Meet Dr. Jonathan White, Chair, WE Charity Board of Directors, United States

A leading expert on social justice and service-learning education, Dr. Jonathan White has served on the Board of Directors for WE Charity for the past 17 years. He is an activist, academic and mentor.

Jonathan became involved after asking brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger to speak to his students about their burgeoning youth movement. He attended and presented at many of the earliest Take Action Camps and traveled on the second-ever ME to WE Trip to Kenya.
Jonathan serves as Director of the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center and Associate Professor of Sociology at Bentley University. His primary areas of specialization are service-learning and experiential learning; domestic and global inequality; political economy; globalization and human rights; social entrepreneurship and social innovation; and war, peace, and genocide. The author of several books, he has received numerous teaching and humanitarian awards, including faculty teaching awards at Framingham State University, Bridgewater State University, Colby College and Bowdoin College.

In WE’s early years, Jonathan brought the WE Scare Hunger campaign (formerly Halloween for Hunger) to the organization, having developed it during his college years. He also helped to develop WE Are Silent, Brick by Brick, 10 by 10, and other youth campaigns. More recently, he lent his skills as Senior Consultant to the AP® with WE Service program and regularly consults with the WE Schools team on curriculum and strategy, and the WE Trips Team on curriculum and facilitation.

We talked to Dr. Jonathan White about his role with WE Charity and his leadership on our Board of Directors.

What skills do you bring to WE Charity’s Board of Directors?

I am the director of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement at Bentley University, a business school in the Boston area, and a professor of sociology and political economy. I try in every place that I can to bring that experience to WE Charity. For instance to WE Schools as we develop what I honestly believe is some of the best, if not the best, citizenship and service-learning curriculum out there, that we then bring out to schools.

Whether it’s working with the teams, and trying to figure out what are the most pressing social issues in the world today, and how we can educate our young people in a way that they really understand these issues so that they’re empowered to make a difference. Or whether it’s on the leadership side, where we’re giving them the skills to grab into those issues and figure out the path toward change.

As a board, we’re often looking at new directions for the organization: Where are we going to go with education? How are we going to go with our social justice education? What sectors of society and stakeholders are we going to be engaging? As such, how are we going to meld these ideas of social justice and social change with what our stakeholders are doing in their realms? On a board level, I take an active role on that.

What are the primary functions of the Board of Directors?

Its main purposes are twofold: The first is fiduciary—we are, in part, the holders of the financial well-being of the organization to make sure that everything is being done properly, transparently, under the best rules of governance, that the budget is in good shape and that we’re honoring every single one of our donors—from the little kid who sends pennies in envelopes to our office, which happens on a weekly basis, to a large-scale donor—that our finances are in shape.

The second is legal. Making sure we’re well inside all of the laws that non-profits fall under. Those are the necessary roles.

The third role of a board of directors, which we take very seriously, is a strategic vision, strategic planning and advisory role. The Board of Directors for WE Charity is an amazing group of accomplished people. They’re leaders in their fields, whether it’s the educational realm, whether it’s branding experts, finance specialists, individuals with significant experience in corporate governance or business, or social media experts. These are the people who are at the top of what they do.

How do board members carry out their mandate?

We get together—we have, at the very minimum, quarterly meetings including at least twice a year in person and twice a year on the phone. However, the board is so dedicated and committed and the organization is moving so fast, that oftentimes it will be six or seven meetings during the course of the year. But beyond that, every single one of the members of the board spends time in the office, works with a specific team where they can lend their expertise, travels to see our sustainable international development model in action. Whether it be our finance committee, which is constantly engaged in the financial activities of the organization, or individuals who have significant experience in education policy, their level of commitment is noteworthy.

The board also works with outside experts who lend their experience, especially in the legal and financial realms. It further helps to carefully manage the relationship with ME to WE to ensure WE Charity is always benefiting from this powerful model.

In short, the board is exceptionally involved, not only in our responsibilities of fiduciary and legal and transparency, we’re also very involved in bringing our expertise to the organization in all the ways we’re able to.

What is one achievement of the board you’re especially proud of?

As an educator, and an educator in the realm of applied learning and service-learning in particular, I’m so proud of WE Schools, and the way that we’ve been able to become a leader in service-learning curriculum, in education, in teacher engagement, in youth empowerment, in global citizenship.

What we have here is a transformative educational model. I study this and I research this, and it’s the most transformative educational model I’ve come across. The data illustrates this of course, but I have also seen its impact firsthand for many years. I’m very proud to be involved with it in any way I can, especially to dream about the effects this type of learning may have on the next generation of civic leaders.

One of the most impressive things about the WE Schools curriculum is its intentionality to respond to all of the studies out there, from employers and from universities, that are looking for young people to have workplace readiness. What they’re looking for inside of that are not necessarily the specific subject-related skills—math and computer science and accounting and whatnot—schools and universities are actually really good at training their students for that. What they’re looking for is more of the intangibles, the “civic skills”: critical thinking, leadership skills, having started a fundraiser or campaign and run it by themselves, special events management, the ability to speak eloquently to issues, being a citizen inside one’s community.

What WE Schools is able to do is to offer all of this inside a curricular context so that the two are synergized. Through this intentional programming, young people are able to put these skills together, and they come out not only prepared to be good civic leaders, but also prepared to be workplace leaders.

But the organization leaves me with more to be proud of than I could possibly speak about in a short interview. Being part of the WE movement is humbling and has had a deep, positive and life-changing impact for me.