“One Young World – Lessons on Social Change from WE Day” Marc’s Remarks

Good afternoon, One Young World. For those of you looking for seats, come on in. It’s a pleasure to be here. Can I give a shout out to the Canadians in the house?! Where are my Canadians? It’s an honor to be here among all of you, and of course all of our Canadian friends. I’m so thrilled that One Young World is hosting here in Canada for the very first time. My job here today is to share with you some of the lessons that we’ve learned along the way, myself and my younger brother, Craig. We are Canadian, proudly. We’ve created an international organization dedicated to empowerment – empowering people at home and abroad. I want to share with you some lessons that we have learned along the way – some lessons of social change.


Before I begin, not only do I want to say thank you to David and to Kate, I really want to say thank you to all of you because we know how hard it is to get here. Not just to get here, but to truly be here and to represent our generation. So, on that note, I want to share with you first a story, something called the minga philosophy. And it’s set here in one of the communities that we work internationally, in Ecuador. Now, we build schools all around the world and we work internationally, we work at home, we work abroad, but internationally, we work in 8 countries – including in Ecuador where we help young people have the chance to go to school. I’ll never forget the first time we built this school, perhaps it’s my favorite school out of the thousand that we have built. And this school was exciting because we were building our school, and building our school, and building our school, and we had all of our supplies going up on the back of mules, on the back of donkeys up tiny, winding mountain paths in order to get the supplies up. There are no roads and the situation was this – it was peak harvest season so all of the food was coming off. Of course, everybody was harvesting their food and on the back of donkeys, in the opposite direction, on tiny, winding mountain paths, and in the middle of nowhere, we were trying to build a school in the middle of nowhere in the Andes mountains and there was a traffic jam of donkeys.

So, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want the food to rot so we sent the food down and we had an opportunity, of course, to not finish the school because the supplies weren’t going to be able to reach in time. So, we went to the woman of the community, the eldest woman, the chief, and we explained what happened, and she said, “No problem.” We said, “No, ma’am. It’s a big problem. We’re not going to finish the school.” She said, “No problem. I will call a minga.” And she walked out of her hut, overlooking her gorge, and she said in her loudest possible voice, she said, “Tomorrow, there will be a minga.” And it reverberated because it was there – like “minga, minga, minga, minga..” She came back and she said, “See! No problem.” And we were like, “…ok…” So, we brought our young people together and we said, “We don’t know what to do. She called a minga and it was super awkward. We’re not sure what to acknowledge here.” So, we said, “We better work all night.” And we worked all night long, a group of young Canadians thinking that we weren’t going to finish this school.

But, at 6 o’clock in the morning, at 7 o’clock in the morning, at 8 o’clock in the morning, because we were up, the incredible, majestic sunrise started to come up over the Andes mountains and we saw all of these people started to come. They heard this word, this term – minga. Even though there aren’t cellphones, everybody said that there would be a minga tomorrow and people left their fields in peak harvest season, even though they weren’t going to benefit from the school themselves because they lived so far away, many walked all night long, they came, they finished the school, they had a big celebration and then POOF! they all left. They all left! And we were totally dumbfounded. We went to the woman, this time we had our heads bowed, and we said, “Ma’am – what did you do?” and she said, “I called a minga.” We were like, “We know! What’s a minga?!” and she said “Oh, a minga in my language, in Chatchawan, it means the coming together of people to work for the benefit of all.” And we said, “Wow. The coming of other people to work for the benefit of all!” She said, “So what’s the world in your language?” and we said, “We’ll be right back.” So, we grabbed our group of young Canadians and we asked them what the word is. We said it’s kind of like volunteerism but not really because you could do that alone, it’s kind of like barn-raising but how much barn-raising is in downtown Ottawa anymore. She was starting to get agitated, asking us, “What’s the word???” and we were like, “It’s kind of like a riot for good.” She’s still probably calling it a riot for good.

The reason that I share that story with you is, this is a minga. What David, Kate, One Young World, and all of you who are participating, this is the closest thing I could think of that is the true embodiment of what this woman means. This truly is a minga. You should be so proud to be here. So, as we embark on this journey, I want to share with you, very quickly, four lessons that we have learned and then I am going to introduce you to one of my colleagues who is going to come up and inspire you.

The first lesson is basic, anybody can change the world. You might say, “Marc, I already know that” – but I really want you to believe in it. I want you to believe in it. Very quickly, the story of why we are here. Not just why I am here, but why I am here today is because of this photograph. This young boy from Pakistan named Iqbal Masih. My brother at the age of 12 was looking for the comic section of our local newspaper. Instead of seeing the comic section, he saw the story of another 12-year-old boy. Iqbal’s story was, at the age of 4, his parents in Pakistan took on a debt and couldn’t afford to pay the debt off and they used him as collateral. So, he went off with a man and ended up working and being shackled to carpet looms for 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. He had no opportunity to go to school. At the age of 10 he was lucky. He was able to run away. They had forgot to chain him down one day. He got hooked up with a local human rights organization. The thing about Iqbal was that he was very soft spoken, but very well spoken. He started to go from town to town, from village to village to educate other parents on why they shouldn’t sell their kids.

My brother kept on reading the article and at the age of 12, he [Iqbal] got something called the Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston and he gave this incredible speech. He held a carpet tool in one hand, and he held a pencil in the other, and he spoke of freedom – the freedom for kids to go to school. At the age of 12, my brother kept on reading, finally he reunited back with his family and he seemed so happy to be back home, riding his bike with his cousin. And the people who owned the carpet factory where he used to work, came out of nowhere and they shot, and they killed him. They killed him because he was impacting global carpet sales. So, my brother, at the age of 12, took this article to his class and said, “Who wants to help?” One hand went up, another hand went up, another hand went up. 11 others plus him started a club and they said, “We’re going to call the club 12, 12-year-olds” and then two weeks later, one of the kids turned 13. But the point being is this, he wanted to make a difference. He asked me for my help a week later and I said, “Sure” – it’s been 20 years now. It’s been amazing to see that group of 12, 12-year-olds – this was our first that we wanted to do, this is our local town festival. We wanted to build one school. We have now built 1,000 and we’ve gone from that to this.

Read more about my borther Craig Kielburger here

These amazing events that we have called WE Days. It’s kind of like One Young World for really young people so they can one day be in this room. And we do 16 of these events, all over the world. 16 of them – 20,000 kids from 1,000 schools every year and we celebrate social change. Our organization is now called WE. It’s the WE Movement and we’re very proud of it. We have a chance to share, engage, and celebrate. Welcome to the power of WE. We’re very passionate. Everybody can change the world, lesson number one.
Lesson number two, is giving people the dignity not to need your help anymore. We call it a hand up, not a hand out. We know that many of you are philanthropic, many of you will start social enterprises if you haven’t already, many of you are in commerce or business or perhaps you will be one day soon. So, let me tell you why this is so important. I want to take you internationally this case to our WE Villages model. We work with 8 countries around the world, we have about 2,000 kids that we’ve educated, 1,000 schools that we’ve built – all around the world. We take old schools like this, and old schools like this, and we have an opportunity through the help of community and engagement and 12,000 schools here in North America that fundraise for this to have a chance to build new schools, new school rooms, classrooms and communities all around, providing education. Young people getting engaged to help other young people on college campuses, in elementary schools, in secondary schools, making sure that we can create an opportunity to engage together. So, why is this relevant? Well, let me share with you why and it’s about education. Here is the thing, we started building schools and we built schools, and we built schools, and we built schools, and the challenge was this – many of you probably already know this – boys were going to the school and the girls weren’t present.

So, we went to the community like we always do, and we said, “What’s up? Where are the girls?” and they said, “Nobody has ever asked us that question before.” We said, “What do you mean?” and they said, “People come and want to make a difference; they want to help and then they leave. They never ask our opinion.” We said, “Of course. That’s ridiculous. Where are the girls?” and they said, “They’re getting water.” Interestingly enough, I had the privilege of going to Harvard on scholarship and I learned under an amazing development economist named Jeffrey Sachs. All of the statistics show that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number one reason why girls don’t go to school isn’t because there aren’t any schools, it’s because they often have to go get water for their village – especially the girls that live in rural areas. So, we said, “What do we need to do?” and they said, “Can you bring water to the schools?” and we said, “Of course.” So, all of our schools have water so that girls can go to school. They go home with a bucket of water and an education. So cool.

We went to the community and we said, “What else do we need to do?” and they said, “Can you make sure that the kids can enough food? Because they only get tea in the morning.” We said, “Absolutely.” So all of the schools have a school, water, and a school garden. All of the schools also have access to healthcare. But, most importantly, not only the schools are empowered, the women of the communities are empowered because we ensure – and this is so important – we ensure that the mothers are empowered so that they can afford to send their kids to school in the first place. Because you can build schools, you can have water, you can have health, you can have all of these great things, but if your economic fundamentals aren’t right, it’s not going to work. It’s simple macro and micro economics 101. So, we empower the women, we give them financial literacy, we give them micro-credit, skills. We give them things like the Rafiki friend chains – which are on your seat and I’ll show you them in a minute. These are mechanisms of economic empowerment. The women don’t have the opportunity to get this for free. The spend $2 on a water jug, $2 when their kid is sick, but you know what, they can afford it. That’s what this is all about – giving people the dignity so that they don’t need your help anymore. So, I want to share with you now the second lesson. This critical lesson that if you want to change the world, it must be a hand-up, not a hand-out.

Lesson number one, anybody can change the world. Lesson number two, a hand-up, not a hand-out. Lesson number three, using social enterprise to solve critical issues. We have about 500 full-time team members that work with us here in Canada and internationally. To give you a sense, we received 24,000 applications last year for 240 spots. It’s three-times harder to get a job now at WE than it is to get into Harvard. The reason that I share that with you, and it’s for a very specific reason, is because we take business graduates more and more and more because international graduates we love, poli-sci graduates we love, but we need to make sure that you have business skills. If you’re a business graduate, we want to say thank you. If you’re in political science or psychology, whatever you’re studying, take that stats course, take the math course, take the marketing course. We need well-rounded people who understand the fundamentals. It’s so critical.

So, for us, the person that taught us this is, and our WE to ME line, our ME to WE division of how the fact that business truly can change the world is this fine gentleman right here. He’s no stranger to One Young World, he’s very active with our organization, and he’s an amazing person – of course, Sir Richard Branson. The reason I share this with you is that I want to have a chance for you to feel the impact of this. As I mentioned, on all of your chairs is something called a Rafiki friend chain. Rafiki means friend is Swahili, the local language in Kenya where we actually have a chance to employ 1,500 full-time women who bead these amazing bracelets and also artisan goods that are now sold in 12,000 retail locations in North America. 12,000 doors. These women make four times as much money as their men. Four times as much money as their men! You see them and their like, “Look at my goat. I know have a latrine. I now can send my girl to school.” It’s the fundamentals of business meeting social change – business and social change together. It’s a powerful format. These women are now economically empowered because of this. I want you to wear this, I want you to go home, and I want you to tell the story of these women. Very quickly, on the back of your packaging there is a code. You can actually go onto WE.org, enter in the code, and see where it was made. Very cool. Transparency and accountability coming together to change the world.

Our last lesson is this, make it cool to care. We talked about how anybody can change the world. We talked about hand-up, not a hand-out. We talked about using business skills to solve social problems. Finally, we will talk about make it cool to care. Changing the world is the single coolest thing you can do and, of course, this is a demonstration of that – having people on the stage today, having the opportunity to share with you is so important. But for so many people, they don’t understand this and it’s our job as our generation to go back and inspire them to make sure that this is not only possible, but it’s also cool. It’s something that we’re very passionate about, especially for the younger generation who one day will be here at One Young World. There’s a thing we do called WE Day. We do 16 of these events all around the world. We bring amazing people together to celebrate social change all throughout Canada, throughout the United States and going, and having the opportunity to have people like Kermit the Frog and Zooey Deschanel which is always fun. Our Prime Minister is a big engaging person, Prince Harry, Malala, and President Sirleaf, and many, many others who have come and participated. And for our Canadians, this fine gentleman [Gord Downie] is going to be at WE Day Toronto which we are very excited about.

But the reason that I share this is that we need to make change in the world so socially possible and acceptable. I need you to go home, to your communities and mentor a young person who one day can be at One Young World. Tell them, “Keep it up. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’re so cool for doing it.” So, ladies and gentlemen, I want to say thank you to David and to Kate. One day the next generation will be in these seats and we’re so proud to be a small part of that process. We’re so proud that you’re going to go back and make it cool to care.