By Hugh Holland
ME to WE (formerly Free the Children) is a for-profit social enterprise that seeks to inspire young people to think less about ME, and more about WE—a concept that is sorely needed in today’s world of social media.
It raises funds by selling socially conscious retail items, offers leadership training to young people, and organizes volunteer working trips to developing countries where young people can do hands-on projects while observing conditions first-hand; like a Rotary Club for high school students.
Our grandchildren have been involved in inspiring ME to WE activities at their schools and my wife and I attended and supported an inspiring ME to WE fundraiser put on by students at Huntsville High School.
Craig Kielburger, raised in Thornhill, Ontario is the second son of two teachers, Fred and Theresa Kielburger. In 1995, 12-year-old Craig read a newspaper article about the murder of 12-year-old Iqbal Masih, a formerly enslaved Pakistani boy who became an activist against child labour following his escape from a forced labour camp. Craig was struck by the fact that the main difference between he and Iqbal Masih was where they were born. Craig learned that Masih’s story was just one example of child labour and was so moved by the widespread systemic injustice that he rallied some of his classmates to launch Free the Children, a youth-led advocacy group that sought to draw attention to child labour.
Their parents took Craig and brother Marc on a six-week trip to several developing countries where they observed child labour first-hand. Craig attended the University of Toronto’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. He was the youngest to ever graduate from the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program at York University. Brother Marc graduated from Harvard and Oxford Universities.
In 2008, 26-year-old Craig and 31-year-old Marc Kielburger founded the WE Charity. From 2014 to 2017, Me to We donated roughly 85 percent of its profits to the We Charity. The remainder was reinvested to expand the company and pay fair wages to the farmers and artisans it employs in South America and Africa. Me to We donated $1.1 million to We Charity in 2016 and $1.5 million in 2017. How does that contrast with 36-year-old billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose organization has permitted the posting of divisive, hate-filled comments that have caused riots and suicides? Craig Kielburger has been interviewed on 60 Minutes and is a recipient of the Order of Canada.
Unfortunately, this extraordinary and much-needed organization called ME to WE has recently become embroiled in an awkward situation. The coronavirus pandemic meant that finding needed summer jobs would be impossible for many young people. Government staffs were scrambling 24/7 to distribute emergency relief funds to many sectors and recommended the We Charity as a good fit, with capacity to manage a program in which students could receive some pay for otherwise volunteer activities.
Having a few other things on their minds at the time, such as dealing with the pandemic, China, and Trump, the staff and prime minister accepted that recommendation too quickly. In hindsight that was a mistake, given that some members of Trudeau’s family had been involved in and been paid for doing some work for the We Charity. While neither Trudeau nor his family stand to derive any benefit from the proposed arrangement, the optics are less than ideal. Unfortunately, opposition parties are trying to make the most of the situation for political purposes, since they themselves have little else to offer.
I am sure Trudeau regrets accepting that recommendation too quickly, but this must not be allowed to distract our government from all the other critical things it needs to do in this complicated and unprecedented period of time. This is child’s play compared to the daily acts of dishonesty and immorality that apparently a president south of the border can get away with.
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