2008 – Free the Children – Marc Kielburger

Free The Children was co founded by internationally renowned child activists Craig and Marc Kielburger. The inspiration for this noble cause came in 1955 when 12 year-old Craig Kielburger gathered 11 school friends to begin fighting child labour. Today, Free The Children is the world’s largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million young people involved in our programs in 45 countries.

In April 1995, looking for the comics section of his local newspaper, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger came across an article which forever changed his life. The piece featured the photo of a boy in a bright red vest, his fist clenched defiantly in the air. Intrigued, Craig read the story of Iqbal Masih, a young boy from Pakistan, who was sold into slavery to work in a carpet factory.

Iqbal worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, tying tiny knots to make hand-made carpets for export. Through luck and bravery, he managed to escape from his life of captivity and began speaking out about children’s rights; educating eager listeners about child labour. Tragically, after reuniting with his family, Iqbal was shot and killed by those who wished to silence him. Iqbal lost his life for defending the rights of children.

Before he read Iqbal’s story, Craig had never heard of child labour. He wasn’t even certain where Pakistan was, but the differences between his life and that of Iqbal shocked him. Craig knew that he had to help. He gathered together a small group of his Grade 7 classmates and Free The Children was born.

The following year, in an attempt to focus the world’s attention on the epidemic of global child rights abuses, Craig embarked on an ambitious fact-finding mission to South Asia. In a press conference held in Delhi, India, Craig challenged the world to take notice of the stories and voices of child labourers everywhere. The media buzz that ensued brought the issue of child labour to the forefront of global debate. Craig’s journey, sparked by Iqbal’s heroic tale, proved that young people have the power to make a difference in the world.

Today, Free The Children is a children’s charity unlike any other in the world. It is an organization funded and driven by the energy of young leaders and adult supporters. In a cooperative effort, they are changing the world.

Program Successes:

Free The Children has a remarkable record of achievement, initiating community-based development projects around the world and inspiring young people to develop as socially conscious global citizens. Since 1995, they have:

  • Built more than 500 schools-providing education to more than 50,000 children every day
  • Established Youth in Action groups in more than 1,000 schools across the United States and Canada, engaging more than 20,000 young people in total
  • Distributed more then 207,500 school and health kits sent to children in need
  • Reached more than 350,000 across North America through our motivational speaking tours
  • Shipped more than $15 million US worth of medical supplies and built health care centers, impacting the lives of more than 512,500 people around the world
  • Developed an efficient administrative model that allows 91 cents of every donated dollar to go to programs that directly benefit children
  • Equipped 23,500 women to be economically self-sufficient
  • Improved access to clean water and sanitation for 138,500 people

Awards and Recognition:

Free The Children has been recognized with the following awards:

  • 2006 World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child, also know as the Children’s Nobel Prize
  • 2006 Human Rights Award from the United Nations/World Association of Non-Government Organizations (WANGO)
  • 2007 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship
  • World Economic Forum Medal
  • State of the World Forum Award
  • Roosevelt Freedom Medal
  • Staff members have been honoured with Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100, Canada’s Top 40 under 40, Canada’s Top 20 under 20, as well as the Order of Canada.