Queen’s University WE Chapter changing strategy amid WE Controversy, Pandemic

Their parent organization has been embroiled in recent months over a $912 Million-dollar contract with the Canadian Government

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Last Updated on September 9, 2020 by YGK News Staff

The Queen’s University Chapter of WE is making changes to its fundraising strategy as a result of the pandemic and the recent WE controversy. Queen’s WE is a chapter of the WE Charity, but are a distinct organization, ratified by the Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University.

The WE Charity has been embroiled in recent months over a $912 Million-dollar contract with the Canadian Government. The contract would have seen the WE Charity responsible for connecting thousands of students with volunteer programs. Grants would then be given to the students on the basis of their work. As questions began to emerge about conflicts of interest between the charity and the Prime Minister’s family, WE Charity withdrew from the contract on July 3rd.

Queen’s WE describe themselves as an “open group of students across all years and departments who share dedication, passion, and energy in promoting social change.”

The group is one of the WE Organizations largest student donors and have funded three Adopt-A-Village projects over the past ten years. One of their central goals is to raise funds for the construction of school buildings and sustainable development projects in Kenya. The group was so successful that they attracted the attention of Marc Kielburger, who came to speak at Queen’s University’s Homecoming in 2014. Most recently, Queen’s WE raised $12,000 for the WE Charity in 2019.

Craig Kielburger at Queens’ in 2014

Despite their efforts, recent have revelations suggest that their parent organization may not be making the impact they thought. On July 25th, Canadaland reported that several employees were being let go due to the pandemic. Former employees stated that donors were being sold on big promises, without assessing if they were possible. They also reported that donor funding wouldn’t make it to the projects that they had funded.

“Kenya was a very tricky situation. WE were in a very challenging financial situation as of September 2019. Marc was holding meetings about it, we were up for re-negotiation with big corporate partners such as Microsoft, and there was some impact of the scrutiny from Canadaland in terms of donor dollars lost.”

“There was lots of pressure on the partnerships and donor fundraising teams. So, we were over-extending ourselves, promising donors’ things that couldn’t happen. There was also a misalignment. Projects had been fully funded, but then that funding wouldn’t make it to the projects.” Says a former WE employee. Canadaland has noted that the WE Organization disputes these claims.

Additionally, the employee claimed that moving forward with projects had become especially difficult due to allegations of theft from the WE Kenya director, Peter Ruhiu. In July, Canadaland reported that the Ruhiu paid off Kenyan government officials who were investigating Free the Children (FTC), now the WE Organization. The claims were supported by a phone call between WE co-founder Marc Kielburger and Ruhiu.

In response to Canadaland’s reports, Queen’s WE state that they share the desire for transparency of their parent company, but also want to continue their clubs mandate. Additionally, they re-assure potential donors by stating the club has their own safeguards in place to ensure ethical and fiscally responsible operations.

“We do believe that demands for integrity and transparency from our parent organization are important ones to make. Unfortunately, we don’t have any insights into the operations of the WE Charity and cannot speak on their behalf.” Says Queen’s WE Co-chairs Brett Scott and Sarah Davis.

The chairs explained that they re-evaluate where they donate their funds each year, on a basis of need.

“Our senior executive team, including the Co-Chairs, Secretary, and Treasurer, come to the decision on the amount for our donation and where the funds will be directed. Our decision on the amount depends on how much we were able to raise in the year after our expenses, which we do expect to be significantly lower as a result of COVID-19. We direct our funds to an issue or cause that we, as an executive, determine to be in highest need.”

“The donation typically is directed to a certain pillar supporting a certain region through the WE Charity, but this is not a requirement. We have made donations to external charities and organizations in the past.” State the co-chairs.

“We will be following developments on the matter from WE and media sources throughout the coming months, and we will take this information into account when deciding where to direct our funds.”

There has also been confusion among the organization among where their funds were going. Initially, Queen’s WE announced that they would be donating $12,000 to ME to WE, a private social enterprise organization run by co-chairs Craig and Marc Kielburger. In a statement to YGK News, the organization states that this was a typo.

“The post you’re referring to in which our executive team made a pledge to donate $12,000 to ME to WE were mistyped by our marketing team at the time. I can confirm that this donation was actually made to the WE Charity” says co-chair Brett Scott. Charity Intelligence Canada has since noted that there is often donor confusion about these two organizations.

The club mistakenly stated that all donor funds were going to the Kielburger’s organization’s for-profit social enterprise. Charity Intelligence Canada states that this is a common donor misunderstanding

In describing the relationship between the two organizations, Charity Intelligence Canada states that “ME to WE are an affiliated social enterprise/for-profit private corporation controlled by Craig and Marc Kielburger, We Charity’s co-founders. Where WE Charity was founded in 1995, ME to WE started up in 2004. ME to WE’s CEO is Roxanne Joyal, Marc Kielburger’s wife. WE Charity’s CFO is also ME to WE’s CFO.”  

They also note that WE Charity buys promotional goods and travel services from ME to WE. The organization claims that 90% of their profits go toward charitable causes. However, Charity Intelligence Canada find it highly unusual that the charity contributes more to the social enterprise than it gives back.

Scott and Davis recognize the impact that the WE controversy has had on their organization. Many of their members have a deep commitment to the cause and in some cases have been involved since elementary school.

“Being associated with the controversy surrounding the WE Charity is going to have its impact in the coming year. Our executive team has 18 members who remain dedicated to the club, and we expect to hire an additional 12 general members at the beginning of the school year. Many of our members have been involved with WE since elementary school and wish to continue making an impact in their local and global communities.”

Due to both the WE Controversy and the pandemic, the club has had to re-evaluate how it will fundraise. This year, they will emphasize the commitments they’ve made to encourage Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within their club. They made these commitments following the StolenbySmith movement started by Commerce student Kelly Weiling Zou. The club will also focus on outreach and education initiatives.

Most recently, charity watchdog Charity Intelligence Canada has downgraded the demonstrated impact assessment of the WE organization to “fair.” The demonstrated impact is per dollar and is calculated based on available program information. They have also issued a donor advisory due to the WE Charity having a completely new board.

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