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we day inspire change

We Day Founder, Craig Kielburger, speaks about his work

This week I was lucky enough to attend a speech from Craig Kielburger, founder of We Day. Together him and his brother (Marc) organized a movement to empower youth to make a difference in today’s world.  We Day is an event held where your ticket is not purchased, but it is earned. Attendees must do one act for a local cause as well as one act for a global cause. It is a celebration with a host of speakers, leaders and entertainers to congratulate and continue inspiring these young people. Through his work, Craig has been recognized with multiple honorary degrees and awards from Human Rights, International Peace, Leaders of Tomorrow as well as being named a member of the Order of Canada. He also had the honor of working with the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa and is a best-selling author.

If you want to know a little more about We Day check out the video below, if you want to hear more about Craig’s speech, keep on reading.

When Craig was 12 he opened up the newspaper in search of his beloved Comic section (what other newspaper sections do most 12 year old’s read?). Instead, he found himself face-to-face with an article about a young Pakistani boy who had been sold as a slave when he was 4 years old and finally escaped when he reached 10. His name was Iqbal Masih and he joined Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF)  and started giving voice to his own story and the untold stories of many other children who were also enlisted as slaves. When he was 12, Iqbal was murdered.

After reading this article, a spark grew in young Craig. The next day he asked his classmates to commit to making a change that Iqbal would be proud of and that was where the dream was born. 12 children brought together by one idea and a leader with astronomical hopes, they started by holding bake sales, car washes and fundraisers which eventually led them to building a school in a third world country. At such a young age, Craig’s efforts were creating such massive ripples that the Dalai Lama called to invite him to a private retreat with other renowned leaders.  The focus of the weekend was one single question:

What is the greatest challenge facing our world Today?

After many long discussions, the group agreed that our single greatest challenge is raising a generation of passive bystanders. How we educate young people is a direct reflection of how well our society is equipped to face with the issues arising around us. In places such as Canada or the United States children receive not only a standard school-system education, but also are enrolled in music lessons, art, or sports to create a well-rounded childhood. What parents tend to fall short of is empowering their children to begin initiatives of change – to volunteer. The University of Virginia created a study to see the impact that regular volunteering had on young people. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that those who regularly volunteered were more likely to go onto secondary education, had better academic grades, had less abuse with alcohol and drugs and a better self-image. Overall, these kids were healthier and happier.

So we create change initiatives, we volunteer more, we donate more, what is the secret formula to overcoming the problems that so many charities and non-profit organizations are addressing?

In order to create any sustaining change, we need a well-rounded plan and we need media coverage. We need to not only start the conversation, but continue it. In our world today we are constantly being bombarded with so much information overload that we struggle to stay focused. Our problem is that we move from crisis to crisis, temporarily fulfilling our promise to solve the problem but once the media leaves, the money disappears and the initiatives break down. Craig has seen this first-hand when his group was doing work in Sierra Leone back in the 2000′s. For almost two years the country was consistently in the media spotlight, but when it became old news, people began to lose interest and investors stopped funding the development projects. The model that Craig and his Free the Children non-profit enterprise follow is a 5 year program to run their projects. 5 years gives them enough time to set up resources, teach the locals and allow them to become self-sufficient. A surprising statistic from the UN shows us that most clean water initiatives fail the first three years. The reason for this is they do not look at the big picture. In order for impoverished people around the world to be truly self-sufficient and free from foreign aid we need to give them tools, not simply throw money at them. His enterprise uses a model with 5 main focuses: clean water, healthcare, education, food security and small business knowledge. With this combination, people in need are given an environment where they can finally succeed.

There is a cultural shift happening right now and you can choose to be a part of it. We can choose to teach our young people to be kind, giving, and compassionate.We can choose to talk about the problems that our world is facing. We can choose to take action instead of idly standing by. We can choose to be smart humanitarians and inspire a generation of smart humanitarians.

If you would like to know more about how to get involved with We Day, you can visit: http://www.weday.com/take-action/