60 Minutes with Craig Kielburger
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to attend my husband’s annual investment conference in Collingwood, Ont. The event team always has an interesting companion program planned for the spouses and with the kids back in school, I was all for a grown-up getaway!
On the last day of meetings, when my option was to go to a popular day spa to indulge in water therapies, I had something else on my agenda. Enter Craig Kielburger, the closing speaker for the conference.
If you haven’t heard of Kielburger ask any high school student who has attended or been exposed to the ME to WE movement (WE Day takes place in Halifax on Nov. 30) and they might use words such as, amazing and awesome and lifechanging!
Now, I’m a self- professed “spa girl”, what with the plush robes, lemon water, calming colours and all, but as much as I love a good salt-water soak, Kielburger’s topic - An Unconventional Education: What I learned about Leadership from Nelson Mandela, Oprah and my Lia Hennigar, her husband and Me to We movement co-founder Craig Kielburger.
Grandma - pulled me in another direction. I knew this talk would benefit me years from now.
Kielburger was only 12 when he was moved by a boy who lived on the other side of the world. As he told us, he was eating his Cheerios and looking through the Toronto Star comics one Saturday morning at his parents’ home in Thornhill, Ont. when he came across an article about a boy named Iqbal Masih, who was also 12, and lived in Pakistan. The young boy had just been assassinated while playing in front of his house.
Masih was born into poverty and sold into slavery by his parents at the age of four. He escaped at 10 and began telling his story, determined to spread the word that there were children like him who were being sold, beaten and worked to near death. He became an international figurehead for the fight against child labour. And because he would not stay quiet, because he would never stay quiet again, this 12-year-old hero was shot and killed.
Kielburger’s world was rocked. Compassion moved him to action and he took the story to his teacher on Monday. He asked, “who is going to join me and do something about this?” He said 11 friends put up their hands and the fundraising began. They named their cause, Kids Can Free Children (eventually, Free the Children) and Kielburger hasn’t let up since.
He co-founded the social enterprise, ME to WE movement, with his brother Marc and also created, WE Day, a day of youth empowerment where young people pack stadiums and are encouraged by Kielburger, celebrities and everyday heroes to make a difference in the world. You cannot buy your way into this event – you earn it through acts of leadership.
The ME to WE premise is simple. Stop living purely from a position of, me, myself and I and start living from a place of compassion that extends outside of your personal comfort zone. Get out there and make a difference – near or far - because there is much to be done. Because of his work around the world, Kielburger has received life lessons from the Compassion “Dream Team” of sorts: Nelson Mandela, Oprah, Mother Theresa. The list is very long and very impressive and he tells us stories that are both amazing and heart-breaking. I watch as grown men cry.
On Mandela, Kielburger recalls speaking to him about leadership. Mandela tells the story of how his family was poor. So poor that he did not even own shoes. He could not attend school but he would take on the important work of being a shepherd. So, on the morning of his new role, he goes outside, ready for his first day of leading sheep. He stands tall and proud in front of his flock, he turns and begins to march. March, march, march. After a moment or two, young Mandela stops and turns around, prepared to see his dot- ing pack right there behind him. But wait. No one told the sheep they were to follow!
What happens next? Mandela realizes that he has to get behind them. That if he wants them to go left, he has to get behind them on their right. If he wants them to go right, he needs to get behind them on their left. Looking back, Mandela realized that leadership doesn’t always happen when you are front and centre. When all eyes are on you and you have something to say. Sometimes, leaders need to move to the back, get quiet and gently nudge their team from behind. Lead from behind. Who would ever think of this? Mandela, of course.
Kielburger has taken this message to heart, and off he goes. His flock ahead of him, ready to be moved.
If you would like more information about WE Day, ME to WE or WE Charities, visit, www. we.org