At 12, Craig Kielburger wanted to make a difference. It took time to learn how.
Craig Kielburger knew at 12 years old that he wanted to make a difference, but it took a while to understand how.
Humanitarian, activist and social entrepreneur, Craig inspires young people to take action and drive social change.Craig Kielburger is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of a family of organizations dedicated to the power of WE, a movement of people coming together to change the world. Along with his brother Marc Kielburger, Craig co-founded WE Charity, which provides a holistic development model called WE Villages, helping to lift more than one million people out of poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Back at home in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, WE Schools and WE Day provide comprehensive service learning programs to 10,000 schools, engaging 2.4 million young change-makers. Lastly, he is the co-founder of ME to WE, a pioneering social enterprise, the profits from which help sustain the work of his charitable organization. His work has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 Minutes and the BBC. Craig is the youngest ever graduate from the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program. He has also received 15 honorary doctorates and degrees for his work in the fields of education and human rights. Craig is a New York Times bestselling author, who has published 12 books, as well as a nationally syndicated columnist. Craig has received The Order of Canada, the Nelson Mandela Freedom Medal and the World Children’s Prize. He was recently voted by Canadians as one of Canada’s top most trusted influencers in a Readers Digest poll, and along with his brother Marc, he was named Canada’s Most Admired CEO in the public sector in 2015.
“If you give kids the inspiration and tools to change the world, it will change their own lives in the process.”
Craig’s Early LifeCraig Kielburger is the second son of two teachers, his father Fred, and his mother Theresa Kielburger. The family grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, a community just north of the province’s capital city, Toronto. In 1995, Craig Kielburger read a newspaper article about the murder of a 12-year-old boy named Iqbal Masih, formerly enslaved in Pakistan. He became an activist against child labour after he successfully escaped captivity. It’s reported that the young poor was murdered due to his activism. By the time he was in high school, Craig Kielburger was already a passionate and dedicated children’s rights activist.
Some of the earliest reports suggested that the young Masih was assassinated for his activism, a thought that moved Craig deeply. “It really upset me,” Craig said. “What did the two of us have in common other than our age?” This event is what inspired Craig’s conviction that youth should be active participants in issues that affect them, rather than allowing adults to speak on their behalf. The idea of children aiding children, tapping into the idealism and enthusiasm that is second nature to children to create social change remains fundamental to Craig’s beliefs. “Children have an innate ability to feel suffering and injustice and to be far more emotional in their feelings,” Craig said. “They haven’t accepted certain social norms, like there will always be poverty. The child who says: ‘this child is hungry; let’s feed them,’ might sound naïve to an adult. In fact, that’s a compassionate, logical, very well-through-of response. To say that we can end poverty in our world isn’t naïve, it’s idealistic. But young people need to be shamelessly idealistic in our world; it’s the only way things will change.”
Journey into Child LabourCraig Kielburger didn’t want to simply be an activist from afar – he wanted to visit the countries he spoke about and felt so passionately about. With guidance and assistance from an activist and university student, Alam Rahman, and letters of support from various other human rights organizations, Craig and his family prepared a seven-week trip covering cities in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Craig travelled throughout the winter of 1995-1996. During this trip, Craig met with multiple child labourers, as well as human rights organizations, an experience he would later chronicle in one of his books, Free the Children (1998), which he wrote along with Kevin Major. The book also describes how Craig met Jean Chrétien while he was still Prime Minister. At the time, he was in the region on a trade mission. During this fifteen-minute encounter, Craig Kielburger urged Chrétien to commit to adding child labour into his trade talk agenda and to put pressure on North American companies to cease trading with businesses that utilized child labour. The book also goes into detail about his encounter with Mother Theresa during her mission house in Calcutta, an encounter that had a great impact on Craig
Early InitiativesAfter learning the reality of child labour in 1995, Craig Kielburger was so impacted by the story of Iqbal that he and his brother rallied some of their classmates to launch the Kielburgers’ first charitable organization, Free the Children. The early-stage organization was a youth-led advocacy group that drew attention to the issue of child labour. “I was shocked. In school, I had learned about the American Civil War and the Underground Railroad, but I thought slavery was something out of the past, that it had been abolished,” Craig Kielburger said in a past interview with Yes Magazine. “After that, about ten of us started doing small things to help.” Craig has been driven by his conviction that children should be an integral part of addressing the issues that affect them and their peers, rather than allowing adults to speak on their behalf. He strongly believes in the idea of children aiding children, tapping into their innate idealism and enthusiasm to create a climate of social change. Free the Children (which eventually became WE Charity) successfully completed a 3,000-signature petition calling for the release of child labour Kailash Satyarthi that was sent directly to the prime minister of India at the time. Craig and his peers provided speeches about the reality of child labour at schools, churches, and community groups. His efforts drew the public’s attention when he provided a speech before the Ontario Federation of Labour, successfully leading to $150,000 in donations to a project supported by Free the Children.
Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material WorldIn 2004, Craig and Marc Kielburger published their guiding ideals in their book: Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World. “For everyone who has ever yearned for a better life and a better world, Craig and Marc Kielburger share a blueprint for personal and social change that has the power to transform lives, one act at a time. Through inspirational contributions from people from all walks of life, the Kielburgers reveal that a more fulfilling path is ours for the taking when we find the courage to reach out.” – Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World. The book included contributions from Oprah Winfrey, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Dr. Jane Goodall. The book touches on stories from the brothers’ own experiences, the experiences of their volunteers, and the people they met across the globe. This perspective became a focal point of the large youth rallies the brothers regularly held, which encouraged children and youths to participate in and lead charitable events.
Quotes by Craig KielburgerOver the years, Craig Kielburger has used his voice for the benefit of those in need, as well as for providing inspiration for youth to create change. His words have helped propel a movement that aims to make the world a better place for everyone. Below are some of the quotes Craig Kielburger has made over the years.
“What if purpose is the game-changing differentiator that gives products an edge? Purpose can be the inspiration for a new venture, but it can also be used to retrofit an existing product, all the while providing a tangible social impact that consumers can see.”
“In an age when you can track everything on your smartphone—caloric intake, daily steps, coffee purchases, stock portfolios — you should be able to track your social impact.”
“Although we had no shortage of good intentions, we quickly learned that it’s much harder to achieve lasting impact. Over time, we understood the difference between doing good and making scalable, sustainable change.”
“But the real heroes are the boys and girls who work in darkness, alone and forgotten. The real heroes are the children who have only their hands, their hearts, and their dreams.”
“Freeing children is never a question of money. Free children is a question of political will. We simply do not believe that world leaders can create a nuclear bomb and send a man to the moon but cannot feed and protect the world’s children. We simply do not believe it.”
“Child labour is an issue of grave importance. It must become a top priority for all governments of the world. How can the world move into the twenty-first century with children still being exploited for their labour and denied their basic right to an education?”
“Collectively, we have all it takes to create a just and peaceful world, but we must work together and share our talents. We all need one another to find happiness within ourselves and within the world.”
“You don’t need to be a corporate giant with hundreds of thousands of contacts and clients. From SMEs to individuals, we all have networks we can tap into to help us amplify the good.”