We Charity

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We Charity (stylized as 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 implements development programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America, 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., promoting service learning and active citizenship.[3]

We Charity
WE Charity logo.svg
TypeInternational charity and educational partner
HeadquartersToronto, Ontario, Canada
Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger

We Charity is related to other ventures from the Kielburgers, including the for-profit Me to We, which was the title of a 2004 book by Craig and Marc Kielburger,[4] and We Day, a series of large-scale motivational events held in 17 cities throughout the school year.

The organization has received high ratings from independent third-party charitable sector evaluators including Charity Navigator,[1] Charity Intelligence Canada,[2] and GuideStar.[5] The charity was selected by the federal government in 2020 for a $19.5 million contract to oversee $900 million for the Canada Student Service Grant, but the decision was reversed after close ties between the organization and the Trudeau family were called into question.[6]


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. Kielburger was reading through the Toronto Star 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 in Pakistan’s carpet trade who had spoken out against child labour[7] and received death threats for his activism.[8] According to Masih’s account, he was sold by his parents to a factory age the age of 4 and worked there until he was 10, much of the time shackled to a loom.[9] After the murder of Masih led to an international outcry, Pakistani police said that the killing was not connected to his anti-child labour activism.[9]

One of the Free the Children'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.[10] The petition was sent in a shoe box wrapped in brown paper.[10] Satyarthi was eventually released. After he was freed, Satyarthi said, "It was one of the most powerful actions taken on my behalf, and for me, definitely the most memorable."[10] Shortly afterward, Kielburger spoke at the convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, where union representatives pledged $150,000 for a rehabilitation centre in India. The Bal Ashram centre was built by Satyarthi.[11]

In December 1995, Kielburger embarked on an eight-week tour of South Asia to meet child labourers and hear their stories first-hand.[12] 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.[12] In 1999, he wrote Free the Children, a book detailing his trip to South Asia and the founding of his charity.[13]

Free the Children initially fundraised for organizations that raided factories and freed children from forced labour situations. When it became clear that the rescued children were being resold by their impoverished families, the organization changed its approach and started building schools in Nicaragua, Kenya, Ecuador and India.[3] The organization later evolved an international development model with projects related to education, water, health care, food security and income generation.[14]

In 2007, at age 25, Craig Kielburger was inducted into the Order of Canada.[15] the second-youngest Canadian ever to receive the honour. His brother Marc Kielburger was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2010.[16] Ernst & Young and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, presented the 2008 Social Entrepreneur Of The Year award in Canada to the Kielburgers for their work with Free the Children.[17]

Free the Children rebranded as WE Charity in 2016.[18] The charity runs domestic programs for young people in Canada, the US and the UK, and international development programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.[2] In September 2017, the organization moved to a new headquarters in downtown Toronto, named "WE Global Learning Centre".[19] The Centre features a theatre, broadcast studio, and an open concept design.[20] The official opening on September 27, 2017 was attended by international figures including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and actor and activist Mia Farrow.[21]



Students take part in activities such as food and clothing drives for the homeless,[22] anti-bullying campaigns,[22] and fundraisers to build water projects,[23] and schools[24] in countries where WE Charity works, including Kenya, India, and Ecuador. They also raise money for other organizations and causes, such as children's hospitals, the Terry Fox Run9, and women's shelters.[25]

We Charity partners with the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative to deliver the "We Stand Together" campaign, promoted as strengthening ties between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada by emphasizing Canadian Indigenous history in classrooms.[26]

In August 2019, the federal government announced that it was giving $3 million to WE Social Entrepreneurs initiative, aiming to create 200 "youth-led enterprises" that address social issues at a community level.[27][28]


In July 2019, the organization opened its first WE College in Narok County, Kenya. It offered a range of courses to girls of Maasai Mara community.[29] Notable attendees of the opening ceremony included former Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell, First Lady of Kenya Margaret Kenyatta, and Margaret Trudeau.[29]

WE DayEdit

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 WE Schools service learning program. WE Day has featured notable speakers, such as Al Gore, Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King III,[30] Kofi Annan,[31] Prince Harry and Meghan Markle[32] and performers, such as Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Lilly Singh,[33] Jennifer Hudson, Liam Payne, Iskra Lawrence, and Naomi Campbell.[34] 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.[35]

Governance and financialsEdit

WE Charity is governed by separate Boards of Directors in Canada, the US and UK. The Canadian Board Chairwoman was Michelle Douglas, a Canadian human rights activist.[36] She resigned in March 2020, at the same time as many other board members.[37] Board members are drawn from government, academia, business, media and charitable sectors.[38]

Work cultureEdit

Some former employees and volunteers of We Charity have criticized the way they were treated at the organization.[39] Former employees have been prevented from speaking about the organization because of non-disclosure agreements and described being in a culture of fear when challenging internal decisions.[39] In June 2020, Amanda Maitland, a former We Charity employee, said a speech she wrote for a We Schools tour in 2019 about her experiences as a black woman was edited without her approval by a group of mostly white staff members.[39] Maitland said when she tried a few months later to speak up a staff meeting about problems within the organization, she was "aggressively" shut down by Marc Kielburger.[39] In July 2020, Marc and Craig Kielburger apologized "unreservedly" to Maitland on their personal Instagram accounts.[39] The Kielburgers said the editing of Maitland's speech "simply should not have happened."[39] A petition that circulated in July 2020 called on We Charity to take specific anti-racist measures.[39] WE Charity said in a statement to CBC News that it "stands firmly for inclusion, diversity and the equitable, open treatment of all."[39]

Federal government contractsEdit

The charity received $120,000 in at least five federal government contracts and $5.2 million in grants and contributions under the Justin Trudeau government from 2017 to 2020.[40] In 2020, the federal cabinet selected WE to administer a payment program for the Canada Student Service Grant program, a $900 million volunteer program, for a contract worth $19.5 million.[37][41] The decision raised questions about the charity's ties to the Trudeau family and why the federal public service could not administer the funds as part of their regular mandate. Conservative MP Dan Albas raised concerns about accountability, stating that the private charity could not be audited by the Auditor General of Canada.[42] Co-founder of Democracy Watch Duff Conacher expressed concerns over the relatively sudden and large amount of funding for an organization for which the Prime Minister's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was a high-ranking volunteer. Volunteer Canada, a national volunteer group, rejected the fund saying that it would pay volunteers less than minimum wage and would be against the law. The organization's CEO called the program a way to hire students at a discount rate while calling the program a "grant."[43] The charity itself offered 450 virtual volunteering positions as part of the program, further raising concerns of a conflict of interest.[44]

Prime Minister Trudeau defended the government's initial decision to have WE Charity administer the program, saying that the organization's networks across the country made it the right choice and WE Charity itself would not profit from the contract.[37] On July 3, 2020, Liberal Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger, announced that WE Charity would no longer be administering the Canada Student Service Grant program, per a "mutually agreed upon decision" between the organization and the federal government,[45][46] and that WE Charity would return any funds that had been received.[45] While it was initially characterized as a mutual decision, Trudeau later said that it was a decision made by WE that the government supported.[47] In a statement, WE founders Craig and Marc Kielburger confirmed that the decision to cancel the contract was mutual between their organization and the federal government, saying that while they regretted the controversy that threatened to overshadow the program's intent, they felt the government had entered into the contract in good faith, and that they "wish the program all the best of continued success."[48]

On July 3, 2020, the Ethics Commissioner announced an investigation into Trudeau and the decision to have WE Charity administer the summer student grant program.[49][50] Later it was revealed that Trudeau's mother Margaret and brother Alexandre received $250,000 and $32,000, respectively, for speaking at WE events between 2016 and 2020.[51] Two of the daughters of Minister of Finance Bill Morneau were also found to have worked for the charity, one in a paid contract position, and the other as an unpaid volunteer; Morneau did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision for the contract.[52] These developments have thrown Justin Trudeau into an evolving political scandal.


  1. ^ a b "Doubt cast over Trudeau's assertion that only WE Charity can run $900M student grant program". Yahoo News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 July 2020. WE Charity, which was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995
  2. ^ a b c "WE Charity". www.charityintelligence.ca. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  3. ^ a b April 25, rew Duffy Updated; 2015 (2015-04-25). "Free The Children at 20: An unlikely Canadian success story | Ottawa Citizen". Retrieved 2019-06-19.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Kielburger, Craig & Marc (2004). Me to We: Turning Self-Help On Its Head. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0470835109.[verification needed]
  5. ^ "WE Charity". www.guidestar.org. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  6. ^ D'Amore, Rachael (2020-07-13). "WE Charity tries to 'set record straight' over contract in full-page newspaper ads". Global News. Retrieved 2020-07-13. Trudeau’s personal ties to the charity came under heightened scrutiny last week after the organization confirmed it made payments to both his brother and his mother.
  7. ^ "Order of Canada recipients | The Star". thestar.com. 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  8. ^ "Child Labor Critic Is Slain in Pakistan". The New York Times. 1995-04-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-13. Iqbal had received several death threats from people in the carpet industry angered by his comments about child labor
  9. ^ a b "Plot Discounted in Death of Pakistani Boy". SFGate. 1995-04-21. Retrieved 2020-07-13. Pakistani police said yesterday that the killing of a 12-year-old crusader against child labor does not appear to be the result of a plot....Masih worked as a carpet weaver from the age of 4, after being sold by his parents to a factory, until he was 10 -- much of the time shackled to a loom, according to an account he gave to an international labor conference in Sweden last November.
  10. ^ a b c Rysavy, Tracy. "Free the Children: the Story of Craig Kielburger". yesmagazine.org.
  11. ^ Kovacs, Jacqueline. "Free the Children celebrates its 20th birthday - Canadian Living". canadianliving.com.
  12. ^ a b "Free The Children at 20: An unlikely Canadian success story". ottawacitizen.com. 25 April 2015.
  13. ^ Kielburger, Craig. Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves That Children Can Change the World.
  14. ^ "Significant developments in Free The Children's history". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  15. ^ "Order of Canada recipients | The Star". thestar.com. 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  16. ^ "Craig and Marc Kielburger in pictures". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  17. ^ "Social Entrepreneur Of The Year 2008 Winner Canada".
  18. ^ "Free the Children Becomes WE Charity - Charity Intelligence Canada". www.charityintelligence.ca. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  19. ^ "Global Learning Centre takes We organization to new heights". The Globe and Mail. 2017-09-25. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  20. ^ "This might be Toronto's nicest new office space". www.blogto.com. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  21. ^ Canada, HELLO!. "WE opens its doors to their Global Learning Centre in Toronto | HELLO! Canada". ca.hellomagazine.com. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  22. ^ a b Sasvari, Tom (2018-11-09). "MSS We Scare Hunger campaign a success". Manitoulin Expositor. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  23. ^ Wagner, Cole (2018-04-26). "Merritt Secondary School students encouraging locals to walk for water". Merritt Herald. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  24. ^ Buchner, Jill. "2016 Me to We winner: Xavier West". Canadian Living. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  25. ^ "SNHS donation". siouxbulletin.com. 2019-01-22. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  26. ^ "Who will be the next Tecumseh?". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  27. ^ "Feds provide $3 million boost to charity for social entrepreneurs". National Post. 2019-08-21. Retrieved 2019-08-25.
  28. ^ "Feds Give WE Charity $3 Million For Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative". HuffPost Canada. 2019-08-21. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  29. ^ a b "First Lady champions education opportunities for vulnerable girls and women". capitalfm.co.ke. July 17, 2019. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "Empowering young global citizens at "We Day"". Kofi Annan Foundation. 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  32. ^ "Meghan Markle Surprises A WE Day Crowd After Prince Harry's Speech". HuffPost Canada. 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  33. ^ Friend, David (2018-11-13). "'Superwoman' star Lilly Singh joins creators taking a break from YouTube". CP24. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  34. ^ Colvin, Caroline. "Harry "Dragged" Meghan On Stage, But Their Body Language Is Actually Heartwarming". Elite Daily. Retrieved 2019-03-20.
  35. ^ "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.
  36. ^ "Michelle Douglas". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  37. ^ a b c Cullen, Catherine (July 2, 2020). "WE Charity saw resignations, departures from senior ranks before getting $900M government contract". CBC News. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  38. ^ "Our Team". WE Charity. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h Merali, Farrah (2020-07-07). "Former WE Charity employee says staff tried to silence her by rewriting anti-racism speech". CBC News.
  40. ^ Nardi, Christopher. "Records show charity closely linked to Trudeau has received multiple sole-source contracts from Liberal government". National Post. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  41. ^ Berthiaume, Lee (June 30, 2020). "Kielburger backtracks after saying PM's office contacted WE about $900M program". CBC News. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  42. ^ "Kelly McParland: Trudeau drives straight into another pothole with the WE controversy". National Post. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  43. ^ Curry, Bill (June 28, 2020). "Volunteer Canada declined to work for WE Charities over wage concerns with student grant program". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  44. ^ Curry, Bill (July 2, 2020). "We Charity offers 450 'virtual volunteering' positions at own organization while running $900-million grant program". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  45. ^ a b Tasker, John Paul (July 3, 2020). "Federal government, WE Charity agree to part ways on summer student grant program". CBC News. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  46. ^ Smith, Dale (3 July 2020). "Bardish Chagger's office just announced that WE will no longer be administering the Canada Student Grant programme, and that the decision was "mutual." #cdnpoli". Twitter. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  47. ^ McGregor, Janyce (July 6, 2020). "WE Charity is out of grant program, but issues remain with paying student volunteers". CBC News. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  48. ^ Kielburger, Craig and Marc (3 July 2020). "Media Statement - We Charity". Newswire. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  49. ^ Zimonjic, Peter (July 3, 2020). "Ethics watchdog launches probe of Trudeau over choice of WE Charity to run $900M student grant program". CBC News. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  50. ^ Breen, Kerri (July 3, 2020). "Ethics commissioner launches investigation into Trudeau, $900M WE Charity contract". Global News. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  51. ^ McGregor, Janyce (2020-07-09). "PM's mother Margaret and brother Alexandre were both paid to speak at WE Charity events". CBC. Retrieved 2020-07-09.
  52. ^ McGregor, Janyce (2020-07-10). "Bill Morneau has family ties to WE Charity, did not steer clear of cabinet discussion of contract". CBC. Retrieved 2020-07-10.

External linksEdit