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we day 2018

WE founders Craig Kielburger, left, and Marc Kielburger have come a long since launching the charity in their parents' living room.Chris Pizzello/The Canadian Press

The Globe and Mail and WE Charity are partners on a range of content and initiatives, including WE Day at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sept. 20. This guest column is part of a special report on the organization and the event.

It’s been almost 25 years since Craig, outraged at the murder of a child activist half a world away, rallied 12 classmates to take action. We were just a dozen kids who wanted to help other kids.

It wasn’t always an easy journey, but over the years we were privileged to gain the support of great mentors, such as Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Skoll. Today, we strive to pay that mentorship forward. Whether you’re a Canadian high-school student, an entrepreneur or a mama on the Kenyan savannah, we want to make it as easy as possible to create positive change in your community and the world. Our mission is to make doing good doable, to create a tidal wave of impact.

Lately, we’re hearing from teachers and young people who want to make a difference by tackling the huge challenge of mental health – especially among youth. In 2017, mental health was one of the top three causes for students participating in our WE Schools program, and 88 per cent of our partner educators expressed a desire for professional development on mental wellness.

In response, we launched WE Well-being, an initiative developed in collaboration with leading mental-health professionals that provides educators, youth and families with educational resources to help nurture positive well-being.

Drawing on our 20-plus years developing programming for 7,000 Canadian schools, WE Well-being will fill a unique and much-needed niche. It will offer a curriculum and tools to build a foundation of mental-health awareness and promote understanding of the issues surrounding well-being. Leveraging the direct connection we have with thousands of young people through WE Days and social media, WE Well-being will encourage and support scientifically grounded, practical actions that empower youth to enhance their own well-being and the well-being of their communities.

WE Well-being was launched with founding partners the Elkington family and Erika Legacy Foundation, which funds and promotes research and awareness for suicide prevention. Hudson’s Bay Co. is supporting the initiative through events and the sale of WE Well-being rafiki bracelets. And a growing number of others, including Chartwells, Face of Today, as well as a generous anonymous donor, are joining in to support the cause.

In addition to mental well-being, young people – and many non-profits – tell us they want to leverage the power of business for good, to use social enterprise to amplify their impact on causes they’re passionate about.

Social entrepreneurs employ for-profit business models to address issues like food insecurity and environmental stewardship in a sustainable way. The success of ME to WE Enterprises, offering items such as ethically sourced chocolate and jewellery, has empowered artisans and women’s groups to lift themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, donated proceeds from ME to WE have allowed WE Charity to scale our impact at home and abroad.

So we’re excited to announce the new WE Incubation Hub, launching in 2020. Together with other global social enterprise leaders, we’ll spread that success by sharing our social enterprise knowledge and experience with others.

Social enterprise has immense potential to address the challenges our world faces today. It can help traditional charities and non-profits to become more sustainable and increase their impact. And it can empower vulnerable individuals, like at-risk youth, Indigenous people and new Canadians, to simultaneously uplift themselves while they improve their own communities.

To achieve that, the new WE Incubation Hub will offer training and mentoring programs to budding young social entrepreneurs and established non-profits alike. Participants will gain access to work spaces and a “maker’s studio” kitted out with high-tech gear, including 3D printers and computer design suites, as well as communications technology like Skype pods and podcast-recording studios. Secondment programs run by WE’s corporate partners will offer pro bono experts in various areas: legal consulting, financial advice, and design and product development.

We’re grateful for the support of Thor Richardson, a young successful Canadian entrepreneur who is continuing his family legacy of giving back. And we’re excited at the prospect of others joining in this ambitious project.

For those in need of support to launch a social enterprise – merging the power of business and social impact – we look forward to working with you at the WE incubation hub.

Decades ago, running a charity from our parents’ living room, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Now, we want everyone to have all the resources they need to make positive change. When we look back, we want WE’s legacy to live in the next generation, giving them everything that we needed when we were just children ourselves.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.