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Meet Katherine Hay, President & CEO of Kids Help Phone.

2021 Social Change Award Winner: National Impact

As President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, Katherine (Kathy) Hay drives the strategic direction, innovation imperative and culture of Canada’s only national, 24/7 bilingual e-mental health service for young people. In 2020, Kids Help Phone’s team of counsellors and crisis responders made over 4.6 million connections with youth in every province and territory — with an ever-growing mandate to always be there for youth when, where, and how they need mental health support. Prior to joining Kids Help Phone, Kathy was President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation where she advanced the health of women across Canada and achieved record levels of support.


My first job ever was… Looking back, my first job was washing cars in a car wash bay at my dad’s car dealership. First job outside of school, however, was as a bank teller at CIBC. 

I chose my career path because… My career has definitely not been a linear one. I knew that I wanted to work with people, while making a difference. As I moved from the world of banking to the not-for-profit sector, I felt more gratified by raising $1,000, than by closing a million dollar deal. The not-for-profit sector has truly created awareness of the impact of my actions. You don’t necessarily know the change or who you are directly impacting, but you have to believe in it. 

When starting out, I wish I knewThat it isn’t all black and white or linear. Some of the richest experiences are on the edges of the ebbs and flows and curves of your career path.

The part of my role that I love the most is… That I am able to help shape and shift the landscape of mental health in Canada while supporting the courageous heroes on the frontlines.

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… Grasping how complex a not-for-profit is. While it may not look so, you can get mired down in its complexity.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Most obvious: The most important things in my life are my two children, my grandson and my family.

Least obvious: That I did not receive my university degree until 15 years after leaving university and that it was completed through distance education while living in Brazil.

My best advice from a mentor was… As you are leading an organization, it should not be black and white. There should be a time every single day where you put your head in your hands and say you don’t know what you are doing – then you put your head up and keep leading. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… Strategy dictates and that people are your best asset, so take care of them.

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… The not-for-profit world is highly innovative and manages to do so on a shoestring budget. We do this because we need to change the landscape of the world. For example Kids Help Phone is the first and remains the only not-for-profit using AI machine learning to triage suicidality in our texting service, ensuring a person at risk gets crisis response within 40 seconds.

I stay inspired by… Spending time with our frontlines and hearing the stories from the young people on the frontlines who need us the most.