The Canadian charity Free the Children is receiving a $15-million birthday gift as it celebrates its 20th anniversary with a massive donation from a pair of Canadian businessmen that will pay for the non-profit organization's new headquarters.
Run by brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger, who have a column in The Globe and Mail, the organization announced on Tuesday that the bequest will fund the Global Learning Centre, a planned hub for Free the Children's educational programs. The money is coming from the Winnipeg wheat magnate Hartley Richardson, president and chief executive officer of James Richardson and Sons, the Richardson Foundation and Keg Restaurants CEO David Aisenstat.
Calling the new office a "Google campus for good," Marc Kielburger said it would house 400 to 500 workers providing leadership development for students and teachers across Canada. The space is located in Toronto's Corktown neighbourhood, a few blocks south of Free the Children's current offices.
"This is what we wish we would have had when we were in high school," Mr. Kielburger said.
He said it was important for the organization to remain in Toronto's east end, near troubled housing projects such as Regent Park and St. James Town. "This is where we need to be," he said. "This community's not going to know what hit it."
Mr. Richardson, a long-time Free the Children supporter, said he hopes that the new headquarters will help the charity run more efficiently, since the group is currently spread across six different locations.
Asked if the new office would be a "Kielburger factory," he replied, "If we could accomplish that, the world would be a better place."
The Kielburger story began in 1995 when 13-year-old Craig persuaded his parents to let him travel to Asia after reading about the death of a Pakistani child labourer. With media attention swirling around his unusual trip, the young Mr. Kielburger earned a meeting with then-prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was in India at the time. Shortly thereafter, Craig, with the help of some classmates, launched Free the Children in his parents' basement.
Within a decade, Craig and Marc Kielburger were household names, with an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and a newspaper column to their name. Beginning in 2004, the brothers began a real-estate-buying blitz, scooping up 12 properties worth more than $11-million to house their organizations and staff.
The Kielburgers have been pioneers of "social enterprise," expanding their charity empire into private-sector companies such as Me to We whose profits are mostly plowed back into Free The Children.
Free the Children currently works with 5,800 schools across Canada. Its goal is to teach students how to be active global citizens, Mr. Kielburger said.