The WE Global Learning Center is a dream born on the wide savannah of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Walking together, Craig Kielburger and Canadian philanthropist Hartley T. Richardson envisioned a new building that would not only serve as WE’s headquarters, but also provide the capacity for WE to cost-effectively scale its programs globally.
The WE GLC would accomplish that by employing advanced technology to connect educators and youth anywhere in the world. The space would bring all of WE’s educational and service-learning programs together in one place; where schools, youth groups and families could take part in training and workshops. It would be a hub bringing together educators for professional development and budding social entrepreneurs to network and hone their skills and business plans.
An historic building was purchased in Toronto’s downtown Corktown district, and renovations began in the spring of 2016. The WE GLC opened its doors in September 2017, after significant renovations to make it a hub and a headquarters for global learning.
The WE GLC is much more than just office space. The entire the first floor of the WE GLC is an open community space, dedicated to providing access to resources and mentorship opportunities to youth, educators, and families.
Some of the features of the WE GLC include:
- The WE Connectivity Hub creates real-time opportunities for borderless communication, virtually connecting youth and educators across Canada and around the world. It features three global classrooms fitted with Skype technology, generously donated by Microsoft.
- The Social Incubation Hub is an arena where young social entrepreneurs can develop and launch their own action plans, where we provide support and mentorship through structured programming and one-to-one coaching with youth.
- The WE GLC also features a Legacy Room, in honor of Gord Downie’s legacy and commitment to improving the lives of Indigenous people. It is as a space dedicated to WE’s commitment to Canada’s journey as a country toward reconciliation.
- In the “Empatheatre” we offer an engaging area for interactive events such as speeches and educational workshops, professional learning sessions for educators and leadership programming for larger groups—all in service of facilitating service-learning programs with students from around the world.
- The second floor of the WE GLC is dedicated to our domestic programming, where teams that oversee local programs sit and collaborate on youth and educator engagement. On the third floor, our international teams focus on global program development and cultivating the partnerships that help bring our sustainable international development model to life.
The establishment of the WE GLC was made with an initial landmark gift from Canadian entrepreneurs and long-time supporters Hartley T. Richardson and David Aisenstat. Their generous actions were the spark that inspired a remarkable community of business leaders and philanthropists to come together as hopeful visionaries to bring this vision of the center to life.
How the WE GLC benefits our work
With advanced communications technology, like the Skype-enabled Hartley T. Richardson Empatheatre, WE can engage more people while driving down the cost per life impacted. We can provide leadership training to youth in the most remote Indigenous communities. Educators anywhere can participate in service-learning professional development without incurring travel costs to us or them. For those close enough to travel, the WE GLC draws in school groups who visit the site for workshops and guest speakers, including politicians, leading academics and motivational speakers.
We are working on our long-term dream is to make the WE GLC a community for change-makers, with space for social entrepreneurs and other charities to work alongside our team.
How the WE GLC was funded
The WE GLC was made possible with an initial landmark gift from long-time WE supporters Hartley T. Richardson and the Richardson Family, the Richardson Foundation and David Aisenstat. Their generosity sparked a remarkable community of business leaders and philanthropists to come together to bring Hartley and Craig’s vision to life. Among these founding hopeful visionaries were the Gilgan family, the Modesto and Filomena Romano family, and the Losani family; the Rumi Foundation; and Royal Bank of Canada executive Jennifer Tory. These supporters kindly paid for the entire project and we are very grateful for their incredible assistance.
The WE GLC and its unique capabilities are the result of significant in-kind donations of services and technology by partners such as Microsoft, TELUS, Cisco, SMART Technologies and Siemens Canada. The funds donated by our incredible supporters, coupled with the invaluably generous in-kind support from our partners, ensures that we did not take a penny from our programs to realize our dream.
All funding for the WE GLC was made entirely possible by targeted donations from private donors, and in-kind contributions of services and technology from socially-minded companies. No program funds or donated funds from youth or schools were used in the purchase, restoration or outfitting of the WE GLC.
WE’s real estate philosophy
Prior to the opening of the WE GLC in 2017, WE Charity worked from an assortment of buildings WE owned in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighborhood. All of these buildings have now been sold and WE has entirely moved to the Queen Street and Parliament district where we are following the dream of building a new campus for good that brings together non-profits, social enterprises, community groups and residents to create transformative change.
Thanks to sound counsel and guidance from our advisors and our Board, WE Charity adopted an early philosophy of using targeted donations to acquire real estate as an organizational asset rather than an expense whenever possible. This strategy allows us to avoid substantial leasing costs. This model, and all past financial transactions relating to real estate, were independently reviewed by a former Supreme Court Justice who found good and reasonable judgment in this structure, proper source of funds for the purchases, and proper oversight by the Board of Directors throughout the process. As a matter of policy, WE does not use any project-designated funds or any funds raised by schools or children to acquire real estate.
Working in downtown Toronto neighborhoods provides several organizational benefits. It provides us financial security to do our work and helps increase productivity, as well as decreasing travel costs and providing a safe and secure working environment for our young staff.
It also allows WE to give back to the community, providing a significant economic boost to these downtown neighborhoods.
The WE Global Learning Center is fully compliant with Ontario’s Accessibility Act.
The WE Social Enterprise Centre—Building a community hub
For the 25th Anniversary of WE, our dream is to build a nexus of innovation, a campus for good that will bring together non-profits, social enterprises, and community services, all in one location to create local and global transformative change. The WE Social Enterprise Center is both the geographical and spiritual cornerstone of the dream.
With a high population of low income residents and new Canadians, the surrounding neighbourhoods of east downtown Toronto have the highest concentration of community non-profit organizations in the city. Our vision is to establish a central hub, a city block where community organizations, social enterprises, and aspiring young social entrepreneurs can easily access training, mentorship, services and resources to realize their own visions, and scale their impact. Through shared spaces, they will be able to interact and network, learning from one another as well as from experts in a wide range of fields.
Our goal is to positively transform the community WE calls home. As that transformation takes place, we will work to ensure those most in need continue to have a home in that community, and benefit from that positive impact.
The WE SEC is just the start. It’s going to take a long-term commitment, but we will achieve our dream with the generous support of individual donors like Hartley and Thor Richardson and others, as well as leading businesses who share our vision.
Houses and homes: the story of the WE offices
WE co-founders Craig and Marc learned their entrepreneurial spirit from their parents, Theresa and Fred Kielburger, who were not only teachers, but also hard-working entrepreneurs. It was their hard work that taught their children entrepreneurship, and also provided important financial support to WE at pivotal moments.
The story of WE begins in the Kielburger home in the suburbs of Thornhill, north of Toronto.
Coming from very humble backgrounds, Theresa and Fred wanted to provide their children the with the advantages they did not have. As Craig and Marc write in their books, The World Needs Your Kid and WEconomy, their parents supplemented their teacher salaries by renovating and reselling homes. Every summer, the Kielburger family would move into an old house, which they’d fix up over months and sell the next spring. Since the 1970s, they have fixed-up and resold dozens of homes.
Craig and Marc grew up helping their parents restore the houses. When Marc was three or four, he’d “help” his parents hang wallpaper. Then at night while he slept, someone would magically come and fix his work. Mom and Dad told him it was the Wallpaper Fairy.
When 12-year-old Craig Kielburger and a bunch of middle-school friends founded Free The Children, the family home in Thornhill suddenly became the headquarters for young people fighting child labour and poverty overseas.
Though spacious, the house—known as Thornbank to our team—was soon over-crowded with school supplies and health kits for children abroad. It was always crammed with young volunteers from all over Canada, and even the United States, Australia and Japan. They needed a place to sleep.
For many years, Thornbank was both a bunkhouse and a base for the organization.
Eventually, Theresa and Fred generously donated the whole house to become WE’s first dedicated headquarters, while they moved into Craig and Marc’s grandparents’ house for five years. Theresa and Fred eventually purchased a three-storey building in Toronto’s Cabbagetown district and gave it rent-free to the charity to serve as a downtown headquarters. Since then, Craig and Marc’s parents have continued as benefactors and huge supporters of WE. Read this to learn more.
In addition to learning entrepreneurship from their parents, Craig and Marc also learned a lesson about the importance of sustainability as an anchor for our charity.
The new WE Global Learning Centre was born of that lesson. It allows us to maintain a foothold in our host community, using our space to give back and support some of Toronto’s most at-risk neighbourhoods. It’s a legacy we’re giving to our community.
With a solid anchor in the buildings we call come, we can grow our positive impact at home and around the world.