We founded WE Charity 20 years ago and have grown it into a world-changing family of three organizations that includes WE Day, the youth empowerment event, and ME to WE, the social enterprise. This family of organizations, hosted on the platform WE, empowers people to change the world locally, globally and through their consumer choices.
One of our big passions is speaking to young people, sharing with them how they can get involved and how WE can change the world. Half the world’s population is under 30, so we’re betting on young people to create lasting change.
We’re passionate ambassadors for social change and today we dedicate much of our time to spreading the message of our organizations, and taking our work into new regions, including in the US and the UK, and in rural developing communities.
We’re also social entrepreneurs, looking to use the best of business practices to bring about social change.
We’re really about blending the best of business strategies and social change—social change brings about clear, positive impact and business provides the means to do so.
We’re also trying to evolve the non-profit sector, to take it from being handout driven and totally donor dependent, which is a short-term model for helping someone, to transformative and sustainable. We want to empower people to never need charity again through a sustainable, holistic development model.
We spend a lot of time traveling, and when you walk through any airport, it seems that every third ad is from a charity asking for your money. Everyone keeps asking for money to create social change, but few have come up with mechanisms outside of the direct ask to bring in funds.
The non-profit sector needs to be far more entrepreneurial. We want to make it the norm to celebrate innovation, efficient use of resources and scaling for impact. We’re passionate about measurements, research, accountability, technology and achieving scale.
My day usually starts at 5:45 a.m. to do emails, squeeze in a workout and hang out with my two daughters, before heading to the office. I frequently attend evening functions and I am typically home by 10 p.m. I take Sunday as family day, with the kids and my amazing wife, Roxanne.
I am more of a homebody now that I have daughters. I’m based in Toronto, where I meet with stakeholders, speak to young people and corporate audiences, and consult with the executive directors of WE Charity, WE Day and ME to WE, who run the show at their respective organizations.
I travel 300 days of the year, so there’s no such thing as a typical week for me. I might be visiting our projects in the Amazon’s cloud forest in Ecuador, then speaking at a school in Lethbridge, Alberta. Both of those things equally excite me.
I’m back and forth between high school gymnasiums and boardrooms, doing speaking engagements and meeting with potential partners and new supporters of our work, from schools and families to corporations like Unilever and Microsoft.
On planes I check emails, read bookmarked news articles, listen to books on tape, take conference calls with my team—sometimes perilously close to takeoff, much to the chagrin of the flight attendants—and take advantage of the confined space to fulfill my passion project, which is writing. Having Wi-Fi in the air now is life-changing for me.
Wherever I am, I try to squeeze in dinner with a friend or mentor. And by then, the week is probably over, but I’m not sure what day it is because I’ve been through too many time zones.
WE is the platform that brings together our family of organizations. It is the overarching philosophy of our life’s mission. It’s about connectivity, the idea of coming together to change the world. It’s about WE, not us-and-them.
With WE Charity, WE Day and ME to WE, we want to help people change the world in three distinct areas: internationally, locally and with their consumer choices. To do this requires unique skill-sets, governance systems and expertise. Each of the three organizations has its strengths and limitations, and is legally distinct. And WE introduces their activities on one, world-changing platform.
I love crossing items off my life bucket list. For example, I’m a certified solo skydiver and nitrox scuba diver.
I was really shy growing up. Speaking to large groups is a big part of what I do, so people are surprised to learn that it took me a long time to get over that shyness.
We were once invited to a think-tank, where some of the greatest thought leaders of our time were present—philosophers, professors, world leaders—and we were there as youth representatives. The question this group was tackling was, “What is the single greatest challenge facing our world?”
Ultimately, we decided that the root of every issue—war, poverty, environmental degradation—is apathy. That became a big lesson for us.
Since that point, we’ve thought deeply about what prevents people from getting involved, and how to break down those barriers. It’s what we call spheres of compassion. We’re hardwired to protect ourselves first—the me—then that sense of self-preservation expands to include our families and friends, our neighborhoods, faith communities and so on. We’d do anything for our families—especially parents for their children. But many people don’t look beyond their geographical location, race or religion to help others, who are not part of what they have determined is “my community”. Always in last place, for most people, is the international community, where it’s much harder to feel a connection that emotionally compels us to act—that connection is compassion. Part of moving from ME to WE is breaking down and expanding our spheres of compassion.
The second challenge is that even if we feel a connection, even if we care, we think that we can’t make a difference; we are too small and powerless. And we’re all guilty of having this mindset: I’m only one person, what difference can I make? There are too many problems in the world; it’s too overwhelming. Or we don’t know where to start or where to go to find the resources.
Both of these were huge obstacles when we first started. Reading about the murder of Iqbal Masih in Pakistan shattered my spheres of compassion when I felt a connection with another boy my age on the other side of the world. Then we struggled to help, not knowing how to make a difference.
Now, WE is the overarching philosophy for all of the work that we do, connecting people and empowering them so that together WE can make a massive impact. The two most powerful letters in the English language are not me, they’re WE.
We were a well-meaning bunch of kids who not only made a lot of mistakes, but also asked a lot of questions and learned as we went. We constantly honed our approach. We also started to realize that the existing charitable model seemed broken, as were its funding mechanisms. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
We launched WE Charity in 1995, after I read about Iqbal, a child slave. We were a dozen kids sitting around our parents’ kitchen table, with a fax machine and a Commodore 64 computer, making poster boards to raise awareness about child labor on the other side of the world. Partly because no one took us seriously as kids who wanted to help change the world there were few resources. We couldn’t find a charity focused on engaging young people, treating them as equals and partnering with them to tackle these challenges.
WE Charity started with factory raids—literally breaking down doors in sweatshops, working with local groups on the ground to coordinate the effort, and then returning the children to their homes. But for these families, each returned child meant another mouth to feed. Sometimes, we’d learn that another child had been pledged for the debt, or that another son was still in bondage. We were “rescuing” the same children multiple times, poached by child traffickers or resold by families with no other choices.
We realized we needed to break the cycle of poverty that was the cause of child labor, so we started building schools. But many children didn’t attend, especially girls, who had to walk hours to fetch water or care for their parents when they got sick. There were so many more barriers to education than we realized; it’s not only a lack of school buildings. You can’t just build a school; you have to fill it with students. Gradually, after lengthy discussions with community elders in our partner countries, we formed our holistic development model, Adopt a Village, with five pillars: education, clean water, health, food security and alternative income. That became our international model focused on sustainable impact.
Still, we knew there were children at home who hadn’t read about Iqbal and knew nothing about child labor, and we knew from our experience that even kids who wanted to help had nowhere to turn.
So we went from empowering youth overseas to also focusing on empowering youth at home, connecting them with global issues and social causes, partnering with schools to bring change from within the classroom with WE Schools.
We wanted to make caring cool and changing the world possible for young people. And we wanted to get youth directly involved in fundraising and awareness raising, the kinds of things we wished we had back then. WE Day grew out of our mission to empower youth to change the world, to celebrate the volunteer actions that thousands of students around the world undertake every year, for local and global causes.
We later realized that all that trial and error at the beginning was creative destruction, innovating and refining our mission. Charities aren’t allowed to fail, or not allowed to admit their failure. They’ll be scrutinized and ridiculed. Today, the scope and scale of the WE movement is a testament to the fact that charities should question their methods and adapt accordingly, and be transparent about failure. We learned the hard way that you can’t run a charity on good intentions. We needed a sustainable source of funding that wasn’t totally dependent on donors or government handouts or the latest news headlines.
We started to realize that WE Charity could make longer-term plans, take innovation risks, cover administrative costs and achieve sustainability if it had the resources of a business at its disposal. We wondered if it was possible to build a business that would generate revenue for WE Charity, perhaps one day helping to underwrite some of the costs of its operations.
We went on to start a social enterprise, ME to WE, before there really was a designation in Canada.
Its first offerings were international volunteer experiences—ME to WE Trips—and handmade products made by Kenyan mamas—ME to WE Artisans. Half the net profits are donated to WE Charity. This money enables WE Charity to track investments, grow and scale, invest in research and development, pay to keep top staff and attract capital. The balance is used to grow the social enterprise, such as purchasing tents for volunteer trips, or building new web platforms to bring the artisans’ products to socially-conscious consumers. It is the perfect balance.
People often ask us if we fought growing up. Truth be told, we never did fight— except for when Marc would use me as a bowling ball or toss me down the stairs. Kidding, sort of. Probably we didn’t fight much because Marc is six years older than I am and he was a rugby player, and I’m smart enough to know I’d be outmatched. We also had very different interests. Marc was into sports and I was into science fiction and Scouts. If we were cast in the Breakfast Club, he’d be the jock and I’d be the nerd. And the six-year age gap kept us from having the same classrooms and even the same schools, so we didn’t have that schoolyard rivalry that some siblings have—he was in university while I was still in high school.
I would fly home to Toronto from Harvard nearly every weekend to help get WE Charity up and running while Craig was still in high school. I’d be in Boston from Monday to Thursday, and Toronto from Friday to Sunday. I had been involved in WE Charity from its earliest days when Craig would barge into my room and speak faster than he could think about Iqbal and getting his friends involved, long before we knew it would become a charity. I strategized, wrote grant proposals, and traveled with Craig to visit Congress in Washington to denounce child labor.
We were both so invested from the very beginning that working together just comes naturally. Our passion for activism binds us more than our differences. We complement each other rather than compete with each other. We even have complementary backgrounds and degrees that help us work together. I studied political science at Harvard and law at Oxford. I never chose to work in the traditional for-profit sector because I realized my life purpose and expertise would be beneficial in navigating the non-profit space.
I took a different route, with a degree in peace and conflict studies from the University of Toronto, and then an EMBA at Kellogg-Schulich. All of those things—development theory, legalities, logistics approach— from business have helped us grow the organization and helped us work together, bringing different things to the table. And now, Marc spends more time in the office in Toronto with the team, while I spend more time on the road.
We are incredibly humbled to receive this honour. It really speaks to the dedication of the whole team, so we see it as a team award, and it reflects on all of us and the values and effort and integrity we put into our work. This award inspires us to continue to do better, to always improve.
During the application process, they asked a lot about WE Charity’s broader goals and objectives. We stressed that WE Charity is a proudly Canadian organization with an unprecedented reach. Through our amazing team, WE Charity has grown into a $45-million a year charity, partnering with developing communities through our unique Adopt a Village model, and involving 2.3 million young people in our WE Schools service-learning programs. With WE Day now in 14 cities in three countries, we hope we have shown it is ‘cool to care.’
We are also so proud of WE Charity’s efforts to create active local citizens by working with 7,000 plus Canadian schools. The impact of this programming never ceases to amaze us. The third-party reviewing organization, Mission Measurement, found that 70 percent of youth involved in WE Charity voted in the last federal election. That shows, in real numbers, the impact of our programming. We’re very pleased to have been recognized.
Learn more about Canada’s Most Admired CEOs.
Each organization in the WE family— WE Charity, WE Day and ME to WE — makes it possible for people to change the world internationally, locally or through their consumer choices. They fit together as a family of organizations, making it possible and easy for people to create massive change.
Again, we believe people don’t act because they don’t know how or are not connected to the issues. Our organizations work to overcome that. Each is separate and has a distinct purpose. Taken together, they create a platform that allows ordinary individuals, every single day, to create a positive social impact. This platform is available to young people, from kindergarten to Grade 12 and beyond, to educators, families and corporations. We are raising the next generation of changemakers.
WE Schools seeks to transform education, bringing service learning into tens of thousands of classrooms. Becoming involved in service programs changed our lives, including inspiring what we wanted to study in school, teaching us entrepreneurial life skills and introducing us to great friends and mentors.
We believe in the power of service to set youth on a positive life path. Studies of our program show that young people achieve extraordinary success in academics, life skills and active citizenship, and connect young people to Adopt a Village, our international development program. We believe that change requires fundamentally changing the school system. We’ve seen success—80 percent of alumni, those students who participate in WE Schools and WE Day together— do volunteer work. This is the critical time for them to achieve positive action.
WE Day is a celebration of the individual to make a difference in their local and global communities. When we were teenagers we dreamt of finding a like-minded community of socially-conscious youth. WE Day has become the reward mechanism for WE Schools, but it is also a pivotal moment in the life of a youth participant who gets to be in a stadium with 20,000 young change-makers and know that he or she is not alone in the desire to change the world.
Through WE Schools, young people have to support at least one local cause and one global cause to earn their way to WE Day. These young people assist 600 to 1000 charities annually. Supporting WE Charity’s WE Villages program is one of the many ways that young people help globally.
WE Charity carries the power of WE globally, connecting individuals across oceans to our partner communities in developing countries. Adopt a Village is a development model that empowers communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
Adopt a Village incorporates five pillars of empowerment that work together to allow the community to take ownership of each aspect.
This unique model also links donors and youth in the developed world with their sister village, including the opportunity to visit, learn about development and volunteer–because WE are all part of a global village.
The purpose of ME to WE can be traced to the mid-2000s when WE Charity was struggling to fund its programs in Sierra Leone. After the civil war, Sierra Leone was listed last on the UN Human Development Index. But after the newspaper headlines faded, charitable donations to the country were drying up. WE Charity realized that its decrease in donor funds required that it either scale down operations or find a new immediate source of unrestricted funding that could be allocated to Sierra Leone.
As context, our partnerships in the country were very personal. While Craig pursued a degree in peace and conflict studies, he wrote his undergraduate thesis about child soldiers in Sierra Leone and made multiple trips to interview victims of conflict.
By the mid-2000s, after a decade of experience growing WE Charity, we had learned that donor dollars were extremely unpredictable. We wanted a more stable and predictable source of revenue to minimize financial uncertainties. In addition, most donors allocated their funding to specific projects, building a school in ‘country X, for example, and it was difficult for us to secure dollars for needs that were not emotionally compelling but would grow the charity’s impact, such as staffing, administration, research and measurement. In short, we created ME to WE in part to provide financial predictability with unrestricted dollars to support the hardest-to-fund aspects of WE Charity.
Over the years, ME to WE has donated over $3.5 million CAD in cash and over $5 million CAD in high-value, in-kind support. In a time when many charities are increasing the percentage of profits allocated to fundraising expenses, WE Charity has been able to maintain a low administration rate of approximately 10 percent, in part because ME to WE offsets certain WE Charity expenses. For example, ME to WE’s donations fund the rent for WE Charity’s Toronto headquarters. And we’re happy to report that Adopt a Village program is still active in Sierra Leone.
We advocate on behalf of the WE philosophy, acting primarily as ambassadors and spokespeople to spread the message about how individuals can get involved with the family of organizations.
Much of Craig’s time is spent expanding to new regions—especially now as we grow our efforts in the US, UK, China, and a number of other rural areas in developing countries. I love to dream up and suggest the development of new projects, like Track Your Impact. I continue to spend time in the office mentoring the senior team. And of course, both of us spend much of our time raising funds to support WE Charity, especially engaging with heads of corporations and foundations.
Our core belief is focused on creating a sustainable impact, and that vision of sustainability includes succession planning for leadership. A great advisor once said that true success is building something that outlasts you. Years ago we were proud to transition our roles and grateful for the leadership of Scott Baker as Executive Director of WE Charity, Dalal Al-Waheidi as Executive Director of WE Day, and Russ McLeod as Chief Operations Director of ME to WE. We transitioned from the Board of Directors of WE Charity, as it is very well established with leaders in the fields of philanthropy, ethics, education, finance, accounting and legal matters. ME to WE is still a start-up and we both will continue to sit on the Board of Directors until it reaches a greater level of maturity.
We strive for lasting impact. For us, true success would be to arrive at the office of each entity, and the receptionist say, “Hello, may I help you?”
They run the organizations independently but we are there to support them in growth and strategy.
At WE Charity, Executive Director Scott Baker—he has his Masters in mathematics and is former Ecuador Country Director—drives the strategic and financial direction.
At ME to WE, Chief Operations Director Russ McLeod—who has a business degree—drives our matrix and explores the nature of social entrepreneurship and how we can further our work.
Dalal Al-Waheidi, the Executive Director of WE Day—a former Executive Director of WE Charity with extensive experience in women’s empowerment work—cultivates relationships and implements the incredible vision of WE Day.
We are grateful for the incredible leadership of the senior team. If a staff member or volunteer asks for our advice, we are happy to support them, but we always defer to the decisions of the three most senior leaders. We have full confidence in their abilities to bring the organizations’ impacts to full potential, and guide the day-to-day processes, administration, financial decisions, governance and human resources. With respect to human resources, we’re often asked about job opportunities when we’re on the road. We’re not involved in day-to-day aspects such as hiring decisions. Although we’re thrilled that so many people want to join the team!
We purposely decided from day one not to take a salary from WE Charity. We work to reduce the administration rate, so we did not want to be a burden. Also, we wanted as much of the money raised as possible to go directly to our projects.
In the early days, both Craig and I were extremely fortunate to receive a number of educational scholarships and fellowships to provide for our studies and the early days of our social impact career paths. During his undergraduate and graduate studies, Craig was a TD Scholar and subsequently a Moss Scholar. I was grateful to work as a page in the House of Commons, and later receive a scholarship to Harvard, and then become a Rhodes Scholar for my law degree. After graduating, Craig was an Action Canada Fellow, and I became an Ashoka Fellow, which enabled me to support myself for several years.
We now earn a salary from ME to WE. Like all team members, our salaries are in line with the Imagine Canada recommendations for charities and social enterprises. Our heart is focused on WE Charity and we’re grateful to be able to dedicate the majority of our time and efforts to growing the charity’s impact. Again, we do not receive any remuneration from WE Charity.
The charitable sector keeps growing disproportionately. For every 176 Canadians, there is a registered charity or non-profit. The business world is all about creating mergers and acquisitions, cost-efficiencies and greater scale, scope and effectiveness, growing your market. In the non-profit sector, it seems to be the opposite. There is an ever-shrinking pie of philanthropic dollars and an ever-increasing number of non-profits seeking those dollars.
A business has to find a unique role in the marketplace or it won’t succeed. The same rule should apply to charities, but often doesn’t. Too many non-profits duplicate the efforts of existing organizations, and spend more on overhead where cost efficiencies are so important. Each new non-profit spends on administration and fundraising, using money that could have helped the homeless or gone to cancer research, had the founders simply supported existing organizations. Think of Warren Buffett, who could easily have launched his own foundation, but instead gave much of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation rather than duplicate its model of philanthropy. The non-profit sector needs passionate volunteers and donors, but it doesn’t need more organizations doing the same thing.
We actually wrote about this in our column; it’s something we feel passionate about.
Part of it is social entrepreneurship, where the business supports the charity and underwrites its admin costs. But part of it is building that business mentality—in terms of operations, strategic partnerships and cost efficiencies—into the charity itself, into self-sustaining projects. For instance, take WE Charity’s Baraka Health Clinic in Kenya. It doesn’t cost the organization anything to run it. While we have helped to build the infrastructure around Baraka, the day-to-day costs, medical staff salaries, electricity, everything is paid for by the clinic itself. The local government pays for some of the procedures at clinics across the country, but besides that, Baraka is completely self-sustaining. It generates revenue by charging modest clinic fees. Because of alternative income programs in the area, the people in the community can afford to pay for their own health care.
I love budgets, so when I see that the program has achieved sustainability I get very excited.
I would go so far to say that social enterprise is the greatest untapped resource for doing good. It works on so many levels. As a revenue generator for the charity side, of course, and in bringing more people into the organization, both responsible consumers and business people. Corporate leaders are always excited about the model. I was talking recently with the CEO of a large retail corporation. He said he has 300 stores across the US. He pays rent, employs staff, there’s overhead costs for these stores. He said—his words—he’s “constantly bombarded” by charities that hit up the company for cash donations or to take out advertising space. I’d add that those same charities are also paying telemarketers and street canvassers, spending a lot for the exposure to donors.
But when ME to WE approached him, we wanted to tap into this enormous asset, namely piggy-backing on his 300 stores where we can sell ME to WE products, and achieve that exposure, for no overhead. Charities used to have to pay to build a brand, establish fundraising mechanisms and pay staff to spread their messages. Now instead of spending money to raise money, we leverage retail space as distribution centers and their staff as ambassadors. The social enterprise has allowed us to unlock an even greater area of support. As we grow and expand, this is cash positive for WE Charity. ME to WE does not just offer WE Charity donation dollars. The social enterprise has the ability to unlock millions in assets from our corporate partners, as well as brand building, storytelling, access to consumers and access to an entrenched infrastructure.
Then we can’t forget the social good achieved through the work itself. For instance, ME to WE Artisans empowers women as entrepreneurs.
It used to be that charities and governments alone were tasked with solving the world’s problems. There are a number of factors at play that are altering this old model. Firstly, charities aren’t changing the world fast enough. Many of them are stuck in an old mentality, confined to slow-growth models fueled by limited donor dollars, instead of seizing control of their futures by generating their own revenue. It’s not sustainable—donor cycles shift and they can’t scale as fast as the problems they’re solving. They can’t innovate. Governments can’t look past regional self-interest.
Business is an often-untapped sector with the speed, resources and impact to affect massive positive change on a huge scale. Business now touches so many aspects of our lives, both at work and as consumers.
At work, people—especially millennials—are asking that social impact be built into their job descriptions. They want meaningful jobs that fulfill their values, and they’ve grown up in the information age where shady business practices are exposed with company boycotts that go viral.
There is a lot more external pressure on companies to beef up their corporate social responsibility programs. We’ve globalized trade but haven’t globalized human rights or environmental standards. As businesses grow more powerful, people are demanding that businesses hold themselves accountable to that power. That pressure will create massive change.
These past 20 years have been an extraordinary journey, driven by one question: how can we create the most change? We used to think we had to go to the United Nations or corral the Canadian Prime Minister to change laws. I did that once, with Jean Chretien, and it was only moderately effective.
Over the years, we’ve discovered that it’s far more important to reach as many people as possible—especially youth—and empower them with the knowledge that it’s not up to anyone else, it’s up to them to make a difference. That is the power of WE—not just a few people vying for the attention of world leaders but a movement that grows into positive social change so big that no one can ignore it. It’s about coming together to change the world.
I want to leave the world better than I found it. Now I have the added incentive of wanting to do that for my two little girls. I want their opportunities and legacy to be built on the knowledge that the world is heading in a positive direction
We envision a world where every child in Canada, the US and the UK has service learning and action planning as a part of their childhood and education. Where, how and what students learn is transformed to be deeply engaging and highly connected to the world they experience around them. We imagine how fundamentally different our schools, communities and world would be if we helped to raise a generation of compassionate young people. We want to provide unparalleled opportunities for young people to build their skills as active citizens so that they may create the next generation of non-profits, found innovative social enterprises and continue the cycle as future parents raising a generation of compassionate young people.
We imagine the possibility of moving development indicators overseas not just in one community, but in so many communities that we shift entire states/provinces on graduate rates, health rates and other indicators through Adopt a Village. We envision a world where all young people and their families are able to develop the skills and resources they need to take charge of their future; a world where communities and entire regions are equipped to break the cycle of poverty and never need charity again.
We will empower communities with the tools, resources and skills they need to build a brighter future by providing innovative, world-class programing that ensures the highest quality impact and that aligns with the priorities for each of the regions where we work. This will happen by:
We will transform how we communicate with our community of supporters and our stakeholders, creating more meaningful experiences with our organization and expanding the conversations around the outcomes of our work. This will happen by:
Allow me to share a noteworthy development towards these bold goals. In April 2015, we formally announced that Advanced Placement—known as AP and run by the US College Board— in partnership with WE Charity, is rolling out a pilot program called AP with WE Service to bring service learning into AP courses.
How will this work? Each teacher will use our service learning curricular modules tailored to each course—AP Spanish, for example, AP Computer Sciences, AP Art—for a minimum of 10 in-class hours per course, and students will engage in an additional 20 hours per course as part of student teams to implement their service project. We are starting with six AP courses as a pilot in 600 US schools. The intention over the coming years is to grow the program to all AP courses.
Many of our team are former teachers, and they immediately understand the significance of this announcement. However, for those not steeped in education reform movements, it is difficult to sufficiently articulate the extent to which this partnership has the potential to transform the high school experience for millions of students. We are establishing a national standard when it comes to service learning! Students who complete this framework will receive a special notification—AP (insert course) with WE Service—on their AP score reports and high school transcripts that are sent to colleges and universities. For the first time, university and college registrar’s offices will have a means of identifying if service learning was part of the course framework.
We are an empowerment organization, and our means of achieving that end has changed over time. Because we believe in constant innovation, a lot of people only see a tiny side of the prism we’ve created depending on when they began with us on this journey.
If you only heard of WE Charity in 1996, you’d think we were an organization that only frees children from sweatshops by breaking down factory doors. In 2002, you probably heard that we’re a school building organization. If you’re only familiar with WE Day, our youth empowerment events, you might think that we organize rock concerts to reward youth volunteers. This one we hear a lot—yes, Demi Lovato and Jennifer Hudson perform at WE Day, but youth who earned their way to the event by committing to one local and one global action also hear from Nobel Peace laureates like Malala Yousafzai, the activist for girls’ education who was shot in the head by the Taliban.
People see different snapshots of who we are along the way to where we are now. In many ways, this is our greatest strength—our willingness to grow, adapt and learn from the challenges we’ve encountered, and always strive for improvement. Most charities pick a mandate and stick with it, afraid of risking change. We aim for creative destruction, getting rid of models that don’t work and building on those that do.
But this also makes our work difficult to understand if you only encounter us briefly. Our work defies the 30-second soundbite rule for a commercial. The scope and scale of what we do is often lost because people want to have a concrete, simple solution and answer. But changing the world is not a simple or a singular job.
I’m incredibly proud of the power of WE Schools and WE Day. I never thought that it could become such a big movement that inspires so many young people. When we started our programs, youth making a social impact were anomalies; today, it’s part of the lives of millions of young people.
I believe that we’re setting youth on a life path that will have transformational impact. Independent research by the leading research firm Mission Measurement has shown that young people involved in our programs develop 21st century skills. They are more likely to work better in teams, lead projects, be able to speak up and work in collaboration. The organization is truly creating kids who are more likely to be successful in life. They are more purposeful and more successful in school. They are also a lot more interested in school. They are more passionate and able to connect the curriculum to real-world events. And these kids are more likely to start non-profits, more likely to be leaders on issues, and vote.
Mission Measurement research shows that:
• WE Charity develops fundamental youth interpersonal traits transforming their self-confidence and instilling in them a strong value system for their education, family and beyond.
• WE Charity inspires youth to identify and act as agents of change. Engagement with FTC engenders long-term commitment to solving social problems and instills youth with the skills needed to affect social change.
• Through engagement with WE Charity, youth experience profound academic and professional growth and develop critical 21st century skills, including leadership skills, as well as collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills, all of which contribute to creating better prepared students and job candidates.
What’s more, the research has found that:
• 67 percent of educators say their FTC students experienced transformational growth in their ability to project self-confidence because of FTC.
• 82 percent of youth who have participated in our programing feel inspired to be a role model to peers or siblings.
• 73 percent of FTC youth say they appreciate their family.
• Compared to their peers, 60 percent of FTC youth are more likely to regularly talk to their parents about social issues.
Of course, it’s about more than numbers. Behind each number is a life changed or a youth empowered. When we started we had a lot of doubt about our mission, about whether or not we would succeed. Today, a 12-year-old looking to change the world doesn’t have that self-doubt. That is our greatest success.