A weary nation flips past yet another broadcast of yet another WE Day smarmfest, numb to the fact we’ve been trapped for over 20 years in the Uncanny Valley of the Kielburgers.
Animatronic child star Craig made his first sanctimonious splash in the 1990s when he buttonholed then-Prime Minister Jean Crouton over child labour in India, site of an upcoming Team Canada bender.
Since then, Craig and his brother Marc, have built a charity empire of white-saviour do-goodery, Free the Children, WE to ME, WE Day, and a dizzying array of other We-based businesses: WE Style, ME to WE Artisans.
Their “WE Day” movement packs arenas with celebrities and motivational speakers. Vacuous pop stars like Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire seem naturally drawn to a venue where every message is heavy on inspiration and empowerment and ever so sketchy on specifics.
And woe to any hack scrutinizing Kielburger Inc., as Saturday Lite magazine learned to its cost when senior typist Isabel Vincent and satirical press hooligan Michael Coren drew a libel suit from the aspiring saint.
Their article was larded with classic Coren weasel words, nudges and winks—opening on the Kielburger “swimming pool,” in the “sprawling” yard of their “spacious” home. Fee, fi, fo, fum!
Vincent and Coren described Craig as a “precocious pubescent” who has “learned to speak in almost perfect sound bites,” and noted some unnamed “cynical journalists” had taken to calling him “Damien.”
The article also unfairly suggested that Kielburger and his family had pocketed some of the dough given to Free the Children.
Nothing could be further from the truth and the Kielburgers sued for $3-million in damages. In 2000 a judge ruled wee Craig had been libeled in the “snide, derogatory,” cover story. SL was obliged to cough up $319,000.
Gracious to the end, then-editor Ken “Perry” Whyte said the payment was “largely a commercial decision. It was costing us a great deal of time and money. It was time to wind things up.”
Lesson learned. In 2010, the Globe and Minion much more carefully reported the Kielbergers’ charity had raised $15,683,212 in donations in Canada in the previous fiscal year, and nearly $8-million more in the United States.
That has since doubled, according to their 2014 financial reports, to just shy of $50-million a year – $49,554,736 to be exact. 37% comes from corporations, 27% from youth, 21% from a foundation, 11% from adults and three per cent from government.
The Governments of Canada, Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland all contribute. Over 100 school boards across Canada and the U.S. are official “partners.”
As the Globe reported, the Kielburgers have been so successful they’ve struggled to absorb all the money flowing in. In order to keep costs low, they snapped up a dozen properties in Toronto, where interns can live and work without pay: “All told, Free the Children, KPI, and ME to WE dropped $11,288,500 on four offices and eight homes in 53 months, property records show.”
Their annual report boasts of their low, low overhead on administration – especially fundraising, which costs most charities a hellacious wad.
While they have over 300 employees, they boast 8,000 volunteers. Nine per cent in admin costs is about $4.5-million, which leaves the average loyal family retainer pulling down less than $15,000 a year.
That rug-weaver’s stipend is, incidentally, less than what Craig and Marc charge for a single speech. They trouser between $20,000 and $40,000, according to speaker’s bureau websites. Spencer West, a double amputee and ME to WE ambassador, charges $10,000-$20,000 per inspiring stump speech.
Marc’s wife, Roxanne Joyal, has helped pioneer the for-profit, philanthropy-tourism side of ME to WE, which now owns and operates three properties, in India, Africa and South America.
There are trips aimed at teenagers, university students, adults, families and corporate trips to India, Kenya, Tanzania, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Amazon and elsewhere. They pay thousands of dollars – luxury vacation rates of $200 to $260 per person per day to help the locals, who call it “Club ME’d”
Prices per person for youth aged 13-17 (in Canadian dollars – flight, deposit and insurance extra):
Amazon, 12 days: $3,095
India, 17 days: $3,405.00
Ecuador, 15 days: $3,455.00
Nicaragua, 12 days: $3,195.00
Kenya, 19 days: $3,945.00
Tanzania, 16 days: $3,845.00
According to the ME to WE website, in the Amazon, travellers stay at the “Minga Lodge, ME to WE’s beautiful eco-lodge and your new home-away-from-home”
The trip to India is more upscale – aside from yoga, and “Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp in Rajasthan, India,” it includes a stay at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon Hotel in Delhi, a five-star joint with 27,000 square feet of banquet venues.
In Kenya, ME to WE owns Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp, “a rejuvenating home base for youth, adults, families and corporate groups volunteering in Kenya” which consists of “five large family cottages and 18 safari tents, all surrounded by open countryside.”
ME to WE’s marketing materials, trips to Tanzania and Kenya alike offer a module exploring ”the effects of our globalized world, expanding your knowledge of global income inequality,” with the added convenience and safety of doing so from a “gated camp.” When you’re done that, you head out on safari.
In its annual report, WE Charity features the impact of the expansion of the Oleleshwa farm – emphasizing the student lunch programs but omitting that it also provides food for the guests at Bogani.
In Ecuador, you can pay over $200 a day to “Take on the role of a local family, living on $1 a day.” A bargain at twice the price!
ME to WE also operates summer camps where kids can “discover your inner world changer,” all for just $1067(CAN) a week in Ontario and $800(US) in Arizona.
49% of the WE Charity’s budget, nearly $25-million, is spent on “domestic projects.” That may be because “We Days” don’t come cheap. There are 11 of them.
You don’t buy tickets to WE Day – students have to “earn” through one act of local and one of global activism – and raising money for the WE Charity counts.
“On average, 27% of WE Charity’s funding comes from direct contributions and in-kind support generated by young people, from bake sales, to walk-a-thons, garage sales and coin drives.” That is about $13-million a year. WE days are also staffed by thousands of unpaid minors, er, volunteers.
So, your kids work free in order to pay for the speakers, a few of whose minimum fees are as follows:
Kardinal Offishall – $7,500-$14,999
Natalie Portman – $75,000-$149,999
Joe Jonas – $25,000-$39,999
Hannah Simone – $50,000 and above
Nina Dobrev $50,001 and above
Pete Carroll – $50,001 and above
Richard Branson -$150,000-$299,000
Jessi Cruickshank – $5,000-$10,000
Barenaked Ladies – $75,000-$149,999 (shurely shome mishtake?!–ed.)
Al Gore – $100,000
The Kielburgers have leveraged moral outrage over child labour into an empire, and they’ve recruited some of Canada’s and the world’s wealthiest swells to do so.
Freeloader-General David Johnston is a “Free the Children Patron.” Global co-chairs include Manitoba grillionaire Hartley Richardson, whose family saw their net worth swell by 15% last year; and Facebook suprema Sheryl Sandberg (net worth: $1.2-billion).
The Kielburgers’ collectivist-lite message seems to resonate with the plutocrats. And why not? WE to ME gets millions of schoolchildren to raise money to pay celebrities to tell them the 99% can be part of the 1% too – it’s their lack of leadership that’s holding them back.
With enough hard work and gumption, you too can overcome obstacles like mild dyslexia and pater screwing around to become a hereditary millionaire.