We all know the quote from Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world”. It’s a beautiful sentiment and aspiration, and in 1995, one 12 year old boy named Craig Kielburger turned it from aspiration to life mission.
A Newspaper Article Unleashes a Shameless Idealist
In 1995, Toronto 7th grader Craig Kielburger read this headline in The Toronto Star: “Battled Child Labour, Boy 12, Murdered”. The article, about a Pakistani 12 year old boy named Iqbal MasihÂ – who had been sold into slavery at the age of 4 – and spent 6 years of his life chained to a carpet making loom. At age 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery and started speaking out for child labour rights. Over the next two years he gained worldwide attention, including the so-called “Carpet Mafia” [owners of child labourers for carpet manufacturing] and on a Sunday walk home from church, he was assassinated.
Craig Kielburger and a small group of his 7th grade friends decided to continue Iqbal’s fight for children’s rights through petitions and lobbying and Free The Children was born.
In December of 1995, Craig travelled to India to experience the culture & the conditions for himself. The result of that visit was the successful lobbying by Free The Children to the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, who discussed the child labour issue with the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India.
Also resulting from this time, was Free The Children’s major success in having the Canadian and Italian governments tighten their laws against their citizens who sexually exploit children in developing nations.
Craig’s tenacious passion and hard work was paying dividends with worldwide media attention, and he appeared numerous times on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as Free The Children had partnered with Winfrey’s Angel Network.
[Craig Kielburger & Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Harpo Productions]
To date, Free The Children has built over 650 schools and school rooms and implemented projects in 45 developing countries through its approach of “children helping children”. The majority of the organization’s annual funding comes from money raised by young people.
Me to We
Craig treats his social activism in the same way entrepreneurs treat their businesses – as an organization that needs to be self-sustaining & accountable to its stakeholders. Craig recognized that Free The Children’s administration costs needed to be covered, to allow 100% of donations to go directly to the people who need them, so in 2008, Craig and his brother Marc created the social enterprise Me To We, with a mission of providing socially responsible goods and services. A full 50% of the profits go to Free The Children. Me To We sells socially conscious and environmentally friendly clothes, books and music, as well as life-changing experiences, like trips to impoverished locales in Africa to build schools.
Among our favourite products are the super-stylish multi-wrap bracelets, hand-made in Africa by women and the “Be The Change” tshirts.
Me to We also hosts live, global events called “We Day”. These concert-like gatherings are now so massive, they take place in some of the largest stadiums in North America. We Day attracts some of the most powerful inspirational speakers on the planet including Al Gore, Mia Farrow, Magic Johnson, Martin Sheen, Demi Lovato and entertainers including Nelly Furtado, Jennifer Hudson, The Jonas Brothers, Jason Mraz and more. There are no tickets available for purchase – to attend We Day, youth in attendance earn their seat through acts of service. We Day is expanding globally like wild fire and will host a UK We Day in March, 2014 at Wembley Arena.
A Rockstar With A Purpose
Craig has rightfully received countless accolades including The Order of Canada, The Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award, The Canadian Meritorious Service Medal and was the youngest recipient [at age 23] of The Globe and Mail’s ‘Top 40 Under 40′ distinction.
He has been interviewed on television internationally, including guest spots on The Colbert Report, The Hour and The Oprah Winfrey Show; he is a correspondent for CTV and CP24 television and appeared with Mia Farrow in a 2011 documentary titled “Haiti, a year after the quake.”
Yeah, Craig’s a social movement Rockstar, and we, at Different Is Cool, count ourselves among his rabid fans. We were thrilled that Craig was a guest at our inaugural fundraiser, Gateway to Bohemia, in October, 2011.
[Craig Kielburger, The Dalai Llama & Marc Kielburger]
Craig & Marc Kielburger are living testaments that one person truly can change the world – and as such, we can all aspire To Be The Change.