In preparation for the launch of MCIC's second annual Holiday Gift Guides, we reached out to members to hear about the impact these gifts can have, through the members' organizations and programs.  KIDS Initiative has a uniquely Manitoban perspective on development, which has helped them support entire communities through transformative change.  In this interview, hear from KIDS Initiative Founder and President Cat Ross about the NGO's journey and how they operate today. 

Ben Dearing, Manitoba Council for International Cooperation: Can you introduce yourself, your role, and how you came to found KIDS Initiative?

Cat Ross, KIDS Initiative: My name is Cat Ross, and I’m the Founder and President of KIDS Initiative.  Through volunteering my time at a local resource center for individuals living with HIV and AIDS, I had the opportunity to deliver some educational courses, one of them being Global Women and HIV/AIDS. I had to research everything HIV/AIDS on a global scale. As I didn’t know much, aside from what I could research online, I had the desire to experience it first-hand.  This led me to travel globally and see what HIV/AIDS clinics were experiencing, both on a global scale, and for the individuals and clients that were accessing these clinics.  So, the first opportunity I had was stationed in Kenya. That experience really shaped the life of KIDS Initiative: I wanted to be able to support programs that were already in place and had the potential to become sustainable and deliver on securing relationships with partners and experts that could work together to see the community grow.


BD: What does KIDS Initiative look like today?
CR: KIDS Initiative operates as a fully volunteer working board, no paid staff. Our board executive team helps to facilitate high level operations, financials, etc. and each of our directors focuses on leading their own direct committee. Our committee leads look at facilitating operations in terms of marketing & communications, or fund development & donor stewardship, and so on. We really do roll up our sleeves and get quite a bit of work done from a voluntary perspective. That’s how we’ve operated since the beginning.


BD: I imagine a lot of those board members are based here in Manitoba as well?
CR: Yes, all our board members are based here in Manitoba.


BD: What’s the significance for KIDS Initiative of being based in Manitoba, and what does the Manitoba community mean for KIDS Initiative?

CR: For KIDS Initiative I feel like it was always important for us to be able to connect with our Manitoba community.  I’ve had quite a bit of experience working with several different charities over the years, and I can fully stand behind the fact that Manitobans in particular, are quite charitable.  They focus on community development and want to see growth in successful programs.  There’s such a philanthropic spirit to our community, and to be able to tie that directly to how we use donor dollars, and the actual impact it has in our programs, has been part of our overall mission from the very beginning. We want to ensure that our donors understand that their dollars are truly impacting the lives of others, globally or in developing communities right here in our own backyard.  That connection, and allowing for true transparency with our organization, has been crucial to KIDS.


BD: Talking about those impacts in communities, do you have any stories to share about the people and communities that you’re actively engaged with?

CR: Absolutely.  We’ve worked directly with one of the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camps in Kenya that was experiencing a medical concern within the camp, mainly due to the lack of access to safe, clean drinking water. They were capable and able individuals, looking at developing their own structures and wanting to look at education supports and things along those lines. But it was difficult for the community to be able to achieve success when they were facing severe life altering illnesses such as cholera. Our organization had the opportunity to visit this camp and ask questions as to what was preventing them from being able to access safe, clean drinking water.  It was a matter of repairing some pipes.  To put an actual dollar figure to that, when we had asked what it would cost to be able to repair this and provide safe, clean drinking water to their community, it was approximately $400 CAD. When we learned that, of course we thought “we have to fund this immediately,” which we did. In a year’s time, returning to that camp, we couldn’t believe it was the same place.  It was leaps and bounds different; the impact it had on the community made it thrive! It was now a safe and healthy community, they had grown their own crops, which allowed them to start their own income generating projects.  This allowed them to create their own structures to provide shelter for their families, and they had the opportunity to fund education.  

Another example is a community we’ve been working with for quite a few years, and we still have direct connections with and are quite close to, the Lemolo IDP camp. In this camp we’ve implemented programs like an agriculture and food security project and a borehole project.  These types of projects have come in at approx. $150,000 CAD.  They’ve allowed that entire community, and some surrounding communities, to be independent, have their very own income-generating projects, which has made them completely sustainable. The number of individuals with access to the agricultural programs, and accessing water, is approximately 10,000 people.  So, from approx. $150,000 CAD, we can support 10,000 individuals, and have a drastic impact on their lives. It’s really rewarding, and real proof that the work that we’re doing is successful.


BD: What sets KIDS Initiative apart from the rest of the NGO sector?

CR: KIDS Initiative, I feel, is quite a unique organization. We’re such a small grassroots team. We’re all Manitobans who have been volunteering our time from the very beginning, with no paid staff.  We ensure that all our donor dollars go directly to the programs that we’re supporting.  We’re a very small and passionate team, and instead of aspiring to be a medium or a large sized organization, we choose to remain small and grassroots. I feel it allows us to remain flexible and truly fill in some gaps that often medium and large organizations may pass over because they’re inundated with such large programs.  We tend to focus on smaller communities that don’t tend to have any level of resources and are looking for support but don’t seem to hit that mark with some NGO’s.  We’re truly filling a gap, and we’ve been quite successful as we’ve maneuvered through as an operational but voluntary board.  That’s what sets us apart from most.

BD: Thanks so much for your time today, I really appreciate it!

This transcript has been slightly modified for clarity and accuracy.