Monday, March 22, 2010

Kielburgers of Canada Take On Social Enterprise

Where have I been?  Until reading the Globe and Mail's story about the Marc and Craig Kielburger, I confess not to have heard of this dynamic duo.  They founded Free the Children 15 years ago when they were mere tykes (they're now 27 and 33 - you do the math), and the organization has, in Marc's words, "scaled" quickly.  Free the Children has programs in 4,000 schools in North America, has built 500 schools in 16 countries, and employs 120 people in the Toronto office alone.  Marc and Craig have appeared on Oprah, met the Dalai Lama, and "have the ear" of Bill Clinton (whatever that means).  

Remembering the impact foreign travel had on their own development, the brothers wanted to send children to other countries. The board of Free the Children didn't want to take on the project, so the brothers created a for-profit organization called Me to We.  The new company sells socially responsible products, sends children on foreign trips, and donates money back to Free the Children.  The problem is that the Canadian charity rules don't really work for the ideas the Kielburgers have.  According to the news article (and without independent research or knowledge on my part) Canadian charity laws prohibit a charity from engaging in an activity that makes a profit, even if the proceeds are used for the charity's mission.  These rules obviously make social enterprise and partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits difficult.  Advocates say the Kielburgers' example could be a new model that could help the charity sector when grants and donations are hard to obtain.  Critics say the new ideas could lead to exploitation of the charitable sector.
For the longish and fascinating story of the Kielburger's empire and the changes it may bring to Canadian charity law, see this story.


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