Meet Scott Baker, Executive Director of WE Charity

Passionate about numbers, effectiveness and efficiency, Scott Baker has a long and rich history with WE Charity

When Scott joined WE in 2004, he was responsible for building and growing a youth volunteer leadership program for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. In 2007 he transitioned into the international space, spearheading the development of WE Charity’s sustainable development programming in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, where he became Country Director. Working to empower indigenous peoples in rural communities, Scott helped implement the WE Villages model, which included the building of schools, water piping, toilets and hand-washing stations. In 2010, Scott was promoted to the role of Executive Director of WE Charity.

He has a Masters’ Degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto, with a passion for finance and measuring the overall effectiveness and efficiency of this organization

After finishing his Masters, Scott became an actuary in the insurance industry. After six years he realized he wanted to make more of a contribution and headed to India, where he volunteered at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute for six months. He met a fellow Canadian—the late-Joe Opatowski—who worked at then Free The Children. Eight weeks later, Scott was in Toronto for a job interview.

Question and answer

What are your responsibilities at Executive Director of WE Charity?

There are five major aspects to my job:

  1. Reporting to WE Charity’s Board of Directors on the overall health of the organization, governance oversight, financial matters, programming and planning.
  2. Oversight of the overall efficiency of the charity, including all financial aspects, to make sure the organization is maximizing its resources so it can make the largest impact possible.
  3. Working with senior leadership within the organization on matters related to overall operations, programming, people and culture, and finance. I also cultivate internal and external partnerships with supporters of the organization.
  4. Assuring the long-term sustainability of our international development model, WE Villages, and consulting with our international country directors.
  5. Consulting with our Board of Directors, senior staff, and WE co-founders Marc and Craig Kielburger on strategy and goal-setting for the organization.

Can you elaborate on the sustainability of WE Villages?

In 2004, guided by the Millennium Development Goals and our experience in the field, WE Charity launched a holistic development model called WE Villages. It is a community development model that empowers communities with the skills, tools and training needed to break the cycle of poverty themselves. The model is made up of five pillars crucial to lifting communities from the cycle of poverty: education, clean water and sanitation, health, agriculture and food security, and alternative income and opportunity. Our programming supports community-led asset-based development in areas where there exists a high incidence of child labor, exploitation of children and minimal opportunities for girls.

The WE Villages model has transformative impacts not only for direct communities but for entire regions and for future generations. As community members participate in the programs and trainings, they return to their families empowered through the skills and knowledge they have gained. For example, after participating in agriculture and food-security training, participants return to their farm and will share their new skills and knowledge with their families and neighbors.

What makes the model unique is the sustainable, holistic and community-led nature of all projects.

  • Our model is structured to maximize the return on investment; each activity produces complementary and reinforcing outcomes.

  • We do not believe in giving handouts, rather we seek the greatest benefits through investing in the community infrastructure and working toward community ownership over all projects and activities.

  • We are proud to be an industry leader for efficiency and effective spending. Our industry-low administration rate means that over 90% of funding goes directly to serving communities.

  • Our model connects young people around the world. We uniquely connect youth in WE Villages communities to students in the WE Schools program, challenging them both to actively participate in solving the world’s greatest problems. This is a critical part of the success of the WE Villages model.

How do you work with these countries to achieve your goals?

I truly believe that our in-country teams are some of the unsung heroes of this organization. Having witnessed the work they do firsthand, I can say that I am so proud of the fact that our development work is driven by our country offices and community partners.

WE Charity is a locally registered and operating charity in each of the international countries in which we work. The local charity is bound by local laws, and we work in collaboration with local and federal governments to ensure all our initiatives align with the priorities of the country or region. All projects and programs adhere to local regulations and policies, and are creating sustainable, community-driven and culturally relevant impacts.

Prior to undertaking any projects our country staff carry out an asset- and needs-based assessment with our partner communities. These consist of thorough surveys of the community’s development issues, strengths, resources and priorities for change. These analyses are the key to helping us determine what kind of work we will do in a community, ensuring that our efforts are respectful and reflective of local needs and wants, sustainable, and contribute to local capacity building. From the outset, WE Charity and the community create a common understanding around the sustainability of the project. The five-pillar model is designed in such a way that after five to seven years working together, all ownership of programs and projects is transferred to the community and local government officials.

Regular site visits to our country offices and project areas are conducted, by myself and other senior staff in the organization, the International Programs team, members of our Board of Directors and, of course, by our donors. During these visits we plan programs, monitor and evaluate the sustainability of projects on the ground, and provide support to our country teams with day-to-day operations.

There is regular oversight over budgets and expenses, and in addition to maintaining regular communication with our teams on the ground, we meet on a quarterly basis to review key financial information as well as the status of each of our ongoing projects and programs. All of this is done in service of fulfilling the immense responsibility of ensuring that every dollar donated is accounted for and put toward making as great an impact as possible every day.

Can you discuss the cultural sensitivity of WE Charity’s programs?

With regards to cultural sensitivity, first I want to talk about our approach. What we are, in our DNA, is an empowerment organization. We empower people to change their own lives and circumstances. For example, through the five pillars young people have all the resources and tools they need to develop into leaders in their own communities and drive their own development. That’s true empowerment.

I like to quote from one of the graduates from Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School in Kenya, who said, “It’s not charity, it’s solidarity.”

The students who attend schools supported by WE Charity often belong to empowerment clubs, including environmental clubs, leadership clubs and girls’ clubs. The students want to be actively involved in their school and use what they have learned to improve their community and their families.

When students go home to their household and share with their parents that boiling water and handwashing are going to mitigate health concerns, that message coming from child to parent is very empowering.

I also believe that the interaction between students in the communities and ME to WE Trips participants is a core part of the empowerment model. What these trips enable the student in Kenya or Ecuador or India to do is have an interaction and connection to the global world and connect with their peers. It’s an opportunity to build understanding.

Empowerment is about enabling people to realize their own potential and impact on the world. WE Charity prides itself on it. It’s not just cultural sensitivity—it’s cultural relevancy.

Why does WE partner with communities in developing countries instead of in North America?

Most charities either channel their efforts into their own local community, or internationally in communities across the world—we do both. Our goal is to empower people to change the world, no matter where they are located. At our core, we believe in the power of anyone to be an agent of positive social change, and our programs are providing youth everywhere with the tools they need to reach their full potential.

In our domestic programs, young people become agents of change in their schools and communities, while also learning about broader global issues. Through our international initiatives, youth in developing countries are empowered through education to affect change in their own communities with employment, health education and gender empowerment.

Connecting the WE Villages model to the over 14,500 schools in Canada, the U.S., and the UK is a key component of the program. Through educational resources, international development materials, campaigns and direct engagement, the WE movement calls on young people to engage with, and actively participate in, solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.

This focus on global education and connection is informally called our “sixth pillar” whereby we create the connection between the youth and communities internationally with those who are engaged in global education activities through their school programs domestically.

This intrinsic link between the two approaches is what makes the model unique. WE Charity educates, engages and empowers youth around the world and connects them with the issues and causes they care about on an unparalleled scale. It is through the tangible and meaningful experiences that youth feel connected to one another and to the movement of global action.

Working together, the international and domestic initiatives generate a sense of global citizenship within this generation, creating a more interconnected, compassionate and peaceful world.

What is the role of brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger within WE Charity?

Craig and Marc are the Co-Founders of WE Charity (formerly, Free The Children), and have dedicated the last 20+ years to supporting and growing the mission of the charity. They are paid by ME to WE and have always worked in a volunteer capacity for WE Charity and have never taken a salary from WE Charity, nor do they hold a formal seat on our Board.

They act as public ambassadors for WE Charity globally, promoting the message of WE Charity, and engaging people in the WE movement.

WE Charity is lucky to have two such driven, world-class thought leaders and social entrepreneurs who are dedicated to advancing our mission and increasing our impact. They are great people and great role models for aspiring change-makers.

What is the role of WE Charity with WE Day?

WE Day is a WE Charity initiative. WE Schools provides the opportunity for kids to get involved in school-based campaign initiatives and WE Day celebrates the work that they do throughout the year and inspires them to continue to hold on to the commitment to work for others locally and globally, with whatever cause inspires them most.

WE Day is funded by sponsors in the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Each WE Day receives support from both local and national sponsors. No donations from the students, schools or the general public to WE Charity are used to fund WE Day. Instead, corporate sponsors, foundations and patron families generously cover the costs required to make WE Day possible, so youth can enjoy WE Day at no cost.

The result? A generation of young people excited to change the world!

What is WE Charity’s relationship with ME to WE?

We are so lucky to have a partnership with ME to WE, which is a social enterprise that was established to support the work of WE Charity

ME to WE donates half its net profits to WE Charity and uses the balance to grow the social enterprise. In particular, ME to WE donates to the hard-to-fund aspects of the charity, including administration costs, technological advancement and program measurement. ME to WE generates this income primarily by selling socially responsible and ethically made products and meaningful volunteer travel experiences

Please see www.metowe.com and an interview with ME to WE Executive Director, Russ McLeod.

What is your administration rate, and what percentage of donations go directly to programming?

WE Charity works to ensure high impact, accountability, efficiencies and innovation. Our models of engagement and operations ensure the most effective use of donations. WE Charity prides itself maintaining a low administration rate of 10% (average). That means, on average, 90 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to projects and programming that impact youth.

One of the ways we are able to maintain such a low administrative rate is through our unique partnership with ME to WE, which is designed to offset WE Charity’s expenses and help provide in-kind services to our efforts at home and abroad.

How are ME to WE and WE Charity different?

WE Charity is a registered charity. As a charity, we are governed and have oversight by a Board of Directors, deliver meaningful and impactful programs, and can issue charitable tax receipts for eligible donations.

ME to WE is a social enterprise. Governed by a separate Board of Directors with distinct by-laws, it provides products and experiences that make an impact, empowering people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices. ME to WE measures the bottom line by the people empowered an the lives transformers—and functions with the goal of supporting the work of WE Charity.

I work closely with Russ McLeod, Executive Director of ME to WE. We both believe in using the tools of business and sound financial management to solve social problems, with different approaches to a shared vision of a WE world.

How is the relationship with ME to WE governed?

A legal framework governs the relationship between WE Charity and ME to WE. A lot of expertise and resources have been put in place to ensure clear and accountable processes and structures supporting the management of the relationship.

When we launched ME to WE in 2008, our first step was to obtain a formal approval from the Public Guardian Trustee of Ontario. This board oversees all charitable activities in the province of Ontario, and conducted a thorough review of the legal and operational relationship between the two entities. Additionally, we asked a retired Canadian Superior Court Justice to independently review both organizations, the relationship between them, the role of their founders and the governance model. Upon completion of the review, a report was issued that gave full support of this operating model.

Today, we maintain this. Governance of the relationship remains an important aspect of the role of the WE Charity Board of Directors. At WE Charity’s Annual General Meeting, ME to WE’s Executive Director provides a full overview of ME to WE’s activities of the previous 12 months, and all relevant financial data and performance results. The annual donation from ME to WE is well-documented and signed off in a formal process with various checks and processes.

I encourage people to learn more about ME to WE by reading an interview with Russ McLeod, the Executive Director of ME to WE.

Is WE Charity independently evaluated? If so, by whom?

WE Charity’s impacts are regularly and independently evaluated by outside experts for both domestic and international program activities. We work with an organization, Mission Measurement, that expertly measures social impact and program efficacy, to understand the impact of our programming and how to maximize that impact.

Independent analyses of WE Villages show that:

  • WE Villages is effective—programs and approach are aligned with the practices espoused and practiced by the leading development organizations.

  • WE Villages is sustainable—it is designed around accepted core tenets of sustainable development; communities have demonstrated increased ownership over their continued growth.

  • WE Villages is cost-effective—programs and activities have been identified as cost-effective; it is structured to maximize the return on investment as activities/programs produce complimentary reinforcing outcomes.

Independent analyses of WE Schools and WE Day show that:

  • WE Schools and WE Day increase academic achievement—driving deeper learning and engagement and persistence in school. It prepares youth by developing better knowledge, critical-thinking skills and motivation to learn.

  • WE Schools and WE Day increase civic engagement—developing active citizenship and responsible consumers. It empowers youth to self-identify and act as agents of positive social change.

  • WE Schools and WE Day help to develop workplace readiness—improving students’ interpersonal, organizational and leadership capabilities. They gain experiences that help them enter and succeed in the workforce.

What is your approach to partnering with other organizations and businesses?

Partnering with other organizations and businesses presents opportunities to extend our impact locally.

As an educational partner, we work closely with over 200 school boards and districts across North America and the UK, bringing WE’s service-learning model to millions of students and the energy and passion of WE Day to hundreds of thousands of students. We are proud partners of the largest school districts across North America, including Chicago Public Schools, LA Unified, New York City Department of Education, and the College Board.

WE Charity proudly partners with the corporate and philanthropic sector as well, to both fund and grow our mission. We always takes great care to maintain these partnerships and their corresponding activities, to provide the most positive experience with students and integrity of our programs—especially because we work with young people, WE Charity takes this responsibility very seriously as the empowerment of youth is the foundation upon which the organization is based..

We have a board-approved process and definition of the nature of the partners we are comfortable working with. We take a partnership approach whether we are working with students, developing communities, educators, schools or corporations. Our goal is to enable partners to have the most powerful impact on the world.