Marc Kielburgr | “Creating Global Leaders: Empowering Youth to Change the World” (2014)
Good afternoon everybody, good afternoon, good afternoon. It’s awesome to be here. Patrick, thank you for the kind of introduction. To all of you, thank you for being here. Of course, to the Council World Affairs here in Columbus and all of you watching online. It’s wonderful to have a chance to spend some time with you here this afternoon and I just first want to say thank you to all the sponsors and to people who have generously given their time, the school administrators, those from the business community that are engaged and helping develop global citizenship, but especially to our young people on the front, just in that row over there, again we’re thrilled that they’re here.
Whether you be a principal, a young person, a business leader, an educator or anything in between, our conversation here today, and the purpose of my conversation is simply to say a big thank you for what you’ve done.
We work very closely with our friends from EF and they’re great partners, and there’s so much fun and you’ll hear a little bit from them later. And Kate, who’s our incredible EF ambassador link is here as well, and we’re thrilled that they’re have a chance to come to support this conversation today.
Well, I wanted to do today with you is – we work with about 2 million kids. We have programs in 7,000 schools across North America. For those of you who can’t tell by my accent, I’m actually Canadian and we love our hockey too, I promise. And what we wanted to do is many, many years ago, is dreamed of creating a better world, and this organization that I founded with my brother has grown significantly, it is now the world’s largest network of kids helping kids.
And I want to give you some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way, So, I’m going to start and take you on a story. In terms of a story – it’s why we’re here and how we got going.
The organization WE Movement was actually founded back in 1995. My brother was 12 and I was 17 years old. My brother was in the seventh grade, and he was looking for the comic section of our local newspaper and one painful day instead of seeing the comic section, he saw the front-page article of another 12-year-old boy.
This kid is 12, this other kid was 12, there’s a sense of connection, an immediate sense of understanding. And so, Craig read the story of Iqbal Masih, who’s pictured behind me. Iqbal’s story is very tragic. He grew up and he was born in a very poor community, in a very poor family in Pakistan. One day at the age of four, a money lender came to his village and went to a Paul’s parents. I said, “I’ll give you 16 dollars, Iqbal will go off with me and he’ll get a good job, and a good education. Iqbal’s parents couldn’t read or write.
They literally signed Iqbal off with their thumb print and this boy went off with this man for 16 dollars – and of course he did not get a good job or a good education. He ended up being tied to a carpet loom where he would make tiny knots that would come to North America on carpets that would go on our floors and he did this every single day until he was 10. Craig kept on reading and he escaped.
And one day, Iqbal literally ran away, and he got hooked up with a local human rights organization, and he was very well-spoken, very soft-spoken, but very well-spoken, and he started to educate other parents and kids, why they shouldn’t sell their children. And at the age of 12, he was finally reunited back with his family, became an international spokesperson on these issues, got a whole bunch of awards, including one in Boston, and very tragically, the people who owned the carpet factory where he is to work, came out of nowhere and they shot and they killed him.
So, Iqbal, again pictured behind me, was killed at the age of 12 for talking about education, for talking about children’s rights.
More on this from Craig Kielburger for CNN
My brother took this article to his grade seven class and said, “I don’t even know where Pakistan is for sure in the world map, but I certainly know this isn’t cool. Who wants to help? We need to do something.”
And they actually called up a very large well-known human rights organization that works on behalf of kids. You’d recognize the name immediately and they said, “We just read the story, and we’re 12 years old, and we want to help, and we want to get engaged. What can we do?” and the person on the other end of the phone said, ‘You’re a bunch 12-year-olds. You want to change the world; you want to help?” There’s a long pause and they said, “Hm. Do you know where your parents keep their credit card? That’s how you can help.”
And they were so taken aback by this, and so they said, “No, no, no, no. We want to help. We want to get involved. We want to change the world, what can we do?”
And that’s how WE Movement was born.
Our mission from that humble article on the front page of our newspaper has grown from that grade seven class, and Craig is the one in the blue, has grown from 12 12-year-olds at one school, to now 7,000 schools that are involved with a network of 3.5 million kids who are engaged, and a generation of kids who care.
I’m going to show you a quick video. We’ve had the privilege of being on 60 minutes three times. The last time was a few months ago and that 60 Minutes clip, we’ve condensed it down to a little over three and a half minutes. But it gives you a sense of what WE Movement, and what this conversation, is all about. So, ladies and gentlemen, WE Movement. *VIDEO PLAYS*
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives you a sense of the organization, but also of the sense the amazing-ness of these young people. These young people who come together and participate, whether it be a WE Day celebration or simply a service-learning activity. And, of course, many of you are familiar with service learning, but for those of you who are not – it is of course getting young people engaged in meaningful academic involvement to volunteerism to community supports to making the world a better place, and of course, having academic rigor behind that, and seeing the levels of engagement in the need to participate. Over the years we’ve learned some amazing things. We work with, again, domestically, internationally with hundreds of thousands of kids, as mentioned. One of the first things that we’ve learned is about international development activities.
I’m going to show you some slides. These are some of the slides of schools that we’ve actually had a chance to replace. You saw a little bit in the video some of the projects we’ve done. See, these are the old schools in these communities in which we work, and you see them, and these kids suffer so much just trying to go to school, never mind having a proper school to go to. So, we work very closely, and we have a chance to do something called Adopt a Village. And what we learned, our big learning here is that in order to actually combat poverty, it’s not just enough to build a school.
And I know this may seem simple for those of you who are studying world affairs, or world issues, you know, this very well, but as kids it took us a long time to figure this out.
More about WE Schools
So, you need to make sure that you have education and in order to have education, you need clean water. Because the number one reason why girls can’t go to school in Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t because there’s no school, it’s because they have to get water for their villages. So, if you have a school without clean water, girls aren’t going to school. And healthcare – you have a school, you have great water programs, but if the kids aren’t healthy, they’re not going to school. Similarly, if the kids are coming to school and they don’t have enough mood in their bellies, or substance in their stomachs, they’re not learning proper.
And we know this intuitively, but again, it’s not just enough to build a school. You need to make sure you have your healthcare programs, your water programs and of course, community school gardens, economic activities to make sure that the women, lastly, can afford to send the kids to school in the first place.
We called it Adopt a Village. And the reason I share this is that sometimes, and I’ve seen this throughout the developing world, I spend a lot of time in places like Africa, people are very well-intentioned, but they look at the projects themselves, and they can see things that are often unsustainable.
Read more about the charity work WE is doing in Africa
And when you look at the concept of sustainability, what we need to do is develop and understand the root causes of poverty, and often these root causes of poverty or economic inequality, women not being able to educate their own kids, of course, issues around water and sanitation. But in order to make kids go to school, you need to come back all these issues. And again, we do this is a holistic manner, called Adopt a Village in the countries in which we work countries. Countries where we have our own people on the ground.
It’s quite remarkable to see. Here’s Adopt a Village in 90 seconds. And this is our first learning, and in order to make sure that you can provide high quality education, you have to address the root causes again, Adopt a Village. *VIDEO PLAYS*
So, our first learning, as mentioned, is that in order to address issues of education, those root causes are critical, but that’s our international work. We’ve also learned a lot of our lessons in our domestic work as well, and one of those lessons is very applicable to those of you who have schools that you’re responsible for as young people or of course, these business leaders and administrators who are supporting those schools. As mentioned, we have programs in 7,000 schools – with about 5,000 schools in Canada and 2,000 in the United States – working with literally millions of kids now, helping to bring service, learning to life, civic education to life, programs around empowerment to life.
We provide everything from service campaigns to lesson plans to educational activities to online support mechanisms to literally hundreds and hundreds of support staff that mentor teachers and kids along the way. And social media conversations, including the largest Facebook cause of any charity in the world now with a little over 4 million kids involved in our conversations on Facebook.
When we see that piece, what we’ve learned is that it’s really critically important not just to have these as programs, but to have them structured in class. To have them part of the extra-curricular initiatives, to have educators who are empowered to be able to teach these things, because it’s wonderful to have it as an add-on, but in addition to developing skills like math and science on a regular basis, you equally need to global citizenship, compassion and empathy on a regular basis.
We very much have seen that in Canada. We see test scores increasing and levels of engagement increasing. Schools participating in programs such as these have higher graduation rates and higher attendance rates because kids care about school. And not only do kids care, actually now in our country at least, it’s become cool to care. It’s become socially acceptable to care. The reason I mentioned this is 17 years ago, when we started, WE Movement, the two un-coolest things you could do was change the world and take part in Glee clubs.
You were socially ostracized if you did either. 17 years later, at least in Canada, the two cool things you could do is change the world and take part in Glee clubs so it’s amazing to see. And what we’ve done is something we drummed up about seven years ago, it’s something called WE Day, you saw in the 60 Minutes video. Just to give you a sense, we bring 20,000 kids together from about 500 to 1000 schools, in stadiums all across North America and now, the UK. We bring the greatest social justice leaders of our time, the greatest speakers of our time, and we have a conversation around social change. These schools then take this inspiration and turn it into tangible action all year round. And I can go through the academics, but the point is, is that, at least it is now becoming super, super, super cool to care. And as educators, and as individuals and students – especially those who just came back from the EF trip to Beijing and so forth, as well, you get this, you know this, but how do you create a culture of caring and a culture of coolness around social engagement?
To give you a sense, this where we have those, WE Days, the stadium like activities in Canada – everywhere except up north where there’s no people, only polar bears. We pretty much have WE days everywhere that there is a place in our country.
Get empowered – Join us on WE day
We just had our first WE Day in London, England about two weeks ago. It was so much fun. Prince Harry came with his new girlfriend, it was very exciting. They even kissed; it was awesome. We had Malala come. She came to speak to the group; she was fabulous and we’re doing a lot of work with her now over social media. And this is where we currently have WE Days in the United States. We just had our WE Day California last week and we had our We Day in Seattle a week before that. Seattle was so much fun. We had Ed Norton come and talk, and we had Cody Simpson from Dancing with the Stars – for those of you who may need a little bit of extra help, he was a big deal – and the coach [Coach Pete Carroll] and many others speak. But the coach gave a really inspirational talk about what it means to be a winner – whether you’re on or off the field.
And then, literally last week, in California, it was fantastic to see people like Orlando Bloom, Magic Johnson, Laila Ali – the oldest daughter of Muhammad Ali – came, Seth Rogan, Selena Gomez and many, many others. And people of much substance that you may not recognize, but just to give you a sense of the flare of some of the names. And Selena Gomez spoke about, in such a passionate way, going through some of the challenges – going through some of the social stigmas that she’s had to deal with the last six months. And she broke down crying and you could hear a pin drop.
And here you have people, that the kids look up to, having a genuine conversation. And then of course, local kids and engagement and people of all walks of life and lots of diversity – it was amazing to see. And so, we learn it is really critically cool to care.
We talked about the international piece, we talked about the engagements – on making sure that we have a culture of sustained engagement at our schools, we talked a little bit about making it cool to care, and the next thing that we learned along the way, in our last 17 years, is changing perspectives.
Probably the most important thing that we do in changing perspectives, is that we take young people overseas to see these issues first hand – because I can show you the videos and I can tell you about the stories, but for myself and my brother, when we were young, we had one thing that fundamentally changed our life.
We have about 400 team members full-time in our organization and they speak different languages, they come from different socio-economic backgrounds, they have different educational backgrounds. There’s literally one thing in common. All of us, all 400 of us, myself, my brother, everybody who we work with – one thing in common – we spent some time in a developing country, we spent some time understanding these issues on the ground and these are kids who literally had to save up their pennies or fundraise or work with local rotary clubs or lions clubs to get themselves there but, nevertheless it’s interesting that we have that that one thing in common. The reason I share that is when you have a chance to truly see and change perspectives, you have a chance to change your own life and the lives of others.
We do this with EF and I just wanted to mention how awesome it is for them to support today’s conversation, but nevertheless it’s critical to see these kids come together. And we bring thousands of kids through school groups to places like Kenya, Ecuador, Ghana, Nicaragua, and India, and all these countries – including our own country in Arizona on the Mexico border where they have a chance to get engaged, locally.
The reason I share this is that the greatest gift you can give your young people is giving them the gift of perspective. Now, you don’t have to go all the way off to Kenya or to India, you can do it right at home in our own country. We know that we can also do it right on our communities but spending some time and understanding these issues or not, statistics or people and making friends is probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned along the way.
I wanna give you a sense of what these trips are all about and why they’re so exciting, to see these young people come together to be able to participate in meaningful ways, to volunteer, to build a school, to create understanding, and most importantly to make new friends. It’s an incredible experience.
Just check out what changing perspectives means on the ground. *VIDEO PLAYS*
It’s funny, you know, the story I like to share, and I just want to momentarily mention it too, for those of your parents in the room, it’s the number one demographic that we have going on these trips. For some reason, I’m not too sure exactly why, but it’s girls. They tend to go between the ages of 13 and 17, typically, but nevertheless, even more reason for the boys to go, but the girls tend to go and we know it has been a successful trip when we fly back through Heathrow or wherever we’re connecting to and the girls typically sit on their smartphones or borrow calling cards or whatever it is. They borrow calling cards or turn on their phones. They’ve had no conversations or communication typically for a week or more, and they make two phone calls. The first phone call to parents, to say, “Thank you letting me go. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the early Hanukkah, Christmas money – whatever it is – Thank you for supporting me.”
And the second phone called the girls typically make is to their boyfriends to dump them. They break up with their boyfriends on mass and I share that with Jess, but with a high degree of passion, because all of a sudden, these amazing young people realize that their self-worth is dictated by not what they have, but who they are.
And again, it’s these experiences. Whether it’s going to WE Day, understanding international developments, making it cool to care in your school or, alternatively, even going so far to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip overseas with a school group, it doesn’t really matter, but all these pieces have been fundamentally critical.
And we’ve been doing a lot of studies and this is my last technical insight – I have a quick story for you as I end – but what we’ve seen is that this actually shifts behavior. We’ve been working with the Kellogg School of Business and we’ve been evaluating this now for years – an independent evaluation. We know that educators are more engaged with our students, are more likely to develop relationships. Educators find that renewed purpose as an educator, they remember why they went into education in the first place. But most importantly, it’s what we found about the kids themselves.
Again, we’ve been doing this and evaluating it for long time, and technically we evaluate kids on longitudinal basis for kids involved in the programming for more than four years. And we find that young people – 80% of them continue to volunteer, 83% made a financial contribution to a charity of their choice or an organization of their choice last year, and my personal favorite, young people that are now of 18, now of voting age, 79% of them voted in the last election.
And the reason I share that stat is that because when you talk about the whole concept of world affairs, and what we’re all trying to do here, and today at the luncheon, the real critical piece of this is citizenship – it’s local citizenship and global citizenship. When young people are given the opportunity to become citizens, whether it’s helping out at their food bank or helping out in Ghana it doesn’t make a difference, that concept of citizenship remains. They become better young people for it and the world becomes better for it, not just because they’re helping the world, but because they become better ambassadors for the world itself.
So, ladies and gentlemen, my last insight is this…
We’ve had a chance to have amazing people on the WE Day stage, to participate with us, to engage. We’ve had amazing individuals – sports stars, and icons, and Nobel laureates, and everything between. My brother and I have met some amazing people in our journey along the way, but perhaps no more amazing than an amazing educator that we had a chance to meet many years ago in her home, in Calcutta, before she passed away.
And I’m not a very religious person, I’m a spiritual person, but nevertheless, this was a very spiritual journey for me – having a chance to meet this person. Now whether you’re of this faith or any other faith, it’s totally irrelevant. The point being is that sometimes you just find those people in your life and you meet those individuals who bring you a sense of perspective – and this woman brought us as a sense of perspective. Now, when we met her, we were a lot younger and we were a lot shorter back then.
The cool thing when you met Mother Teresa at our age, the thing that we couldn’t get over, is that she was this tall – 4 foot 8. And we spent the day with her and as we were leaving, I’ll never forget that she grabbed her hands, and she had hands like sand paper because of her decades working in the slums, and she grabbed her hands and she looked as the eyes, but when this woman looked you in the eyes it felt somehow that she was actually looking into your soul and she said, “Remember boys, we can do no great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
And I think if there’s anything that has a conversation perspective that I’d like to leave with you here today is:, yes, those five learnings and yes, breaking cycle through Adopted a Village, and making it cool to care, and sustained education, and having the opportunity to have those changing perspectives and trips, and all that stuff, all the lessons we’ve learned along the way, these are general themes that are nevertheless important, but at the end of the day it’s those one-on-one conversations, it’s those moments with your students, it’s the moments with your kids.
Maybe the most important title you have here today is not an administrator, or member of an elected official group, or a conversation, or whether it be somebody who’s a CEO, or a Senior Vice President, but maybe it’s actually Mom and Dad. So, when you go home tonight, hug your child – if you’re a very young person give your mom or dad a high five or hug as well – and simply take a moment to say, “Thank you.” Because when we do those small things with great love, as a Mother Teresa eloquently said, you change your life, you change the lives of others, but most importantly that world becomes somewhat of a smaller and a better place.
Thanks for your time today, hope you had a great conversation and a good lunch. Thanks again.
Q&A with Marc Kielburger
Interviewer: Thank you, Mark, appreciate it. I want to ask you because you’re humble enough not to mention the fact that you’re Harvard grad, but Harvard grad in international relations and having that academic background, combined with the experience of being in the developing world – how have those two forces or have they both influenced you in what you’re doing now?
Marc Kielburger: You know the Harvard education was fabulous and I was there on a scholarship, and it was amazing experience. I learned under Jeffrey Sachs, who is now at Columbia and Yale, and so it was great. It’s been an incredible journey to understand, but what we’ve come to understand is that development is and cannot be learned in a textbook. I mean you can see all the text books – and we’ve read all the World Bank reports, and I had to study global political economy with the best of them – but the point being is that you actually have to go on the ground. It’s the local politics, it’s the local opportunity. If the local chief says no, it doesn’t matter what compelling data you have to put it behind you. He says no.
And it’s again, not to belabor the point, but this is why those experiences for my myself and my brother and young people that we have a chance to work with – whether it be us as an entity working along with EF or nevertheless – the point being is that you get to understand how development really works. How development really works is through conversations and connections, it’s building trust, it’s relationships, it’s friendships and we needed to have that basis of understanding of: what are the eliminating barriers, how do you create a great income stream for women, how do you sustain this and how do you evaluate this?
But what I think my big learning piece, in earnest, is that what you learned in textbooks is not necessarily replicable on the ground. You actually have to be on the ground to learn yourself.
Interviewer: Got it, got it. Thank you. Also, reminder to those watching live stream, you can submit questions @COLWorldAffairs, for us. What are the demographics of the kids that participate? We know most our girls, right?
Marc Kielburger: Yes, yeah, very much. They are from all socio-economic backgrounds. What we actually find, and this is an interesting piece, and I don’t know if any of our principal friends would qualify for this conversation, but nevertheless I’d like to share it, is that the kids who actually do best in these projects – everybody does really well and we have a lot of data and demographics that shows why it does well – but is the kids who have to Title 1 lunch programs or the kids who may not have the typical opportunities. The reason why we find that level of engagement the most important is that a lot of these kids – and I’m going stereotype for a moment, I apologize for doing so – on the receiving end of a lot. They’re given a lot of things, they’re given a lot of opportunities, they’re given a lot of support and they never had the chance, typically, to contribute in the same way. And so, what we want to do is give these young people an opportunity to contribute and that’s what we find is very important. Sometimes it’s easier to contribute in a sustainable way if you can make a donation or if you can donate 20 dollars, but what about if the person can’t make that donation? What if they come from a family that 20 dollars is an enormous amount of money that it can never be contributed. How can they volunteer, how can they get engaged, how can they help? Those are the questions that we need to make sure that we’re answering and asking because everybody can be a philanthropist. The whole concept of philanthropy is the lover of giving, and so this is an opportunity for us to make sure that everybody has a chance to know that they can contribute. It may not be monetary contributions, all the time, but they can contribute their time they can it their spirit, they can contribute their friendship, they can contribute their understanding of technology, whatever that is, but everybody has to have chance to contribute.
Interviewer: That’s good, thank you. And this relates a little bit to perhaps how people can get involved. Do you have programs for educators to use in their urban school?
Marc Kielburger: Yes, we do! We have lots of programs for educators use in their urban schools, so please come find me. We also have Nicole here who is from ME to WE and she can also have conversations on the trip side, as well. Kate from EF, who all of you know, of course, she doesn’t need introduction. I saw her in photos in previous conversations that you guys have had here, so I know she’s very friendly to face to this group and she can have conversations with you guys both on the trips and also just understanding. We have lots of curriculum. Everything is free. It’s all paid for very generously by Microsoft and Allstate. It’s on our website. We can direct you in the right way and how to get this into your school in a very sustainable, and again, free manner.
Interviewer: Great, well with our follow-up email, we’ll make sure that that’s in there. You don’t all have to rush it Nicole, we’ll make sure if we have your email that you get it. This one kind of goes off of that and get a little more specific – Michelle Obama recently said that a person’s passport is becoming their new resume. How do you get under-privileged kids in our country who can’t help due to the finances, but want to be global and help internationally?
Let’s take travel. For example, flights aren’t free, a kid can have as much excitement and interest, but how can they have that developing world experience with the situation they’re in?
Marc Kielburger: 80% of these young people who actually go on these programs for us, at least our country in Canada, actually fundraised either the part or the whole amount and the fundraising piece is equally as important as the trip because they learned budgeting, they learn engagement, they learn to be compelling in terms of an ask, and they learn to organize themselves. We give them the fundraising tools, the pieces, they get a fundraising coach, all those things and so, the challenge is that if these trips are simply given to the young person and we say, “Okay you get to go on this trip,” they’ll appreciate it in and it’ll be awesome, but that lead up is almost as important as the trip itself.
And so, what we find is that fundraising piece – whether you’re an individual who can contribute in a small amount or even a large amount to that trip and you have to fundraise a large portion or a small portion it doesn’t matter – we still are encouraging children to fundraise and regardless, we help the young people come up with a plan to do so.
Interviewer: Great, great, thank you. Let’s go to this next question which is around Canada versus the US. Has your success in Canada been equaled in the US or are differences that you found in the two countries?
Marc Kielburger: You know, it’s a great question. In Canada, we’ve had a chance to grow up and we’ve been doing this for a long time so in our country, you mention WE Movement or WE Day and an average young person can talk to you about it literally off the street for 15 minutes. I mean, they’ve all grown up as kind of our version of Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Every young person knows it, and at least in our country, most young people have participated and watch the WE Day. What you saw, a little bit in the WE Day clip on 60 Minutes, we actually have a prime time broadcast where 5.4 million Canadians watch WE Day on television in our country – in terms of a cut that we do between Toronto and Vancouver on our largest broadcaster, our version of CBS called CTD. So, 5.4 million Canadians out of a population of 30 million, that’s like hockey numbers for us. We’re very, very excited for that and it’s amazing to see the level of engagement.
When we first came to States, six-seven years ago, everybody said, “Oh my goodness, it won’t work. It’s different.” It’s interesting, when we were in London two weeks ago, and we’ve been there for many, many years, doing the prep work, they said, “Oh British kids, they won’t sing, they won’t dance, they won’t be engaged, they don’t care.” And you know what those British kids were singing and dancing. They were giving high fives; they were super-engaged. When Malala came out you could hear a pin drop. When Ellie Goulding came and closed the show, you couldn’t hear yourself think. Kids are kids. I think the big difference here is that the education community tends to be more fragmented in our country. It tends to be a little more national so we’re able to come up with the more of a national strategy. So that’s probably the difference.
But what we see is the same level of engagements of educators is the same level engagement as administrators. We also see administrators and educators taking a chance on this. In Seattle, we had 700 schools come out from 120 districts in the state. In California, we had 127 districts represented with 18,000 kids in Oakland last week. It was amazing to see. So, we are always looking for those initial educators – and maybe some of the educators are in this room today – to say, “You know, what we believe in this. We want to take a chance on this.” And if you’re interested to have that conversation with us, if you’re interested in bringing a travel program, have that conservation. If you’re interested in sending your kids to WE Day, have that travel conversation with us. If you’re interested in having a mini WE Day at your school, have that conversation with us.
We need trailblazers. know you guys are trailblazing in global citizenship and this is just another arsenal in your assets of tools to bring it to your schools and get your kids involved.
Interviewer: That sounds good, thanks. I know particularly well that the fragmentation of the schools in the US, particularly we’re working to bring together 14 school districts that are increasing the number of globally competent graduates through a global ad network and you have to do things 15 times, or 14 times, or however many times you want to engage with the district and sometimes the central approach can be a little easier in terms of an operational approach, but the thing that I have found that is common among all the districts that we work with is the concept of service learning so that can be the theme that by which you gain traction for here.
These are from students from Columbus North International high school. Are you all high school students? I know now they have seventh and eighth. Why don’t you stand up? So, we can all applaud the fact that you’re here.
So, what languages are you learning?
Columbus North International high school students: French, Russian, Arabic, Spanish.
Interviewer: All just at that table?
Columbus North International high school students: Yes.
Interviewer: Wow! Fantastic. Well, can you come up and read this question in Arabic then for me? I’m just kidding. So, these are from the students. Let’s see, there’s a couple here – how can I go on one of these trips?
Marc Kielburger: We have opportunities in the summer an as individual kid, but we’d really encourage your school to participate. I know obviously you guys are very active in global citizenship and just got back from the conversations of China and so forth, and we want to congratulate you. Well done, thank you for doing that. And it’s just amazing to see. Just go and twist the arm of a teacher who perhaps has already engaged with you and have that conversation and say that you want to go. and help lead them. One of the things that we really encourage the students to do is just don’t let the teacher be responsible for this. It has to be a student lead activity as well. Get engaged, participate, host your fundraisers, do whatever marathons and go do it. Have that conversation with us if you’re keen, but truly also figure out where you want to go and why. Learn about the country, learn about the community, learn about the culture, and learn about understanding some of the political challenges. The trip to Ghana for example is a good one. Equally important as volunteering in that community and doing the work that we do with the kids, is going to the Gold Coast and seeing some of the slave castles and participating in some of that understanding of this tragic history of the country too, the opportunities that it has to help bring the world together, some of the work that it’s doing in the United Nations, and everything between. This is not just a trip, it’s an experience. It’s one that you have to make sure that’s going to stay with you for many, many years to come to me and to form it into who you are and what you want to do with your life.
Interviewer: And one of the other students said, ‘When I was younger, I got the basic necessities from a church. Can I help others? Can I have information to start my own group?” So, are there groups that are in the schools, that have a focus on WE Movement or ME to WE? What have you seen happen in the schools?
Marc Kielburger: Yeah, you can start a group and you can call it whatever you want. I think that is the good news. A lot of kids call them WE Movement groups, and a lot of kids call them ME to WE groups, or the kids call them Change the World groups. That doesn’t matter. We have a whole pack for you to learn how to do that and different campaigns you can do. One of the most active ones that we have is something called Halloween for Hunger, which happens on Halloween of course, October 31st, where we have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of kids in North America to trick-or- treat that evening. Instead of trick-or-treating for candies, they trick-or-treat for canned foods to give to local food banks.
Last year, we raised the millions of pounds of canned foods for local food banks all across the country by kids, including high school kids and college university kids for that matter too. Trick-or-treating – it’s small tangible actions like that that make a big impact.
Interviewer: And if you’re the parent of one of those small children collecting cans, that’s going to be one heavy bag, that’s for sure. How does WE Movement utilize technology and how has it changed from the start of the organization to now from a technology standpoint?
Marc Kielburger: We wouldn’t be around without the use of technology. Again, we have now, give or take between our four Facebook pages, we have 4.4 million kids on our Facebook page having an ongoing conversation on social change. It’s incredible. We have six people whose sole time job is simply to do social media for us and they’re Tweeting, and are Facebooking, and are having conversations. Our young people live on their smart phone nowadays so it’s something that we just have to embrace and have those conversations. So, something that’s very important in terms of our communications. Then we also are developing something that’s going to be launching the September in the United States that we already have in Canada, it’s called “WE 365. It’s a smartphone app that will help you track your volunteer hours and create opportunities for you to actually do this in a way so when you graduate from college, university, we’ll be working with some of our friends and some of the institutions where you can actually print out all your volunteer hours and make it part of your College or University application process. So, some cool ideas to come and we’ll keep you guys posted if you sign up and learn more.
Interviewer: One of the other questions came in, how do you select the locations where you do your work around the world?
Marc Kielburger: We only work in 8 countries and we only are keen to work in those countries. Places like Ghana, Kenya and India, and so forth, they are large lease countries that are stable. We’ve got a few countries that a little more challenging, like Sierra Leone and Haiti, where we don’t run trips, but the other places we do. We want to be able to connect people specifically to those communities, and we’ve had the privilege of not only being on 60 Minutes many times, but also the Oprah Winfrey show many times.
She actually gave us her first international grant back in 2000 and we built almost every single one of her schools for her outside of her school in South Africa. So, we’ve had a chance to get to know her team very, very well, and she often asked us to go into some countries to do some work and she helped provide some financial stability for us to do so. And so, we did that over the years. We got a great team in those countries. We don’t outsource any of our projects. We do them all in-house. And this is why we know when we say these communities are sustainable, we actually know they are. A lot of organizations collect money and partner. We are not against partnerships, but when it comes to transparency and accountability on the ground, we’re pretty specific about making sure that it’s actually sustainable, and so it is our people who can make sure that it actually takes place.
Interviewer: This question has to do with gender specifically – how do we help boys care? To feel that it’s cool and feel a part of the conversation? Is there anything in particular you are doing to specifically target increase in the number of boys that participate?
Marc Kielburger: What you need to get the boys engaged, is get the girls engaged first and the boys will ultimately follow. It’s also about having amazing individuals. Just to give you a sense, we had, again, use example I shared, but Coach Pete Carroll come up and talk. Sports is also a big portion of getting guys engaged. We got the 49ers and the Raiders both on stage, at the same time, at WE Day California, and they all got along really well. It was amazing to see that level of engagement. It’s about bringing out individuals who can actually talk to guys. Again, in the UK, we had one of the coaches of one of the big football teams, Gary Neville come. He talked to the boys and it’s having those conversations of stuff that’s relevant for them to understand – “Oh my goodness. I see Coach on stage, I really love the fact that he’s such a leader and I now have a conversation that’s relative for me
Interviewer: Right. Well, I saw a Magic Johnson was on the one in San Francisco or in Oakland. This one has to do with WE Day in Columbus. What would it take to have WE Day in Columbus in 2015 or 2016?
Marc Kielburger: We’re definitely engaging through the United States. We’re actually going to be announcing WE Day in Chicago next year. That is our next big one. Then we’ve got ones coming out to the East Coast, but we’re certainly not against that conversation and we envision that over the next five years. Though, we do have WE Day in many of the communities across the United States, we really want to applaud what’s going on right here because you guys are really leading that conversation, so we’d love to learn more.
Interviewer: Great, thank you. Schools in Ohio and elsewhere are adding a service requirement for graduation. Can you see where WE Movement or ME to WE can work directly with schools around developing, organizing the best programming? Does this fall in the topic of – we have many programs, and we’ll send them to you? Or do you have anything specific?
Marc Kielburger: We actually have in Ontario where I’m from, in my province, which is a version of a state in our country, we have 40 hours of community service to graduate from high school. So, you have to do 40 hours of community service to graduate from high school. I know it’s somewhat similar to the service requirement. And it was a big political hoopla when this came in, and kids were like, “Oh my gosh, you’re making me mandatory volunteer and that mandatory volunteerism that volunteerism, etc.” Some of the teachers are upset because they had to administer it and it ended up being the best thing ever. I want to stress that the young people are participating and yes, there’s kinks, and this is not perfect – and yes, one can still argue that there’s challenges to be had – but it’s really great. Everybody looks back and says, “This is a good thing.” So, I really want to applaud the state for taking some vision to do this, but most importantly, young people need to own it. What’s the challenge is that you end up having to rake leaves 48 hours before you graduate for 40 hours in a row for random people on your street. That’s not what we’re trying to promote here. What we’re trying to promote is meaningful service activities. One of the other challenges is that sometimes organizations in these community get overwhelmed by a whole bunch of 15-year-olds looking for service opportunities and they can’t do it in a prolific way and it’s a real challenge. So, we also encourage young people in our province to go find issues and causes that they care about, start their own clubs, their own organizations, do something tangible, or do awareness raisers. It doesn’t necessarily always have to be the feeling – I have to find a charity to volunteer at but, I can do something myself.
Interviewer: This one comes from an industry person, I think. I would love to know what you say to education or industry leaders that don’t have the international perspective or see the need for global competence? Perhaps your pitch is more from an economic or global competitiveness perspective?
Marc Kielburger: You know, my pitch is actually more from a retention in conversion of future employee. If you are going to sustain the battle and win the battle for talent, you need to make sure that you’re globally-minded, you have a sense of empathy and compassion in your workforce. That you have sense of purpose and meaning in how you communicate to your future employees and, specifically, how you give your employees volunteer opportunities – whether that be local or globally it’s up to you. But nevertheless, unless the millennials, the group that I work with, and most attuned to, unless your opportunity to engage with those millennials is based on meaning and purpose, you’re not going to win the battle for talent. It’s more of an economic argument and it’s actually in your self-interest to do so.
Interviewer: Alright, where do you yourself find inspiration to maintain this level of work?
Marc Kielburger: It’s often a challenge. I have the privilege of doing what we do. I’m on the road about 250 days a year. I’ve got a young two-and-a-half year-old at home and a very patient wife. She came out to WE Day was with us. She’s two-and-a-half and she’s been Africa seven times. She’s a great traveler. She’s so much fun.
They’re free until they’re two so she just was on our lap, it was awesome. My wife’s French-Canadian so [my daughter] speaks one-third English, one third French, and one third Swahili. That’s the type of world that we live in now. It’s just kind of cool to see kids grow up with a global mindset and be equally happy whether it be at home or at a different home in a different environment. If you can give your kids that competitive advantage, it’s something that I think should be embraced.
Interviewer: And if you took a step back – even to your growing up, what do you think was necessary in your environment to foster the fact that your brother started his part and then you joined in? Were your parents like social change agents? Is that a genetic thing?
Marc Kielburger: No, my parents are amazing, they’re both retired educators. My mom taught kids with learning disabilities and my dad taught French. They didn’t push us to do this, they didn’t take us out, they didn’t chain us to any stores, none of that. They’re just awesome parents, and they just said, “Yes, if you are passionate about this, do it.”
They didn’t push us to do this. They just didn’t get in our way and say, “You know what, we’re really concerned about your safety.” Even, of course, they were always concerned, and they always made sure we were safe. When we volunteered, they always asked all the right questions, but they didn’t say no, and it wasn’t a flat-out no. They said, “Let me understand. If this is something that you’re passionate about let me help you.” As opposed to putting up barrier, after barrier, after barrier. And that was the difference. They allowed us to be problem solving. Of course, they would help make sure that we had the same childhood safety and concerns as any mom or dad would or that any teacher would seriously consider, but they also helped us follow our passions and that made a difference.
Interviewer: We just have time for, I think, maybe one or two more questions. I was going to say now that President Obama has a little more time given that his Michigan State basketball team is no longer in the running. Say you have five minutes with the President, what would you say to him?
Marc Kielburger: Actually, I want five minutes with his daughters, not him, because I know where the power lies. I want his daughters to learn more and get engaged. They’re worldly ambassadors, and they are probably some of the kids who can talk most passionately about these issues, and if they get engaged and lead the way, the parents typically tend to want to support them and follow. And so, my five minutes would be with the kids, and potentially Michelle, and to see what’s possible as a family and invite them on an international volunteer trip. Come build a school together and participate and I think we’ll be in good hands with those two.
Interviewer: Sounds good. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking once again, Marc Kielburger.