Marc Kielburger

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2005

We are thrilled to introduce ourselves as “WE,” which is both our movement and the new name of our organization. WE highlights the inclusivity at the heart of our philosophy, and encapsulates our mission to empower all people to lead change both at home and around the world. Our goal is to welcome millions more to join the WE movement and make a massive positive impact, together.

Our charitable division, WE Charity, operates internationally based on principles of holistic and sustainable development, supporting communities to break the cycle of poverty. We do this through WE Villages, which focuses on five Pillars of Impact: Food, Water, Health, Education and Opportunity. We partner with communities across eight countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Domestically, WE Charity offers service learning curriculum and experiences to students through our WE Schools programming. Our mission is to empower young people by equipping them with the tools and resources they need to change the world.

Through our social enterprise ME to WE, we create socially conscious products and experiences for individuals, and for student, family, and corporate groups. ME to WE donates half of its profits to WE Charity and reinvests the other half into the social enterprise to help it grow.

We are aligned with Ashoka in our belief that everyone can be a changemaker, and that together, we are powerful beyond measure. We understand that WE is a global community, and that the individual actions we take will create a tidal wave of impact. Above all, we believe in raising a generation that will lead with compassion and conviction. Together, WE can change the world.We are thrilled to introduce ourselves as “WE,” which is both our movement and the new name of our organization. WE highlights the inclusivity at the heart of our philosophy, and encapsulates our mission to empower all people to lead change both at home and around the world. Our goal is to welcome millions more to join the WE movement and make a massive positive impact, together.

This description of Marc Kielburger's work was prepared when Marc Kielburger was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005 .


Marc Kielburger is building leadership development and social engagement into the education system so that young people have opportunities to contribute in practical ways to building an improved global community.

The New Idea

Marc sees that building civic engagement into the existing curriculum of Canadian schools offers an opportunity to reach thousands of children with deep experiences of citizenship. He has created Volunteer Now to help students discover their gifts and talents and avoid the “bystander effect” of watching change happen around them. Marc’s effort, and the philosophy that guides it, encourages high-school students to begin to experiment with and pursue experiences of civic engagement that will hook them on social activity and community-building for their lives. Marc observes that Grade 10 students are particularly able to benefit from his offerings: having emerged from their first year of high school, these students have a year to absorb the experience and two remaining years to mentor and guide junior classes through their Grade 10 experience of volunteering. Marc teaches young people to realize and embrace the interconnectedness of our world, and to understand that each choice impacts, in some way, problems, solutions, and lives elsewhere on the planet.

The Problem

Marc sees that young people are not introduced to social change in ways that attract, compel, and inspire them to be involved in or to lead positive change. In fact, there are disincentives to involvement in social activities, as social action is not seen as trendy and is not typically promoted by students who will naturally attract others to join. Uneven exposure to volunteering among the many groups that comprise any high school means that social change is pushed to the periphery and pursued only by the group that has chosen to devote themselves to social justice and reform.

Marc understands that the standard curriculum does not connect current events to the social realities that young people see in front of them and to which they respond, or might respond, every day. Furthermore, there are few systemic ways for mature social entrepreneurs to encourage and mentor young people and model to them careers as changemakers. In the absence of experiences that connect students to their world and show them avenues for meaningful, useful contribution, young people do not form early experiences of volunteering that will compel them along a path of creative social action.

The Strategy

Marc’s effort begins with the philosophy that we are part of a global world, and that our individual lives are linked, closely, to the lives of millions of others who share the planet and its resources. He uses a peer-to-peer approach that makes volunteerism trendy and meaningful. He triggers positive peer pressure that reinforces the mindset shift that is needed to make volunteering rewarding. Marc’s method shows young people that they can lead by their example, inspiring friends and other peers. This approach achieves the significant shift from mandatory volunteerism that may seem (and be) forced by an adult or teacher to an expression of group creativity and contribution.

Marc sees that grafting an effective volunteering component onto the existing curriculum in high schools offers a way to reach a broad base of high school students. His program, Volunteer Now, works with the Toronto School Boards’ 40-hour mandatory voluntary service, which is part of the Ontario Civics course outline. Volunteer Now identifies and teaches five “volunteer ambassadors” in each participating high school. This core group guides the in-school movement, developing in their peers the attraction to social action, to seeing themselves as changemakers though their volunteering experiences.

Marc believes that working with school boards directly ensures that volunteerism and global civics become embedded in classroom exercises. Since he conducts teacher training sessions and provides accessible literature to follow on his one-on-one tutorials, all students are introduced to volunteerism and civic engagement in a guided, meaningful way. With his brother Craig, Marc has written youth-friendly, step-by-step curricular aids, including Take Action! and Take More Action, to guide the implementation of effective civic engagement experiences in high schools. He developed these tools with attention to the requirements and schedules of the standard curriculum in Canada and the United States, so that they augment, rather than disrupt, the lesson plan.

Marc believes that the financial sustainability of the effort will ensure its adoption and continuance. The fee-for-service component of the program is directed at school boards. So far, it has been implemented in Toronto, the fourth-largest school board in North America and the most multicultural in the world and has pilot programs running in eight other school boards across the country.

The Person

Marc sought early experiences of travel and of understanding the lives and challenges of people in other life circumstances. At age 18, he turned down a full scholarship at the University of Ottawa and a left his job as a parliamentary page in the House of Commons to spend eight months volunteering in Klong Toey, a Bangkok slum. There, he worked with HIV-positive mothers and infants and taught English at a primary school. He spent another eight months living and working with the Pokot people, a tribal group who live in a remote region of Kenya. These experiences seeded Marc’s ideas for change, helped him to understand how he might contribute to shaping the world, and illuminated what tools and experiences he needed to realize the change.

With his brother Craig, Marc created Free the Children, an organization that supports and helps children to help children around the world. With Leaders Today, Marc’s global organization that trains young people to become socially involved, he has run leadership training programs in schools, community centers, and places of worship, and leads workshops on educational topics such as how to deliver impactful presentations, how to fundraise, and how to inspire others to become socially involved. Marc channels all of this experience into Volunteer Now, which recognizes and builds on the potential of young people to envision an improved world, and to take individual and collective action to achieve it.

Marc was selected as Canada’s “Top 40 leaders under the age of 40” by the Globe and Mail and the Caldwell Partners. With his brother Craig, Marc wrote Take Action! and Take More Action, used by students across North America, and Me to We, a compilation to which Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Jane Goodall, Richard Gere, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu contributed.