Free the Children

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Free the Children
Free The Children Logo.png
Current Free the Children logo.
Motto Be The Change
Formation 1995
Type International charity and educational partner
Headquarters Toronto, Canada
  • Work in less developed nations
Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger

Free the Children is an international charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 by human rights advocates Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger.[1] The organization focuses on young people, with programs in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. for service learning and active citizenship, and international development projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America focused on children and education.[2][3] The organization runs programs in approximately 8000 schools in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. for service learning and active citizenship, with the aim of empowering youth to become socially engaged.[4][5][6][7] The domestic youth empowerment work is funded by corporate sponsors and profits from the social enterprise, Me to We.[8] In 2013, Charity Intelligence Canada awarded Free The Children its highest four-star rating, along with an A for the organization's reporting of its "social results".[9]


Craig Kielburger, age 12, on his first trip to South Asia.

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 called Iqbal Masih, a former child factory worker, who had spoken out against child labour.[10][11][12]

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.[13]

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,[14] who went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.[15] 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 actions taken on my behalf, and for me, definitely the most memorable.”[16]

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 Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.[17]

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 captured the attention of the media in North America, mainly because of a high-profile meeting between Kielburger and then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. While in Asia, Kielburger convinced Chretien to meet with him to challenge the Prime Minister to take a stand against child slavery. [18]

In 1999, at the age of 16, Craig Kielburger wrote Free the Children, a book detailing his journey to South Asia four years earlier and the founding of his charity.[19] The book was re-released in 2007 with Me to We Books.[20]

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 Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger for their work with Free The Children.[21]

The original logo of Free the Children

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."[22]

International development work[edit]

Free the Children implements its development projects through its "We Villages" program,[23] formerly known as "Adopt a Village",[24] in rural China, Nicaragua,[25] Kenya,[24] Sierra Leone, Haiti, India, and Ecuador. The program is made up of five pillars: education, clean water and sanitation, health, alternative income and livelihood, and agriculture and food security. The fifth pillar, agriculture and food security, was announced by Free the Children in 2012.[26] Among its other projects, Adopt a Village builds schools and water wells, provides medical treatment and helps create alternative income programs for people in developing communities.[27] These projects are designed to address the root causes of poverty and remove the barriers to children’s education in the developing world.[28]

In 2008, Free the Children celebrated the construction of its 500th school.[4] In 2010, the organization updated its website to show that it has now built 650 schools and school rooms which educate 55,000 children a day.[29]

Today, Free the Children has built more than 650 schools and school rooms in developing regions worldwide, and it has established offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, London (England), and Palo Alto (California).[30][31]

Youth empowerment work[edit]

Free the Children works with schools and families in Canada, the United States, and the U.K. "to educate, engage and empower young people as agents of change." It does so through its overarching program called We Act, a year-long service-learning program launched by We Day. 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.[32]

A third party evaluation found that youth participants in Free The Children 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.[33]

We Stand Together[edit]

The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative and Free The Children 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.”[34] 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.[35]

We Day[edit]

Main article: We Day
Free the Children founders Marc and Craig Kielburger at We Day 2008.

Free the Children holds an annual series of an events called We Day. A stadium-sized event, We Day brings together tens of thousands of youth in an inspirational event as part of the yearlong educational initiative of We Act. We Day features notable speakers, such as Al Gore, the Elie Wiesel, and performers, such as Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson and Nelly Furtado.[36] Attended by thousands of students, tickets are not purchased, but instead are given to students who earn their tickets through service in a local or a global cause. The first We Day was staged in Toronto in October 2007. It has expanded to into 13 other cities, including London, Chicago, Seattle, San Jose and Illinois.[37]


Free the Children’s funding comes from young people.[38] In classrooms and youth groups across North America and the UK, young people fundraise for Adopt a Village through independent fundraising campaigns or Free The Children’s organized campaigns.[39] A portion of Free the Children’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[40] and to provide consumers with socially conscious products and experiences.[41] The Me to We website lists its cash and in-kind contributions to Free the Children at over $5 million since 2009.[42] The Board of Directors, who drive much of the corporate funding, consists of dozens of industry leaders. The Board Chairwoman is Michelle Douglas.[43] 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.[44]

Celebrity ambassadors[edit]

Corporate partners[edit]


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  4. ^ a b "Home - Faculty of Education - University of Alberta". Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  5. ^ "Free The Children, Canada | School Chain Showcase - The Fraser Institute". 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  6. ^ "Financials". Retrieved 2013-03-07. 
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  8. ^ "Yorkdale Me to We pop-up offers one-stop Christmas shopping". 
  9. ^ "Charity Intelligence Canada - Free the Children". 
  10. ^ "Iqbal Masih and Craig Kielburger: children against child labour". 2000-11-19. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  11. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
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  20. ^ "Me to We". Me to We. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  21. ^ "Social Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 Winner Canada". 
  22. ^ "About Us". Free The Children. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
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  24. ^ a b "Newspaper". Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  25. ^ "Nakheel donates Dh7m to Free the Children cause". gulfnews. 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  26. ^ "Agriculture and Food Security". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  27. ^ "Free the Children". Razoo. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  28. ^ "Free The Children, Canadá | School Chain Showcase - The Fraser Institute". 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  29. ^ "Free The Children = Adopt a Village". Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  30. ^ "Accueil". Enfants Entraide. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  31. ^ "Free the Children opens office, holds rally". Palo Alto Online. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
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  34. ^ "Who will be the next Tecumseh?". 
  35. ^ "Who will be the next Tecumseh?". 
  36. ^
  37. ^ "Selena Gomez and Jennifer Hudson rock head-to-toe black outfits for We Day Illinois children's event". Daily Mail. Retrieved 17 August 2015. 
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  39. ^ "Free The Children Mount Allison Vow of Silence — March 1 - Canadian University Press Releases". 2006-02-22. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  40. ^ [1]
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  42. ^ [3][dead link]
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