The power of purpose-driven change

What’s smart in the not-for-profit world can also be what’s good: tying mission and mandate to financially sustainable growth.

As the Canadian co-founder and strategic leader of WE Charity and the ME to WE social enterprise, Marc Kielburger is changing the way Canadians think about making a difference. He’s also changing the way not-for-profits think about engagement, strategy and development.

In this Q&A, he shares advice on how to increase the impact of your organization and embrace disruption. Plus, get a sneak peek at the Not-For-Profit Forum, where he’ll be delivering a keynote this winter.

There’s no doubt about it: two decades later, the WE Movement is a huge success story. What’s your advice to leaders who want to follow suit? How can they increase the impact and effectiveness of the organization, so it stays strong and poised for growth?

The WE Movement began when my brother Craig was only 12 and I was 17. We’ve learned a lot over the following 23 years, and our biggest piece of advice is to stay focused on your core mission, which for us has been engaging young people to inspire social change.

Keep evolving your organization’s thinking and developing best practices. We’ve learned to take a “fail fast and learn fast” mentality. We’re constantly innovating, building, rebuilding – and then doing it all over again.

Our recommendation is to stay focused on your social outcome but also remember to be nimble and entrepreneurial in how you deliver it.

As a passionate social activist, entrepreneur and co-founder, you have plenty of first-hand experience navigating the fast pace of global change and leading organizations through disruption. How has the WE Movement continued to thrive – and turn challenges, like limited resources, into opportunities?

Our first challenge was fighting the perception that young people can’t change the world. When we started, youth were not being engaged at all by this sector. They were seen but rarely heard beyond the odd door-to-door fundraiser. We identified a lot of inspiration and energy going to waste.

Although our work fell into the niche of “youth-focused organization” very naturally, we certainly recommend that new organizations look for the still-untapped opportunities where it’s possible to make the most social impact but also achieve sustainable growth. Finding that area of overlap between where your impact is really meaningful and where it’s expanding is where you’ll find the best opportunities to make a powerful difference.

Inspiration leads to action. And now more than ever, we’re seeing a rise in engagement and a commitment to global capacity-building among Canadians, especially youth. What do you think it is about events like WE Day that resonate with so many people?

It resonates because it’s a celebration where young people are being recognized and rewarded for doing good. In Canada we are obsessed with rewards. About 90 per cent of Canadians have a loyalty card, and we’re taking on new ones at twice the rate of people living in the U.S. What we need to do next is incentivize social good, and WE Day is an early mechanism to do just that.

WE Day tickets don’t cost money. You have to earn your way with one local and global action and the reward is a celebration like none other. When we were kids, it was hard to fill a classroom with students who cared about changing the world. Now, thanks to WE Day, we’re filling entire stadiums.  

We’re excited to have you join us at the Not-for-Profit Forum this winter. What insights can attendees look forward to in your keynote?

First, I want to say just how humbled I am to be able to come and speak in front of so many amazing people in the sector. It’s a huge honour.

We spent two years researching WEconomy, and it’s this wealth of knowledge and experience that I will be bringing to the forum. I’m keen to share all of the data, trends and opportunities we uncovered along the way. This will be such a fun opportunity to share our work, and I am so excited to be spreading these conversations even further.

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Learn more about the future of social enterprise, sustainable growth and opportunities for innovation at the Not-For-Profit Forum in Toronto from February 6-7, 2019.

New flexible registration options mean you can sign up for both days of the event, one day only, or attend virtually at a special rate. Optional post-forum workshop and group discounts also available. Save up to $100 when you register by November 15, 2018.