WE Movement Co-Founder and Human Rights Activist
WE Charity was founded in Canada in 1995 with the mission of effecting positive change on the world and inspiring a generation of young people. To achieve this goal, WE Charity has been able to implement domestic programs, known as WE Schools and WE Days, and international programs, known as WE Villages.
WE Charity has grown to help over 1 million people gain access to clean water and has provided over 200,000 children with the opportunity to get access to an education. More than 3,000 women have been provided with the tools to gain economic self-sufficiency. Through initiatives like promoting food security and improved agriculture, local communities have been able to provide over 15 million meals to feed their communities.
WE Charity’s WE Villages program has been engineering a sustainable international development model to end poverty across the globe. This five-pillar model addresses the primary causes of poverty by focusing on education, water, health, food and opportunity. WE Charity has worked to implement this model to help lift more than 1 million people out of poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
WE Charity’s domestic programs, WE Schools and WE Day, has provided service-learning programs to over 18,000 schools in the USA, Canada and the UK. More than 4.3 million students have been impacted by the WE Schools program. The experiential learning, which takes place through volunteering, action and real-world problem solving in local communities, helps to socially empower young children, as global issues are directly linked to core curriculum.
For WE Charity’s humanitarian efforts, the organization has received many awards, including the Human Rights Award from the United Nations, the Distinguished Peace Leadership Award and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
WE Charity Began by the Founders Reading a Newspaper Article. Where Can You Look for Inspiration?
“Entrepreneurs struggle to find new product ideas all the time. We were no exception. The Maasai taught us that some of the best ideas come from nontraditional thinking: no whiteboard or expensive consulting groups required. I’m not suggesting you need to fly to Kenya to generate new product or business solutions. But in the WEconomy, innovators need to step outside their comfort zones.
The News and World sections are full of stories from every social and economic sector, with no shortage of intractable problems seeking innovative solutions—how many of those can be product solutions? Climate change, water scarcity, poverty . . . sadly, the list of problems is long. But so are the opportunities for developing solutions.
While we’re on the subject of reading materials, business books will tell you about finances and accounting and management. Very few offer insights about the state of the world. Current affairs and business are not separate subjects. The world’s problems are innovations waiting to happen. Look for titles that explore the intersection between global issues, politics, and business. For that matter, extend your traditional learning platforms and look for networking opportunities at nonprofit seminars, where academics and charity leaders gather to discuss the electrification of urban dwellings in slum areas, or the distribution of medication to remote regions, or weaving mosquito netting out of recycled bottles.”
The Evolution of WE Charity through Adaptation
“In the beginning, before Oprah Winfrey’s assistance in helping to launch the orgnization, we funded Bal Ashram, a counseling center for freed child slaves in Rajasthan, India. Raids meant descending on brick kilns or kicking down doors to back-alley factories to find dark rooms filled with bewildered children; rescue workers led them dazed into the sunshine. Our mission back then was to free child slaves, which we took fairly literally to mean removing them from the workplace. But when we started to “free” the same children again and again, sold back into slavery, we realized we’d become a stop-gap measure. After consultations with locals, we shifted tactics. We started to build and repair schools, in order to provide the skills and economic opportunities that would become alternatives to bonded labor and raids. Each new school was a cause for tremendous celebration. Every child in the village streamed through the doors and sat two and three to a desk waiting for class to start.
It was around this time that Oprah started to fund us, and challenged us to more rigorously measure the effectiveness of our programs. So when we returned to our schools months later on follow-up visits, we found empty seats. Girls were dropping out in virtually every country in which we worked. We could build a school, but we couldn’t keep it filled with students.
In many developing communities, girls make daily treks to fetch water, often miles away, a task that can consume an entire afternoon— the school day. So we built rainwater catchment systems, dug boreholes, and installed water pumps next to our schools, so girls could attend class and return home with water.
Still, some of our best students missed long stretches of schooling. They were battling bouts of malaria or tuberculosis; others dropped out when their parents fell ill. This was the genesis of our health programming, which now includes mobile and permanent clinics and hospitals, along with wellness education.
Once we had full classrooms, some of our students couldn’t focus. It’s tough to solve science or math equations if you haven’t eaten a proper meal in several days. Malnutrition in some of our overseas partner communities is extreme. We implemented school lunch programs and planted vegetable gardens on campuses, making agriculture and targeted drip irrigation part of the curriculum. Children now learn farming techniques at school from local specialists, taking the findings home to their parents’ fields.
When people are healthy with full stomachs, free from the burden of carrying river water for miles, they have more time to work and provide for their families. Our final pillar of opportunity helped create alternative income programs, business education training, and community-led micro-loan groups. Tens of thousands of small businesses were seeded and grew, giving villages the tools to lift themselves out of poverty through employment.
We learned that we needed to help communities become sustainable and economically self-sufficient. With this five-pillar development model, partner communities become self-sufficient after about five years. It’s not a hand-out, but a hand-up that breaks the cycle of poverty.
That watershed realization led to a cycle of constant innovation and learning. Eventually, we would further hone our geographic focus to countries in which we could make the most impact.
We have since realized that when it comes to doing work in developing countries, especially in some of the poorest and most politically challenging of the world, there is still much to learn. The hardest part of development is not identifying what works through research- driven models, but operating within cultural contexts that are often vastly different, and complicated by extenuating circumstances of dire poverty and weak rule of law.”