A Generation of Global Citizens: Craig Kielburger’s Keynote Address

By Nina Carduner

Award winning Canadian activist for children’s rights, Craig Kielburger gave the closing keynote speech of this year’s Global Washington conference. He opened with his own favorite moment from today’s agenda: the fast-pitch session, in which eleven organizations gave a two-minute presentation of their priorities and activities.  “It was an extraordinary moment,” Kielburger said. He then went on to talk more about his work in advocating for the rights of children, in North America and across the world.

Kielburger’s first inspiration came when, as a 12 year-old boy, he read a newspaper article about a 12 year old laborer boy killed in Pakistan. He organized his friends in school; they started a small group called Free the Children, and worked to make a difference for children across the globe. They quickly ran into their first barrier: since they were all children, most non-profit organizations did not take them seriously. In fact, one group they called said that if they really want to help, they could go find their parents’ credit cards. This early experience has fueled his work to empower children all over the world to feel they can make a difference.

Empowering youth has been a consistent theme for Kielburger. The importance of his work was underscored when, as a teenager, he received an extraordinary call  from the Dalai Lama, who invited Kielburger to a conference and a diverse group of international voices to discuss and answer one question: “what is the single greatest challenge facing our world?”

Every answer from poverty to climate change was dismissed as simply a matter of will to solve. After days of discussion and deliberation, the group came up with the answer. They decided that the world’s single greatest challenge was a lack of political will. Kielburger challenged the attendees of today’s conference to ask themselves, “how do we raise a generation so that every single person in the world can recognize that they, too, have be part of this movement toward social change?”

One of Kielburger’s current projects to answer this question is a multi-location event called We Day, where 20,000 children and youth of all ages convene to be inspired by change makers, popular musical acts, celebrities, and world leaders. Each attendee earns a ticket for this special event through local and global service. Essentially, although tickets are free, the attendees must donate time, energy, and enthusiasm to a cause of their choice. To date, We Day has been a regular event in Canada and various parts of the world. Seattle will be the first stop on We Day’s US tour in March, 2013.

In closing, Kielburger told the story of a Quechua word “minga,” which is the coming together of people for the collective good. When he learned this word on a trip to Ecuador, he couldn’t answer a local woman who asked him for an equivalent word in English. To that effect, he emphasized the need for “mingas” in families, schools, and around to world, but we also need mingas in the non-profit world to move “from silos to impact.”

As a final theme to an inspiring day of dialogue, interaction, and connection, Kielburger encourage the audience to continue their work. “It’s time to raise a generation of global citizens.”