WE Charity

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WE Charity
WE Charity logo.svg
MottoMaking doing good, doable.
TypeInternational charity and educational partner
HeadquartersToronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Work in less developed nations
Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger

WE Charity, formerly known as Free The Children, is an international development charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger.[1] The organization has development programs in nine countries, focusing on education, water, health, food and economic opportunity.[2] It also runs domestic programming for young people in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. for service learning and active citizenship with the aim of empowering youth to become socially engaged.[3][4][5][6]

This includes WE Day, a series of large-scale motivational events held in 17 cities throughout the school year.

Charity Intelligence Canada awarded WE Charity its highest four-star rating for public reporting and results.[7]

On August 4, 2017, WE Charity became the first recipient of the newly-established Good Housekeeping Humanitarian Seal.[8]

In November 2018, MoneySense rated WE Charity among the 100 Top-Rated Charities in Canada, awarding it A+ grades in Fundraising Efficiency and Charity Efficiency in the category of International Aid organizations.[9]

The organization promotes a philosophy of socially conscious living, embodied in the phrase "Me to WE" – the title of a 2004 book by Craig and Marc Kielburger.[10] That idea of "we" has been reflected through the organization's programs such as its WE Day events, launched in 2007,[11] leading up to an updated branding of "WE Charity" from early 2015.


Craig Kielburger, age 12, on his first trip to South America
Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, where Kielburger attended school and the charity's early base of operations.

WE Charity (formerly Free The Children) was founded in 1995 by Craig Kielburger when he was 12 years old. Craig was reading through the Toronto Star newspaper before school one day when he came across an article about the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih, a former child factory worker, who had spoken out against child labour.[12][13][14]

Soon after, Kielburger established Free The Children with a group of his 12-year-old classmates. The organization was formed to raise awareness in North America about child labour and to encourage other children to get involved in the issue.[15] Karen J. Ho wrote in Toronto Life that Kielburger "pretty much ran his charity, Free the Children, from the halls of Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School".[16]

One of the group's first actions was to collect 3,000 signatures on a petition to the prime minister of India, calling for the release of imprisoned child labour activist Kailash Satyarthi,[17] who went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.[18] The petition was sent in a shoe box wrapped in brown paper. On his eventual release, Satyarthi said, "It was one of the most powerful action taken on my behalf, and for me, definitely the most memorable."[17]

Shortly afterward, Kielburger spoke at the convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, where union representatives pledged $150,000 for a children's rehabilitation centre in India. The Bal Ashram centre was built by Satyarthi.[19]

In December 1995, Kielburger embarked on an eight-week tour of South Asia to meet child labourers and hear their stories first-hand. It was on that trip that Kielburger had a meeting with then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in which Kielburger convinced Chrétien to take a public stand against child slavery.[6]

In 1999, at the age of 16, Craig Kielburger wrote Free the Children, a book detailing his trip to South Asia four years earlier and the founding of his charity.[20] The book was re-released in 2007 with Me to We Books.[21]

In 2007, at age 25, Craig Kielburger received the Order of Canada.[22] Marc Kielburger received the Order of Canada in 2010.[23]

In 2008, EY and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, presented the Social Entrepreneur Of The Year award in Canada to the Kielburgers for their work with Free The Children.[24]

As stated on the charity's website, its goals are to "empower young people to remove barriers that prevent them from being active local and global citizens."[25]

In September 2017, WE Charity moved to a new headquarters in downtown Toronto, Canada. Named the “WE Global Learning Centre”, it provides office space for staff and features technology-enabled facilities for use by public groups such as educators, school groups, and youth wishing to start non-profits or social enterprises.[26] The official opening of the WE Global Learning Centre on September 27, 2017 was attended by international figures including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and actor and activist Mia Farrow.[27] The Centre functions as a state-of-the-art office complete with an 'empatheatre' that seats 200, full broadcast studio, and an open concept/interactive design featuring Canadian-made furniture throughout the space. WE Charity is also looking to integrate its new headquarters into the Toronto Corktown community by offering programming and outreach projects to residents.[28]

In December 2018 We Charity proposed a 41,000-square-foot WE Social Entrepreneurship Centre to be constructed next to its Global Learning Centre. The new centre will allow the organization to expand its support of early-stage enterprises led by young people aged 18–35.[29]

International programs[edit]

WE Charity implements development projects through its "WE Villages" program,[30] formerly known as "Adopt a Village".[31] The organization is active in rural China, Kenya,[31] Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Haiti, India, Ethiopia and Ecuador. The WE Villages program is made up of five pillars: education, clean water and sanitation, health, opportunity, and food. These projects are designed to address the root causes of poverty and remove the barriers to children's education.[32]

Domestic programs[edit]

WE Charity works with schools and families in Canada, the United States, and the U.K. Its overarching program is called WE Schools, a year-long service-learning program. The program includes a team of Youth Programming Coordinators who mentor school and community youth groups; curriculum resources for elementary, middle, and high school classrooms; online resources; service campaigns; action kits; professional development sessions for teachers and motivational speaking tours and workshops.[33]

A third party evaluation conducted by social impact measurement firm Mission Measurement found that youth participants in WE Charity programs are more interested and successful in school, more likely to vote, better working in teams, better role models to peers and siblings, better prepared for college and careers, and more confident in their ability to graduate from high school.[34]

Charity Intelligence Canada reports that during the 2016-2017 school year, youth involved in the WE Schools program supported 7,221 organizations, collected 2,555,483 pounds of food, raised $24.2m, and volunteered for 8,837,826 hours. A survey on Canadian and American teachers in the program showed that 92% of teachers report that their students feel a stronger connection to their local community and 89% report that their students are more likely to stand up for others who are discriminated against.[35]

Indigenous programs[edit]

The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative and WE Charity together run the "WE Stand Together" campaign. Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada, wrote in the Globe & Mail that the campaign "generates dialogue for students to share with their family and friends about the history, cultures and traditions of aboriginal Canada." More than 400 schools across Canada were involved in 2012, with the goal of emphasizing Canadian aboriginal history, such as the life Tecumseh in classrooms in Canada.[36]

WE Day[edit]

WE Charity founders Marc and Craig Kielburger at WE Day 2008.

WE Charity holds an annual series of stadium-sized youth empowerment events called "WE Day", bringing together tens of thousands of students and educators as part of the yearlong educational initiative of WE Schools. WE Day has featured notable speakers, such as Al Gore, Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King III,[37] Kofi Anan,[38] Prince Harry and Meghan Markle [39] and performers, such as Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Lilly Singh[40], Jennifer Hudson, Liam Payne, Iskra Lawrence, Naomi Campbell [41]and Nelly Furtado.[42] Tickets are not purchased, but are instead earned by students through service in a local or a global cause. The first WE Day was staged in Toronto in October 2007. The program has since expanded into 17 cities, including London, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles.[43]


WE Charity's funding comes from several sources. In classrooms and youth groups across North America and the UK, young people fundraise for WE Villages through independent fundraising campaigns or WE Charity's organized campaigns.[44] A portion of WE Charity's funding also comes from independent adult supporters, grants and corporate groups. A final portion of the organization's funding comes from the social enterprise Me to We, a business with a social mission: to donate half of its net profits to Free The Children[45][not in citation given] and to provide consumers with socially-conscious products and experiences.[46] The ME to WE website lists its cash and in-kind contributions to Free The Children at over $5 million since 2009.[45][not in citation given] The Board of Directors, who drive much of the corporate funding, consists of dozens of industry leaders. The Board Chairperson is Michelle Douglas.[47] According to Free The Children's website, its administration costs are 10 per cent of total revenues and on average, 90% of donations support its programming.[48]

Celebrity ambassadors[edit]

Corporate partners[edit]

WE Charity's website lists the following companies as founding partners:[50]


  1. ^ "Craig and Marc Kielburger believe changing the world is possible". theglobeandmail.com.
  2. ^ "WE Charity". www.charityintelligence.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  3. ^ "Home - Faculty of Education - University of Alberta". Uofaweb.ualberta.ca. Archived from the original on 2009-05-05. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  4. ^ "Free The Children, Canada | School Chain Showcase - The Fraser Institute". Schoolchains.org. 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
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  8. ^ "The Good Housekeeping Humanitarian Seal". Good Housekeeping. 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  9. ^ "Canada's top-rated charities 2019 - Macleans.ca". www.macleans.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  10. ^ Kielburger, Craig & Marc (2004). Me to We: Turning Self-Help On Its Head. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0470835109.
  11. ^ Irish, Paul. "Rallying to spark change," Toronto Star. Oct. 16, 2008 https://www.thestar.com/SpecialSections/article/517384
  12. ^ "Iqbal Masih and Craig Kielburger: children against child labour". Newint.org. 2000-11-19. Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  13. ^ "thefreeelibrary.com". thefreeelibrary.com. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  14. ^ http://dbase.freethechildren.com/news/1999/Guideposts_November_1999.pdf
  15. ^ http://dbase.freethechildren.com/news/1998/New_Design_Article_Fall_1998.pdf
  16. ^ Ho, Karen K. (22 July 2015). "Jennifer Pan's Revenge: The inside story of a golden child, the killers she hired, and the parents she wanted dead". Toronto Life. Retrieved 9 January 2017. - Version in Simplified Chinese
  17. ^ a b Rysavy, Tracy. "Free the Children: the Story of Craig Kielburger". yesmagazine.org.
  18. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 - Press Release". nobelprize.org.
  19. ^ Kovacs, Jacqueline. "Free the Children celebrates its 20th birthday - Canadian Living". canadianliving.com.
  20. ^ "Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves That Children Can Change the World: Amazon.ca: Craig Kielburger, Kevin Major: Books". Amazon.ca. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
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  22. ^ "Order of Canada recipients | The Star". thestar.com. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  23. ^ "Craig and Marc Kielburger in pictures". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  24. ^ "Social Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 Winner Canada".
  25. ^ "About Us". Free The Children. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
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  27. ^ Canada, HELLO!. "WE opens its doors to their Global Learning Centre in Toronto | HELLO! Canada". ca.hellomagazine.com. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  28. ^ "This might be Toronto's nicest new office space". www.blogto.com. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  29. ^ "Toronto-based charity WE planning major downtown expansion with entrepreneurship centre | The Star". thestar.com. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  30. ^ "MM Blog - Mission Measurement". missionmeasurement.com.
  31. ^ a b "Newspaper". Strathroyagedispatch.com. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  32. ^ "Free The Children, Canadá | School Chain Showcase - The Fraser Institute". Schoolchains.org. 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  33. ^ http://www.freethechildren.com/whatwedo/local/youthengagement
  34. ^ "Free The Children: An Organization that Drives Significant Impact on Youth - Mission Measurement". missionmeasurement.com. 28 July 2015.
  35. ^ "WE Charity". www.charityintelligence.ca. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  36. ^ "Who will be the next Tecumseh?". Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  37. ^ "We Day 2013 Toronto: Martin Luther King III, Chris Hadfield, Jonas Brothers Celebrate Youth Activism (PHOTOS)". HuffPost Canada. 2013-09-20. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  38. ^ "Empowering young global citizens at "We Day"". Kofi Annan Foundation. 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  39. ^ "Meghan Markle Surprises A WE Day Crowd After Prince Harry's Speech". HuffPost Canada. 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  40. ^ Friend, David (2018-11-13). "'Superwoman' star Lilly Singh joins creators taking a break from YouTube". CP24. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  41. ^ Colvin, Caroline. "Harry "Dragged" Meghan On Stage, But Their Body Language Is Actually Heartwarming". Elite Daily. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  42. ^ http://www.weday.com/we-day-events/speakers-and-performers/
  43. ^ "Kelowna high school students changing the world one good deed at a time - Okanagan | Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 2018-12-11. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  44. ^ "Free The Children Mount Allison Vow of Silence — March 1 - Canadian University Press Releases". Canadian-universities.net. 2006-02-22. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  45. ^ a b "About Us - ME to WE". metowe.com.
  46. ^ http://www.metowe.com/message
  47. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2014-01-22.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  48. ^ http://www.freethechildren.com/about-us/financials/effective-use-of-funds/
  49. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Celebrity Ambassadors - WE". WE. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  50. ^ "Corporate Partners". WE Charity. Retrieved 2019-01-07.

External links[edit]