$1.2-million grant will aid Free the Children projects

By 
  • April 13, 2007
TORONTO - A charity established by 12-year-old Catholic school children a dozen years ago has landed a $1.2-million grant from the Canadian founder of eBay, who as a student pumped gas in the neighbourhood.
The Skoll Foundation has put up the money to help the Toronto-based Free the Children establish 800 more youth groups. If successful, the youth groups will raise an additional $1.5 million annually for development projects to keep children in poor countries in school and out of the labour force

When Free the Children chair and founder Craig Kielburger met eBay founder Jeff Skoll, the first thing the 24-year-old children’s rights campaigner learned about the 42-year-old dot-com billionaire was that Skoll worked his way through the University of Toronto’s engineering school pumping gas around the corner from St. Cyril Catholic School in north Toronto, where Kielburger’s mother taught.

It seems Skoll and Kielburger see eye-to-eye on market-based approaches to social justice questions.

“I don’t believe traditional charity is ever going to bring us the social justice we need in this world,” Kielburger told The Catholic Register.

Kielburger claims every Free the Children project, many of them women’s co-operatives, is self-sustaining within five years.

“It’s the old adage — you’ve got to teach the guy how to fish,” Kielburger said.

Kielburger also believes people in North America have to understand the injustice of global poverty and agitate for social justice — a lesson he says he learned from the ecumenical church-run Jubilee 2000 campaign.

“The church was fantastic behind that,” he said. “You’re not going to eliminate poverty through traditional models of development alone. You need to look at social justice.”

The Skoll Foundation grant will allow Free the Children to grow while still directing the money raised by more than 1,000 Youth in Action groups directly to development projects. About 65 per cent of Free the Children’s funding is raised by more than 500,000 youth members under 18. This has resulted in more than $11 million in medical supplies shipped overseas.

Kielburger and classmates formed Free the Children in 1995, when he was 12, in response to the murder of a 12-year-old child labourer who had begun demanding rights for children. Free the Children claims it has changed the lives of more than one million children around the world. It has built more than 450 schools educating some 40,000 students.

The Skoll Foundation also announced more than $10 million in grants to 10 organizations March 14. Among the other recipients are the Bogota, Colombia-based Escuela Nova Foundation which runs education programs in Latin America and Uganda; Phnom Penh-based Friends International running programs for street children; Oakland, Calif.-based Gram Vikas operating village development programs in India; and Massachusetts-based Verité, which works with garment workers to improve factory conditions.

In addition to the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, the Silicon Valley-based foundation also funds the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University.

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