysan Papaye . They are a Haitian foundation, founded in 1973, who promote innovative agriculture, adapted to small Haitian plantations that are respectful of the environment. These representatives arrived, yes with agricultural training, but also with accounting and management training for the farmers’ association.

We try to collect information from an accumulation of both formal and informal data, to then apply a bottom-up approach. We also have the Program Director of KANPE on site, who is Haitian, and who is constantly in contact with the population and local partners. He is also the one who transmits information and urgent information to us.

Actually, with a multidisciplinary team of three Haitians and three Canadians, we conducted an investigation last May. By using the Design Thinking methodology, we surveyed representatives of every sphere of the community. The main issue brought up by those surveyed concerned the horrible state of the roads, which contributes to the population’s isolation. KANPE evidently doesn’t have the financial capacity to rebuild a road, at 1 million dollars per kilometre, but we have begun lobbying to try to attract partners who are specialized in this area.

The second issue mentioned concerned children’s education as well as the need for technical training for adults, in order to allow them to improve their income, but also to raise their social status. Since the community that we support live in rural areas, where people live off agriculture, supporting farmers is essential. If we don’t support farmers, we are excluding 98% of the population we want to help. In reality, the countryside is being emptied for the benefit of cities and slums, or the Dominican Republic. In the majority of cases, these young people who seek an escape in the city end up in a worse situation than their family life in the country. Young women get pregnant at a very young age and they all deal with racism and sometimes even violence in the Dominican Republic. By supporting families of farmers, we hope to keep youth in rural areas through education and enriching experiences.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: Can you tell us about the funding strategy of the KANPE Foundation?
Isabelle Thibault: As explained earlier, we favour proximity services. Obviously, it costs less you might say. Paying a foreign doctor and paying a Haitian doctor, holds a double standard. The way we see it is that we have the impression that we are multiplying the impact of our money. The medical clinic that we support financially, managed by our Haitian partner Zanmi Lasante, costs roughly 200 000$ CAD annually to operate. It hosts 18 staff members who serve over 11 000 people. What can we do in Quebec’s healthcare system with 200 000$? The reality is that in Haiti, with the same budget, we can do 20 times more. In addition to that, there are also the psychological and intangible benefits that these choices have on the population. It is impossible to measure, but we are conscious of the positive impact of youth seeing their teacher or coach as a Haitian role model. There are no tools to measure it, but we have testimonies. Zanmi Lasante opened a clinic and a school, over 20 years ago, about fifty kilometres from the zone we currently serve. One of the first students of the school is now a doctor at this clinic. It is easy to see that, if we invest in youth, there is a tendency for them to take root and stay to support their community. These are the reasons that explain our way of functioning.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: Can you talk to us about your donors? What is the evolution of your donor base? How can you explain it?
Isabelle Thibault: In the beginning, there were large corporations who were approached by our Board of Directors or by our co-founders. We were dealing with small numbers at the time. Our sources of funding come from our events, individual and corporate donations and from foundations. We have never made any requests to the government. Arcade Fire, through the PLUS1 program, have always been our most significant supporters and donors. Our budget oscillates between 400-600 000$ CAN per year.

When I started here in 2015, I saw how difficult it was to find funders. A few donors follower the mobilization happening around the earthquake, even if the region we serve was not directly concerned. The community was, however, affected by ricochet through the cholera epidemic, with 900 cases flagged in a population estimated at 6000 inhabitants at the time. There was a lot of support from Canadians and Quebecers given the long-standing solidarity with Haiti.

At my arrival, we were already commemorating five years since the earthquake. The large institutional funders did not want to renew their agreements, as their support had been an exception to their donation policy at the time. The emergency having passed, it was no longer a priority to help Haiti. KANPE does not work in humanitarian aid, but in international development, which are two separate things. Humanitarian aid intervenes in emergency situations, we work on long-term development. This difference renders us vulnerable regarding the generosity of donors. If a catastrophe takes place in Central America or in Asia, donors will have a tendency to respond to this emergency and leave behind the projects that happen over the long term.

In KANPE’s first years, the greatest effort was placed on fundraising events, which also allowed for the sharing of Haitian culture at festivals (Karnaval) for example. The events have thus been part of our DNA from the beginning. They brought us much notoriety, in part thanks to our two co-founders, but only brought in small amounts of funds, given the efforts required to organize them.

When I arrived, I wanted to diversify our sources of funding and attempt to reduce our dependence on one large donor. Since then it has been our challenge: plan more profitable events and try to find new funders willing to commit themselves in the long term. It is always a challenge to find new donors. Quebecers are among those who, per capita, give the least in North America. Since we don’t apply for funding from the government, to maintain our flexibility, and with the end of post-earthquake corporate agreements, we have decided to review our strategy and to be incorporated in the United States. This decision was motivated by several reasons. First, we already had significant American donors to whom we couldn’t emit tax-deductible receipts. Second, there is a strong Haitian diaspora in the United States, as well as a philanthropic culture that is stronger than in Canada or in Quebec. Finally, our field expenditures are done in US dollars. For a few months now, we have also contracted a fundraising consultant, which helps us a lot.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: Episode (a consultant firm) has recently published a study on the trends of Quebec’s philanthropic market. One of the conclusions is the ever-growing potential in terms of donations from new immigrants. What are your thoughts? What are your reactions to this announcement?
Isabelle Thibault: I was surprised by the results of this study. It’s very interesting. KANPE has not particularly targeted new immigrants. We don’t have a huge communications budget and have few ways of reaching them. Mostly, we have a very new database of donors. Montreal is a cosmopolitan city, we thus have volunteers who come from everywhere. It is very multicultural! Among the volunteers and members of the Board, we obviously have many Haitians or members of the Haitian diaspora. However, with regard to the database, I really don’t feel there are many new immigrants.

However, what I noticed among donors, is that youth now want to live an experience, and it is obvious. I can only imagine that all nonprofits have come to the same conclusion. Sports challenges, the Ice Bucket Challenge, and others of the same type are gaining in popularity. It places enormous weight on organizations, especially small ones, to find “cool” and original ideas that will satisfy donors. It gets to me to the point that I want to tell people, don’t “like”, “give”! It doesn’t mean anything anymore to “like” something on social media.

There really is an “ego trip” facet to donations, we’re aware of it. Nietzsche would say that we don’t do anything for others, we do everything for ourselves. He is right, but it is this requirement that donors have, especially the younger ones, for us to, at any cost, provide them with an experience for them to accept to give which is hard to manage. People perhaps don’t realize to what extent it is demanding to organize an event when you are a small organization. It is important to take into account that nonprofit employees are paid 30 to 50% less than in the private sector and that they work many more hours to compensate for the lack of staff. We are aware that celebrating is fun, but we don’t all have the capacity to launch ourselves into entertainment in the hopes of receiving donations. It is definitely harder in the community sector. I can only hope for a general awareness to take place.

Diane Alalouf-Hall: Would you like to share an event or anything you would like to highlight?
Isabelle Thibault: Our co-founder, Régine Chassagne, has a background in arts and culture and comes from a Haitian family. In 2014, she gave herself as a personal objective to donate, to the youth, the instruments necessary to start their own fanfare. In Haiti, a fanfare is a very common activity that accompanies daily events: from the school’s party to a burial.

Once the instruments were purchased, we realized that the youth didn’t know how to play. We had to find a teacher able to make the 22km trip on a mountain road of bare ground each week to teach them. We found the teacher! Jean-Germain Duvelson is today a local hero. The youth, who were 24 at the start are now 70 and return every weekend to play music.

They have better results in school and quickly made it known that they wanted a day camp. We supported the creation of the camp, that educates them in agriculture and music, without forgetting about sports. Today, this fanfare of 70 youth plays as well as the big bands of North American schools. They have even launched their own orchard! Notwithstanding the modest means, the results of this initiative are impressive. It is a source of local pride and the effects of the fanfare can be felt at many levels: leadership, pride, life projects, an incentive to stay, a reduction in rural exodus, and even more. For example, the young girls who were timid are now gaining self-confidence. They now look us in the eyes when they play music. When we work with teenagers, things move fast and they are exponential! They are hungry for knowledge.

Translation by Katherine Mac Donald

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