May 2, 2022
Guest Blog

The Dufresne and Gauthier Foundation (DGF) is celebrating 20 years of existence

Hélène Dufresne, President

The Dufresne and Gauthier Foundation (DGF) is celebrating 20 years of existence. On this occasion, we feel it is useful to take a look at what drives us and characterizes us in order to ensure its continuity. 

Remembering where we come from

I was lucky enough to be born into a loving middle-class family, the eldest of five children, with two parents who had benefited from a good education, worked as professionals, and valued this same path for their children. But I was a bit of a rebel and like in the stories, I ran away with the circus (du Soleil) before completing my studies. This wonderful experience was a real school of life, an opening to the world and to the reality of the marginalized and the most vulnerable.

During this adventure, I met the Foundation’s Gauthier, who was to become the father of the two girls we were going to adopt in Mongolia. But before that, after a few challenging start-up years, our journey with the circus was leading us to incredible success and we quickly had to think about how to return some of the luck and wealth we were generating to circus communities around the world. That’s how we started learning about philanthropy. At the time, the circus returned 1% of its ticket sales to philanthropic activities and used it as leverage for charities to generate their own income during benefit events held under our big top. Most often, the money raised went to organizations that help marginalized youth. Then came the Cirque du Monde program, social circus workshops offered in several countries, a kind of humanitarian circus.

After adopting our children and leaving the circus, we found ourselves in possession of a small fortune and, in our eyes, a great responsibility. We had traveled a lot, and we had seen that children do not choose where they are born or the family they grow up in, nor do they choose the challenges they face. We were grateful for our good fortune and wanted to help those on a more difficult path to better fulfill their potential.

DGF’s mission is to help children from more vulnerable families and young people at risk by supporting projects that bring families and organizations together in a neighbourhood or community and that contribute to the well-being of children and the respect of their fundamental rights.

Reaching out to people

Just as we had done with the circus by visiting cities that were unknown to us at first, we went to meet community organizations in Montreal, Quebec City, and Mongolia in order to learn more about the work being done on the ground. We quickly realized that to help the children, we needed to help the parents and the environments in which they were living in order to strengthen the links and reinforce the existing resources.

Even today, we still find people who are extraordinarily committed to the populations they serve, especially women, who in majority work in the community organization sector. We establish a dialogue and better understand the difficulties to overcome in order to provide adequate services. We also often feel the fragility of over-solicited individuals and organizations, the perilous funding from one year to the next, and the difficulty of working together when this becomes competition for available dollars. We listen and beyond the money distributed, we seek to better equip these essential workers. In our conversations, we learn about good practices and try to make them better known, we serve as a bridge between organizations with similar missions, and we take up the cause of the difficult reality of certain environments.

André Fortin, a close collaborator of DGF, suggested that we document this proximity approach that we have developed over time. We liked the idea, and we hope that those who will follow us at DGF and elsewhere will be able to draw inspiration from it and retain some of our own learnings. In describing this approach, many of the organizations supported by DGF have been generous with their experiences, their appreciation, and what sets us apart from other funders involved with them. Nor can I fail to mention all the references and lessons shared by the Quebec and Canadian philanthropic community that have helped shape what we are today. You will find on our website the presentation of this approach of proximity which we invite you to consult and to make known in your networks.

To all the people we have met, for all the exchanges, the complicity, the sharing, we are grateful, and we express our gratitude. We are deeply convinced of our interdependence as humanity but also with the earth that welcomes us.

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