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Our Founders and Co-Presidents

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.

The Rt. Hon. Michaëlle Jean is the Co-Founder and Co-President of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation (FMJF). Born of her desire to see underserved young people empowered to take action for change in their communities, the Foundation sees Mme Jean collaborating actively with her husband, the filmmaker and philosopher Jean-Daniel Lafond, to support creative youth and arts initiatives for social change across Canada.

Madame Jean’s life began in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she lived under the brutal regime of Dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. At the age of 11, she was forced to flee Haiti with her family, and she arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1968.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and Hispanic languages and literature at the University of Montréal, she pursued her master’s studies in comparative literature and taught at the university’s Faculty of Italian Studies. She is fluent in five languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, Creole and fluently reads Portuguese.

During her studies, Ms. Jean worked for 10 years with Quebec shelters for battered women, actively contributing to the establishment of a network of emergency shelters throughout Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. She later became a highly regarded journalist and anchor of information programs at Radio-Canada and CBC. She also took part in three award-winning documentary films produced by her husband, filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond. The couple has a daughter, Marie-Éden.

On September 27, 2005, Mme Jean was sworn in as 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada. During her time in office, Madame Jean made youth a priority of her mandate and transformed the institution she occupied into a meeting place where dialogue prevailed and citizen voices were heard. A fervent practitioner of “cultural diplomacy,” she led forty missions and State visits abroad in Afghanistan, in China, in ten African countries, in nine countries in the Americas, and ten European countries.

Mme Jean is a Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and has won numerous awards, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Canada Award; the National Quality Institute’s Board of Governors Recognition Achievement Award; Prix Anik for best information reporting in Canada; and the inaugural Amnesty International Canada Journalism Award. The Assemblée internationale des parlementaires de langue française bestowed upon her the Ordre des Chevaliers de La Pléiade. In addition, the Universities Fighting World Hunger international network oversees the new Michaëlle Jean Award

Besides her role as President of FMJF, Mme Jean is very involved in the reconstruction of her country of birth, as UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti. She is also Chancellor of the University of Ottawa, President of the Institut québécois des hautes études internationales of the University of Laval as well as a Board member of the Toronto Luminato Festival.

Jean-Daniel Lafond, C.C., R.C.A.

Jean-Daniel Lafond is the Co-Founder and Co-President of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation (FMJF). As a prolific filmmaker and philosopher, his conviction that the arts and culture are “weapons of mass construction” drive the Foundation’s commitment to empowering underserved youth to use the arts to tackle social issues.

Jean-Daniel Lafond was born in France at the end of the Second World War. At a very early age, he discovered his first passion – the theatre, cinema and writing – while attending school. He performed on stage on a regular basis until 1971, and again in June 2000.

After studying literature and philosophy, Mr. Lafond taught philosophy from 1966 to 1971, while pursuing research in communications, pedagogy, audio-visual training, the semiotics of imagery and the social role of cinema. He worked closely with the research branches of the Service de radiodiffusion télévision française, the Institut National de la Recherche Pédagogique and the Atelier de Création Radiophonique de Radio-France.

Between 1974 and 1979, he shared his time and work between France and Canada, where he became a visiting professor and researcher in education sciences at the University of Montreal. In the early 1980s, he left academia to dedicate himself entirely to filmmaking, radio and writing. At the National Film Board, he directed and produced several award winning documentary films. In addition to film, he has developed a body of original works for radio (for France-Culture and for Radio-Canada), has authored many books, and was a regular guest contributor on the radio program Indicatif Présent on Radio-Canada.

Mr. Lafond’s career has earned him several honors, including two Gemini Awards (Best Director, Best Picture), the prix Lumières (for all his work) of the Quebec Association of Directors, the TV5 for Best French-Language Documentary , and a Hot Docs Award in Toronto for best political film. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and was elected in 2009 as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art (RCA).

Mr. Lafond is married to the Rt. Hon. Michaëlle Jean and they have a daughter, Marie-Eden.

Upon the installation of Mme Jean as 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, he directed his passion and ideas towards the institution of the governor general and to the Canadian people. There, he established Art Matters, a series of forums, providing exciting opportunities to bring together laureates, artists, academics, administrators and members of the public to observe and discuss the challenges related to culture in our society. Fifty such forums were held across Canada, in Europe, Brazil and Africa. He also created Citizen Voices, an innovative website, where citizens of Canada and around the world participated in a broad, very constructive dialogue on the place and power of the arts in society and in democratic life.