Growing up as the son of two teachers, the importance and power of education was ingrained in me from a very young age.
This belief only became stronger as I travelled to developing countries around the world and quickly learned that the greatest tool in battling poverty and empowering people was access to a formal education.
Back at home, it was becoming clear that we were starting to take our own public education systems for granted by continually under-funding and under-resourcing them, making it harder for students to get the level of education they deserved and constantly asking teachers to do more with fewer resources.
Our schools also provided little to encourage young people to do anything beyond basic academics. Deemed extracurricular, music and sports programs were underfunded. Civics education and service-learning was too often non-existent in schools. From my own experiences as a young teen in South Asia, where I met other young people who were working to change the world, I knew we needed to do more at home to inspire the next generation of kids who wanted to make an impact.
That’s why we created the schools and teachers programs, which established innovative programs designed to inspire generations of youth to take action for causes that resonated with them, leading many to volunteer for the first time in their lives.
The programs were designed to enhance a school or community's existing social initiatives or spark new ones by providing teachers with educational resources and action campaigns to encourage students to further their curricular learning and develop social and emotional skills to succeed beyond the classroom.
We developed a suite of programs for kids to become advocates and activists on causes they cared about.
The innovative campaign helped shine a light children had no voice in serious issues that affected them. By taking a vow of silence, students helped raise awareness about child labour, child soldiers and access to water and education. The campaign was amplified by participation from Demi Lovato, Larry King, Orlando Bloom, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Sheen, Seth Rogan and Malala Yousafzai.
An annual food drive event where students raised awareness on the issue of local and global food insecurity by collecting food and funds for local food banks. The program ran for 20 years raising over 1 million pounds of food.
Other programs included WE Are One (encouraged youth to use their technology skills to make their schools and communities more inclusive); WE Volunteer Now (empowered young change-makers to spread volunteerism and help create a better future); WE Go Green (students took sustainability pledges to reduce plastic waste, start community gardens or other environmental initiatives to create a greener world) and WE Walk for Water (students took learned about how far kids their own age had to walk each day to get clean water for their homes and communities, robbing them of the time needed to attend school).
The programming supported over 130,000 educators who worked with students, turning the tide on declining civic engagement by inspiring the next generation to support more than 5,000 causes and log 40 million hours of volunteer service.
Youth mental health was also a significant element underpinning the programs. For example, through a partnership with Mental Health of America, teachers are supported through a no-cost program that ensures that every teacher in every school has access to the educational tools and training they need to set them and their students up for future success. Tools include issues-based lesson plans and more to help students take action on local and global issues while building skills like resilience, empathy and problem-solving.
Collectively, these programs enabled youth and families to better the world, supporting local and global causes by volunteering millions of hours of service and raising millions of dollars that directly benefit their local communities and the world.