Craig Kielburger's story is as inspiring as it is improbable: Twenty years ago as a 12 year old living in Ottawa, Canada he read a newspaper story about another 12 year old halfway around the world in Pakistan who had been murdered for speaking out against child slavery. Iqbal Masih, who had been sold into slavery in a carpet factory at age four to pay off a $12 family debt, risked his life to become an activist on behalf of others caught in the same insidious web. Long before Twitter and Facebook showed the world the power of networks, Craig formed his own modest network of 11 friends. Together they set out to pick up where Iqba tragically left off.
In 1995, Craig co-founded Free the Children (FTC) in his parents' living room. The next year, he traveled to Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal, India and Pakistan to see the situation on the ground for himself. Freeing children, however, turned out to be just the beginning of a series of efforts that sought to go ever-deeper into the labyrinth of economic, cultural and educational issues that force families to sell their children into bondage.
In the last eight years through We Act, a sibling organization designed to empower young people to become active local, national and global citizens, FTC has raised $45 million dollars benefitting over 1,000 charities. Just as impressive, these children—empowered and powerful—have collectively volunteered 14.6 million hours.
A few more impressive numbers: Over 650 schools have been built overseas by FTC, serving 55,000 students. $16 million worth of medical supplies have been shipped to those in need. A million people now have access to clean water and sanitation and 30,000 women now have new sources of income thanks to FTC programs.
In North America and the United Kingdom, We Act provides comprehensive service-learning programs to 8,000 schools. Every year, 200,000 students earn free tickets to We Day events, stadium celebrations of youth power that bring together some of the world’s greatest icons of social change.
Alongside his brother Marc, Craig is also the co-founder of Me to We, an innovative social enterprise that seeks to support the work of Free The Children by providing socially conscious products and experiences. Its programs include employing over 1,200 artisans in developing countries and providing international volunteer opportunities for thousands of participants.
Craig is the author of 12 books. He has received the Order of Canada, the Roosevelt Freedom From Fear Medal, and the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.
Craig’s work has been featured with multiple appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes, as well as in National Geographic, TIME, and The Economist.
Craigs has a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, with double minor in Psychology and Politics, from the University of Toronto. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever graduate of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program