Photo taken by Cajun Paradis.
This week, I had the honour of attending a fundraiser celebrating the 3-year anniversary of Charlie’s Foundation. The Canadian and Dominican non-profit organization was founded in 2015 and teaches Dominican youth the English language through common education practices as well as sports, with the intention of improving the future career opportunities for its students. Did you know that a standard Dominican wage is $6 per day, whereas English-speaking locals have the potential to earn up to $30 an hour?
The evening was flawless from beginning to end. Hosted at Le Salon Richmond, the Redefine Success Fundraiser brought together a wonderful crowd to support an amazing cause. Sponsor Judith & Charles invited special guest, Arlene Dickinson, who you might recognize from Dragon’s Den, to talk about what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and the importance of giving back. I had the opportunity to interview Ali Le Pierrès, Vice President of Charlie’s Foundation and the pleasure of speaking with Arlene. Continue reading to learn more about Ali’s journey as an entrepreneur and stay tuned for part two of this series where I share my key learnings from marketing maven, Arlene Dickinson.
Interview with Ali Le Pierrès
Q: A lot of people I know have spoken about their desire to start a non-profit organization but don’t know where or how to begin. What has been one of the greatest challenges in starting Charlie’s Foundation?
A: Getting used to the regulations, the laws, and the "way things work" in the Dominican Republic.
Q: Like any business, having short, mid and long term goals is critical when planning for success. Did your 3 year projection go as planned? If so, how did you keep it on course. If not, what changed and how did you reroute?
A: When we opened the foundation we were catering to children between the ages of 5 and 12. We knew from the start however, that we would have to expand our program, since our ultimate goal is for our students to find employment. As planned, we have started a new program for children over the age of 13.
Since these students did not start in the program at the age of 5, they have not yet mastered the language, and thus, we are still centering their classes around English as a second language. Each year, however, as our students get older, we develop the program a bit more, to include skills apart from English that will prepare them for the workplace. As of January, we will have a curriculum built for this group focusing on soft skills.
Q: What are some of the core strengths required to run a non-profit, or any business for that matter?
A: Complete, non-negotiable passion for what you are doing; that's what keeps you going.
Q: You mentioned you have deep respect for the culture of the Dominican people. What about their culture do you think Westerners could learn and benefit from?
A: Enjoy life: regardless of what you have, or what you do not have, there is always something you can smile, dance, or laugh about.
Learn what keeps the Dominican culture smiling, dancing and laughing in the short documentary produced by Charlie’s Foundation.
Q: How do you and the students of Charlie's Foundation define success?
A: Ultimately, we want to see our students successfully becoming employed thanks to the skills they will have learned at Charlie's Foundation. Right now, our oldest students are still only 14 years old, so, when we walk into Charlie's Foundation, we see success by seeing confident, happy, and engaged students who attend their classes each day (and often sit outside for hours either before or after class because they love being around the foundation so much).
We can see that the children are learning English because now you can tell them a set of instructions entirely in English and they'll do exactly what you have said. Each time we go visit, there are a few more students who have "crossed the confidence bridge" and are willing to speak to us in English. We all know it's one thing to understand a language but another to take that leap of faith and try to speak it in public.
For the students who are 13+, success is seen by them still attending the foundation and actively working towards a successful future for themselves. Most teenagers in La Ciénaga are out on the streets (since school is only 3 hours per day) with nothing to do. This leads to a lot of teenage pregnancy and drug use. When our 13+ students ask to volunteer at our summer camp all summer because "it will help them get a job in the future", that is when we feel success.
Currently, Charlie’s Foundation teaches English and Tennis to approximately 150 children who live in La Ciénaga, Cabarete. In time, the organization hopes to turn its program into a Career Readiness and Vocational Training program. The Redefine Success Fundraiser raised an impressive $150,000 on Thursday evening, which will allow Ali to get computers for her students and further position them for success.
Stay tuned for part two of this series for my takeaways from Arlene Dickinson.