This is the third in our new Donor Connect series, an initiative designed to share giving ideas and to highlight the great work of the many not-for-profits supported by the Canada Gives’ family of foundation funders. In this piece, we highlight a Canada Gives Foundation account holder’s efforts to help Canada’s Afghan allies left behind after the fall of Kabul.
The images of the manic airlift of interpreters, assistants and families who helped—or were connected to—Western forces during the 20-year war in Afghanistan sent shockwaves across the globe. Canadians were stunned by the rapid fall of Kabul and more so at the thought of both Canadian nationals and our close allies being left stranded as the country descended into chaos. Michael Stern was among them—and the philanthropist decided to take action to help.
Stern, a Canada Gives Foundation account holder from Ontario, had founded The FREDDI Foundation (the acronym stands for ‘First Responders/Education/Entrepreneurship/Dogs/Dying with Dignity/Israel’) earlier this year to support a range of causes. When he saw a Twitter video chronicling the unfolding events in Afghanistan, his thoughts turned to those left behind.
“These were people who had gone out of their way to help our armed forces by being translators, providing services to the military,” he says. “They put themselves in personal danger to help us on the promise we would be there for them … then suddenly no one came through.”
Making an impact
Stern’s initial intention was to support causes aiding Afghan women and children. It became obvious that the more immediate need was to help Afghan interpreters and their families shelter in the many safe houses scattered across Kabul, cover the cost of supplies and the organization of flights or land transport to extract them. The situation on the ground remains both dangerous and daunting, greatly complicating the process of delivering humanitarian assistance.
“There’s the personal nature of some of these relationships, some of the Afghans are like family to the Canadians who served there,” Stern says of his determination to lend assistance. “There’s also a sense of urgency. Every hour counts and everything must be done to help things move more quickly. If I can contribute to that, so much the better.”
During the rapid escalation of events in Afghanistan, Stern reached out to Canada Gives’ Director of Foundation and Donor Services, Karen Dillon, for information about Veterans Transition Network (VTN). The organization, which supports veterans returning from deployment and transitioning from military service, had piqued his philanthropic interest. When Dillon contacted the Executive Director of VTN, Oliver Thorne, for information, she learned that due to the organization’s longstanding relationships with retired Canadian generals and armed forces personnel (many of whom maintained close ties to Afghan interpreters), VTN would be funding on-the-ground operations for those left stranded in Afghanistan.
Canada Gives routinely completes due diligence on every qualified donee that is to receive funding from its donor advised funds, and VTN was no exception. Dillon reviewed the organization’s current charitable status, past and present programs, mission, recent financial statements, and spoke with people involved in the campaign in order to learn as much as possible about the operation and flow of funding to those on the ground in Afghanistan. After receiving the details and weighing the potential risks and rewards of supporting this particular mission, Stern requested that Canada Gives issue a five-figure grant to VTN on behalf of The FREDDI Foundation.
The entirety of the grant has been directed to supporting VTN’s on-the-ground operations in Afghanistan, led by former Canadian military personnel. Stern was also invited to join a video conference call briefing, where details of VTN’s mission were provided to several stakeholders involved in the operation, including philanthropic supporters.
An ongoing challenge
Stern understands that the Afghanistan situation is both fluid and will likely be prolonged. Getting people out of the country will take time, but he’s committed to a long-term engagement with VTN. He’ll continue to leverage Canada Gives’ assistance to determine how his charitable dollars can be channeled to aid Afghans in need.
“Canada Gives was very helpful in terms of making introductions to VTN, transferring funds, conducting due diligence and providing other support. In fact, I didn’t know the VTN briefing was occurring until Karen informed me. Being on that call gave me comfort this operation was being well run and that the funds would be going to a good cause.”
For Stern, success in the initiative is less about metrics than knowing that the funds provided by his foundation would deliver flexibility to do whatever is needed to help those desperate to escape the Taliban regime.
“I wanted to do what I could so that funding was not an impediment to helping the many Afghan friends of Canada,” he explains. “Will I know the degree to which my donation helped? No, because it’s a contribution to a larger cause. But I know that I’ll have helped families get to a safer country that would otherwise not have been able to do that if not for the funding provided by me and others.”
His focus now is raising awareness and encouraging his fellow philanthropists to consider supporting organizations such as VTN, which are working hard to make a difference in Afghanistan.
“This is a project that would be supported much more strongly if people knew about it. One of the main reasons funding is still an issue is awareness. I hope we can change that.”
The Canada Gives team
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