WE’s real estate philosophy

Prior to the opening of the WE GLC in 2017, WE Charity worked from an assortment of buildings WE owned in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighborhood. All of these buildings have now been sold and WE has entirely moved to the Queen Street and Parliament district where we are following the dream of building a new campus for good that brings together non-profits, social enterprises, community groups and residents to create transformative change.

Thanks to sound counsel and guidance from our advisors and our Board, WE Charity adopted an early philosophy of using targeted donations to acquire real estate as an organizational asset rather than an expense whenever possible. This strategy allows us to avoid substantial leasing costs.

Moreover, WE Charity does not have a formal financial endowment, akin to other charities of its scope and size. The total real estate that WE Charity owns represents slightly less than one year of its total operational budget. Yet, it enables the charity to have the minimum suggested amount of financial security, as recommended by experts and independent evaluators as “best practices” for our sector. As a result, our Board of Directors considers our real estate holdings as a type of “functional endowment”, which we can also use and share with our youth and employee stakeholders daily.

This model, and all past financial transactions relating to real estate, were independently reviewed by a former Supreme Court Justice who found good and reasonable judgment in this structure, proper source of funds for the purchases, and proper oversight by the Board of Directors throughout the process. As a matter of policy, WE does not use any project-designated funds or any funds raised by schools or children to acquire real estate.

Working in downtown Toronto neighborhoods provides several organizational benefits. It provides us financial security to do our work and helps increase productivity, as well as decreasing travel costs and providing a safe and secure working environment for our young staff.

It also allows WE to give back to the community, providing a significant economic boost to these downtown neighborhoods.

The WE Global Learning Center is fully compliant with Ontario’s Accessibility Act.

The WE Social Enterprise Centre—Building a community hub

For the 25th Anniversary of WE, our dream is to build a nexus of innovation, a campus for good that will bring together non-profits, social enterprises, and community services, all in one location to create local and global transformative change. The WE Social Enterprise Center is both the geographical and spiritual cornerstone of the dream.

With a high population of low income residents and new Canadians, the surrounding neighbourhoods of east downtown Toronto have the highest concentration of community non-profit organizations in the city. Our vision is to establish a central hub, a city block where community organizations, social enterprises, and aspiring young social entrepreneurs can easily access training, mentorship, services and resources to realize their own visions, and scale their impact. Through shared spaces, they will be able to interact and network, learning from one another as well as from experts in a wide range of fields.

Our goal is to positively transform the community WE calls home. As that transformation takes place, we will work to ensure those most in need continue to have a home in that community, and benefit from that positive impact.

Read what others are saying about our vision.

Learn more about the WE SEC and our social enterprise programs.

Houses and homes: the story of the WE offices

WE co-founders Craig and Marc learned their entrepreneurial spirit from their parents, Theresa and Fred Kielburger, who were not only teachers, but also hard-working entrepreneurs. It was their hard work that taught their children entrepreneurship, and also provided important financial support to WE at pivotal moments.

The story of WE begins in the Kielburger home in the suburbs of Thornhill, north of Toronto. Coming from very humble backgrounds, Theresa and Fred wanted to provide their children with the advantages they did not have. As Craig and Marc write in their books, The World Needs Your Kid and WEconomy, their parents supplemented their teacher salaries by renovating and reselling homes. Every summer, the Kielburger family would move into an old house, which they’d fix up over months and sell the next spring. Since the 1970s, they have fixed-up and resold dozens of homes.

Craig and Marc grew up helping their parents restore the houses. When Marc was three or four, he’d “help” his parents hang wallpaper. Then, at night while he slept, someone would magically come and fix his work. Mom and Dad told him it was the Wallpaper Fairy.

When 12-year-old Craig Kielburger and a bunch of middle-school friends founded Free The Children, the family home in Thornhill suddenly became the headquarters for young people fighting child labor and poverty overseas.

Though spacious, the house—known as Thornbank to our team—was soon overcrowded with school supplies and health kits for children abroad. It was always crammed with young volunteers from all over Canada, and even the United States, Australia and Japan. They needed a place to sleep.

For many years, Thornbank was both a bunkhouse and a base for the organization.

Eventually, Theresa and Fred generously donated the whole house to become WE’s first dedicated headquarters, while they moved into Craig and Marc’s grandparents’ house for five years. Theresa and Fred eventually purchased a three-storey building in Toronto’s Cabbagetown district and gave it rent-free to the charity to serve as a downtown headquarters. Since then, Craig and Marc’s parents have continued as benefactors and huge supporters of WE. Read this to learn more.

In addition to learning entrepreneurship from their parents, Craig and Marc also learned a lesson about the importance of sustainability as an anchor for our charity.

The WE Global Learning Center was born of that lesson. It allows us to maintain a foothold in our host community, using our space to give back and support some of Toronto’s most at-risk neighborhoods. It’s a legacy we’re giving to our community.

With a solid anchor in the buildings we call home, we can grow our positive impact at home and around the world.