As We Know It – Literary Review of Canada
An excerpt from the Literary Review of Canada:
In September 2021, Craig and Marc Kielburger, the brothers who created a tiny NGO called Free the Children and turned it into an international network of charities, companies, and foundations, announced that their $65-million centrepiece, WE Charity Canada, would fold. It had taken twenty-five years to build but only seventy-nine days to bring it down, during which time there were hundreds of radio and television reports and, by Tawfiq S. Rangwala’s estimation, 129,000 references in the press. WE’s alleged failings were legion: unbridled Trudeau family cronyism resulting in a sole-source $543-million government contract for WE Charity, an unfathomable tangle of non-profit and for-profit entities, conflicts of interest, corruption, financial mismanagement, a hidden real estate empire worth tens of millions of dollars, extensive donor fraud, even racism. As Rangwala writes, “Everything the organization had ever done became fodder for scrutiny, and eventually, suspicion and scorn.”
Rangwala is not an objective bystander. He is a Canadian lawyer based in New York who served on the WE Charity board of directors for several years, stepping down in 2021 to put together this account. He, like other insiders and supporters, was stunned at the speed and the ugliness of what happened two years ago, and in What WE Lost, he makes a credible witness for the defence. There is a gap in the story, however: one that might be called What WE Never Had.
In 1995, when he was twelve, Craig Kielburger read an article about a young human rights activist in Pakistan who had been murdered for his condemnation of child labour in the carpet industry. Helped by his parents and his older brother, Marc, Craig began travelling, raising funds, and speaking out against child labour. With a new charitable organization, Free the Children, and with a book of the same name under his belt, he was soon being lionized by politicians, celebrities, and the media — including 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey. Money followed, and the organization grew. By 2020, it was renamed WE Charity and working in nine countries throughout Asia, South America, and Africa, with projects in Kenya as its flagship. It had major endeavours in Canada as well, partnering with schools — eventually thousands of them — to promote volunteerism and service learning about social issues, mental health, and Indigenous youth leadership.