Meet Kim Plewes, Senior Advisor on the executive team at WE’s headquarters in Toronto
Today, Kim Plewes is many things: an advocate, a spokesperson, a traveler, and a trusted advisor to WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger. Her journey to WE has taken her from her hometown of Oakville, Ontario, to the floor of Canada’s House of Commons, to more than 60 countries around the world, to addressing corporate audiences and working alongside Craig and Marc. And while there have been many defining moments shaping this journey, Kim pinpoints one key moment at age 12 that set her on her life’s path.
Growing up, Kim was aware of the challenges people face around the world, but didn’t really connect these issues—homelessness in Toronto or poverty in faraway countries—to her suburban life. Then, a teacher shared a story of a child laborer.
Realizing that there were kids her own age who were being exploited, Kim and two friends collected over 6,000 signatures on a petition that they eventually presented to the House of Commons in 2002. Around this time, Kim heard about WE—at the time, Free The Children—then a newly founded youth-led organization, headed up by a teenage Craig Kielburger. Ever since, Kim has volunteered with the organization. Throughout high school, she led fundraisers and a Free The Children club at school, and traveled on her first service trip to Nicaragua. At 18, she took a full-time role at the organization. She stayed connected with WE even during a four-year break to study International Development at American University in Washington, D.C., and Oxford University in the U.K. Kim has held many and varied roles at WE, from answering phones to facilitating trips and meeting with partners to leading key initiatives.
WE talked to Kim about her most memorable experiences with the organization and what she’s learned throughout the years.
Question and Answer
When you started at WE, it was a team of 20. Now, it’s a powerful movement inspiring millions with offices across the world. What has it been like being part of this growth?
I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just knew I wanted to work at WE. I wanted to provide value and I wanted to make a difference in the world. I started out as our first-ever front desk receptionist, and since then I’ve had the opportunity every year to reinvent where and how I can be most helpful. I started our first U.S.-based regional office, which was in California, helped launch the O Ambassadors program (in partnership with Oprah’s Angel Network), and led youth programs. Most recently, I joined our WE speakers’ bureau as a spokesperson around women and girls’ empowerment.
As the organization has grown up, I have as well. What I’ve most valued is that I’ve been able to identify areas that I wanted to grow professionally, and WE has given me the opportunity to get my feet wet in those areas and learn those skills, whether it’s managing a large team or learning accounting. It’s taught me to take initiative in defining my path, in seeking out opportunities within the roles I have, which is an opportunity that is available to any team member if they’re willing to put in the work.
You’re passionate about travel and photography—many of your photos are now featured in the new WE Global Learning Center. Tell us more about that.
I absolutely love to travel and have had the privilege to do quite a lot of it, whether in the role of speaking on behalf of WE or hosting trips. I love the opportunity to experience new cultures, to see how people are living and what ties us all together, what challenges we all share, and what we have to learn from each other. I rarely go very far without my camera in tow—I love being able to see and capture candid beauty, whether in animals, landscapes or people.
If you had to choose—what’s one of your most memorable experiences at WE?
One experience that really shaped my commitment to WE was the first ever WE Day at Ricoh Coliseum in 2007. Standing on the floor of the bowl with thousands of kids, and feeling the community I was part of in that moment, brought me to tears. Back at school I was sometimes made fun of for the beliefs I had and for caring about social issues. Now I knew I wasn’t alone. It takes courage for a young person to stand up for what they believe in, it takes skills to take action for something you believe in. It’s a really special thing to be part of.
What’s your Why—the one thing that defines why you do what you do?
I do this because I want other young people to have the same opportunities I had. I was provided a welcoming, empowering environment to find myself. To try and fail. To ask hard questions and to be vulnerable and to ultimately find my path forward and be confident with who I am in my beliefs. And if I can create that environment for a single other young person as they find their passions—what more could you ask for out of a day’s work?
This interview has been condensed and edited.