Craig Kielburger, CM, is an author, speaker, and social entrepreneur (born 17 December 1982 in Toronto, ON). Craig Kielburger is best known for his early activism and co-founding and leading ME to WE with his brother, Marc.
ME to We is an organization that ties customer purchases to global social and economic change. Kielburger also founded WE Charity (formerly Free the Children), a youth education and mobilization organization. Much of his work is focused on the idea that youth are crucial to bringing about social change.
Craig Kielburger is the second son of Fred and Theresa Kielburger, both teachers. He was born and raised in Thornhill, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. He had already established himself as a committed and high-profile children’s rights activist by the time he was in high school.
Kielburger merged his humanitarian activities with his scholarly pursuits in 2002, enrolling in the University of Toronto’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. He was the youngest person to ever graduate from York University’s Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program in 2009.
Craig Kielburger always wanted to visit the countries he spoke about as a kid. Kielburger and his family organized a seven-week trip that included stops in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, and Bangladesh, with activists and university student Alam Rahman and letters of support from various human rights organizations. During the winter of 1995–96, he went on a holiday.
Kielburger met with child laborers and human rights groups during his trip, which he recorded in his book Free the Children (1998), co-authored with Kevin Major. The book also recounts Kielburger’s meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien while the latter was on a regional trade mission.
During their 15-minute meeting, Kielburger urged Chrétien to commit to including child labor in his trade talks agenda and urging North American companies to avoid doing business with companies that use child labor. The book also recounts his meeting with Mother Theresa in her Calcutta mission house, an experience that meant a lot to the devout Kielburger.
Kielburger became a media sensation after his return. The well-spoken and earnest adolescent was interviewed on 60 Minutes and received calls for interviews from news outlets worldwide. With praise often comes criticism – Saturday Night magazine published a critical piece in November 1996 that, among other things, challenged Kielburger’s parental control and indicated that Free the Children fundraising could be enriching the Kielburger family.
Facts About Craig Kielburger
Craig was an emotional child who began his activism at a young age. Craig’s friends and brother were skeptical when he first suggested the idea of “We Can Free the Children,” but they were impressed by Craig’s devotion to the cause. After reading about the fate of a Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih in the newspaper, Craig was heartbroken. He realized that age is just a number and that even children can make a difference if they are determined.
Craig and his newfound community initially based their efforts on south Asian countries, with one of their first petitions to India’s Prime Minister demanding the release of imprisoned child labor activist Kailash Satyarthi. Because of his growing interest in social activism, his parents allowed him to accompany a young Canadian social worker, Alam Rahman, on his Asian journey. He spent all of his money on the trip and borrowed the remainder from his parents and family members.
Craig met several child laborers and workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. He saw children living in deplorable conditions and performed odd jobs such as picking up garbage and providing free food and medication to those children.
Craig heard of the then-Prime Minister of Canada’s visit to India while on the South Asian trip, and he demanded an audience with him to discuss the issue of child labor. Craig became a star in North America due to this coverage, and he was invited to appear on ’60 Minutes’ and ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ shortly after his return to Canada.
Turning Attention Into Action
In many TV interviews, he outlined his experiences in Asia and called for more people to get involved in the cause. He later compiled his experiences in the book “Free the Children,” which inspired Judy Jackson to make a documentary about his travels called “It Takes a Child.”
Craig created the business ‘Me to We,’ which offers socially beneficial goods and services. Half of the company’s profit is used to expand Free the Children, and the other half is used to expand the business.
Craig and his brother Marc co-wrote the book “Me to We” in 2004, and the brothers were awarded the Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2008 for their company “Me to We.” Meanwhile, Free the Children began to expand exponentially, and Craig continued to travel to developing countries and meet with their representatives to gain financial support for the goal of ending child labor.
Aside from his charitable activities and social advocacy, Craig serves as a columnist for respected publications such as The Huffington Post, Waterloo Area Record, Victoria Times Colonist, and Vancouver Sun, among many others. He and his brother, Marc, also co-write a daily column called “Ask the Kielburgers” in the “Globe and Mail.”
Craig has received over two dozen awards and distinctions worldwide, the most well-known of the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, and doctorate honors from several Canadian and foreign universities.
Craig is currently focusing on expanding Free the Children, and he has already raised millions of dollars to help him achieve his target. He continues to travel and deliver speeches, encouraging people to join him to end child labor around the world.
Craig Kielburger married Leysa Cerswell in 2016, just three months after their engagement was announced. Nelly Furtado, a well-known artist, performed at their wedding.
WE Charity is a non-profit organization that aims to empower people all over the world. The organization is unique in that it runs joint projects both in the United States and abroad. WE Schools is a year-long service-learning program cultivating compassion in students and equips them with the resources to effect meaningful social change in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
WE Villages, a comprehensive, five-pillar international development model designed to achieve sustainable change, is being introduced in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in partnership with communities. Together with local leaders and families, We Charity change lives by implementing adaptable, reliable, and long-term sustainable solutions.
Craig also created the ME to WE Social Enterprises to support the work of WE Charity. ME to WE was founded in 2009 to provide economic opportunities in WE Village communities and a long-term funding source for WE Charity. Since then, it has developed into a global force for good.