When the Keilburger brothers, Craig and Marc, were born they probably fixed the broken cribs in the nursery, persuaded all the mothers to buy some rocking chairs and rallied all the babies into a cry against infant formula.
All mere practice for when 12 year old Craig hearing about the brutal death of a 12 year old child labourer from Pakistan rallied his older brother and eleven other classmates to establish Free the Children. Their goal to reduce poverty and exploitation in developing countries. Fifteen years later they have 650 school and water projects in 16 countries around the world.
Not to take anything away from that achievement, they are doing something more important. They are taking direct aim at our consumerism, selfishness, lethargy and cynicism. Their bold vision – to mobilize a generation of young people to social justice. And they do this by filling arenas usually reserved for rock concerts or NHL teams.
The Keilburgers represent a striking combination of bold vision, big impact, scaling up, business smarts and sustainability. I remember a conversation with Marc just before he became an Ashoka fellow. He understood that no matter how many schools or sanitation projects they created in the developing world, Free the Children wouldn't make a dent in poverty, access to clean water or education unless they addressed the root causes.
The root causes include North American production and consumption patterns, control of the world's economic distribution systems and of our course our lifestyle. So Marc, Rhodes scholar, Oxford and Harvard trained, made a strategic decision. To ignore older generations and turn his attention to the next generation. If we can change the awareness, attitudes and behavior of the next generation, we can cut exploitation off at the source, I recall him saying. Their strategic focus includes developing curriculum for teachers and books for young people, books like Me to We.
Today, Craig and Marc, their staff and volunteers work with a million students and youth in the privileged world alerting them to their global responsibilities and the many possible actions they can take in solidarity with their peers who live in poverty, face exploitation and abuse, lack schooling, clean water and sanitation.
I am impressed by their expertise at framing an issue – the phrase Me to We is elegant, understandable and incisive; their partnerships – CTV, Oprah's Angel Network, Virgin Atlantic and so many others ; their business savvy – Me to We is now a private company with social objectives. They are pioneering a hybrid model of social change combining business discipline and social objectives.
'We' Days (a celebration of the power of youth to change the world) is an impressive addition to their strategy of engaging youth for social justice. They attract tens of thousands to arenas in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The next one is Friday October 14th in Vancouver. The line up includes Hedley, Jesse Jackson, Rick Hansen, Bare Naked Ladies, Ethan Zohn and Al Gore. It will be live streamed, naturally.
Justin Bieber is also in Vancouver in a few days. I wager they will outdraw him.
It's so easy to dismiss young people today. Then you hear about the Kielburgers and realize there are so many more social entrepreneurs like them. Then you marvel that 15,000 youth and their teachers are rallying for social justice in your home town. And you conclude the kids have lots to teach us.
No one is too young to help, they declare on their website. Nor too old, I trust. I do have a vintage rocking chair in perfectly good working order!
Click here for a link to an in depth Globe and Mail profile of the Keilburgers.