Toronto's Cabbagetown is a diverse collection of tony brick homes and gritty walkups, home to millionaires and students alike.
It's a fitting home for blockbuster charity Kids Can Free the Children, which straddles those worlds and more.
With a two-storey glass front rising between small shops, the charity's head office is imposing. Inside the front door, photos and newspaper clippings of the charity's charismatic leading brothers, Craig and Marc Kielburger, dot the walls, and the staff - almost all female and recent university graduates - work diligently into the night.
Marc enters the room assuredly just after 2 p.m. in jeans and a blazer, taking a corner seat. "Very happy to have this conversation," he says with a smile.
Beside him is Free the Children's executive director, Dalal Al-Waheidi, 30, a bubbly international-development graduate who confides nervously that she doesn't like public speaking.
It's a problem the Kielburger boys have never had. You could just about feel Jean Chrétien's pain back in 1995, having come all the way to India only to have to listen while 13-year-old Craig, a kid from middle-class Toronto, lambasted him in a private meeting for not doing enough to stop child labour internationally. At home in Toronto, the boy had read a newspaper story - while searching for the comics page - about the death of a Pakistani child labourer. He convinced his parents to let him go to South Asia, where his tour rivalled the Prime Minister's own for attention. Mr. Chrétien had little choice but to invite young Craig for a 15-minute meeting.
Afterward, complaining that the PM had been "quite vague," Craig came home and commandeered his parents' basement - "a place to take over the world over pop and pizza," as Ms. Al-Waheidi put it.
Older brother Marc, already on scholarship at Harvard when the story began, got involved but left front-man duties to his younger sibling, playing The Edge to Craig's Bono (to draw a comparison to Craig's favourite activist rock band).
Before long, the pair got their own newspaper column and were guests on Oprah. Today, Free the Children is a global brand - one that from its headquarters in Cabbagetown is challenging the very foundations of Canada's charity system.
Marc, speaking like the lawyer he is, acknowledges they've "scaled" quickly. In other words, they've exploded. They have programs in 4,000 schools across North America, a network of a million kids.
They've built 500 schools in 16 countries, including Kenya, Sierra Leone and Haiti. They have 120 employees in their Toronto headquarters alone, and more in regional offices across Canada and abroad. They also run awareness and empowerment programs locally, all part of what they call "the world's largest network of children helping children through education." The charity took in $15,683,212 in donations in Canada in the last fiscal year, and nearly $8-million more in the United States.
Together the brothers have written half a dozen books. Craig, now 27, was the youngest ever Executive Master's graduate of York University's Schulich School of Business, and Marc, now 33, won a Rhodes scholarship and got a law degree at Oxford. They are members of the Order of Canada, were torch bearers in the Vancouver 2010 relay, met the Dalai Lama and have the ear of former president Bill Clinton.
They fill arenas with screaming teenagers almost at whim, a scene at odds with their relatively bookish vibe. They're passionate, well-versed and hard workers - one former Free the Children staffer said she quit because she couldn't keep up with the 18-hour days.
"They were very high-energy," she says. "A lot was expected of you."
This year, Free the Children turns 15, but it's not the Kielburgers' sole focus any more. In 2008, they launched another project - a for-profit company called Me to We, which sells socially responsible products and offers young people trips abroad, channelling most of the proceeds back to Free the Children.
With that, the wunderkinds find themselves on the cutting edge of social enterprise - a term describing for-profit companies that pair with charities to create innovative ways of changing the world without relying solely on the kindness of politicians and other strangers.Report Typo/Error