ME to WE is an award-winning social enterprise dedicated to supporting WE Charity
Founded in 2009 to provide economic opportunity in WE Village communities and a sustainable source of funding for WE Charity, ME to WE has grown into a global force for good.
ME to WE provides two levels of benefits to support the work of WE Charity. Firstly, ME to WE creates employment and economic empowerment for over 2,000 people in WE Villages communities around the world, including via artisanal and Fairtrade products and global service trips. This critical to the WE Villages pillar of Economic Opportunity, and enables WE Charity to achieve economically sustainable development in countries around the world. Secondly, ME to WE’s charter requires that it donates a minimum of 50 percent of its profits annually to WE Charity. For the past four years, ME to WE has averaged over 90 percent of profits donated to WE Charity. The balance of funds are reinvested into the social enterprise to grow its sustainability, including its recent investment to launch Fairtrade chocolate to create economic opportunity in the WE Villages country of Ecuador. Since 2009, ME to WE has donated $20 million in cash and cost offsetting in-kind donations to WE Charity.
With ME to WE’s primary function to support the mission and operating costs incurred by its partner, WE Charity, the two organizations operate separately, as required to follow Canadian Revenue Agency rules, in a structure established by Torys and Miller Thompson. In order to ensure proper governance, financial accountability and overwhelming benefit to WE Charity, ME to WE has been reviewed by relevant government agencies (including the Ontario Public Guardian Trustee) and external experts (auditors, Board of Directors and a former Justice of The Supreme Court of Canada). ME to WE’s socially responsible practices and supply chains have undergone independent reviewed by groups such as B Labs, Mission Measurement and the Fairtrade Foundation. Mission Measurement’s 2018 review stated that ME to WE is: “not only operating within established industry guidelines and practices, but based on our market research and analysis of peer social enterprises, it may well be setting the industry standard globally for best practices in the field of social entrepreneurship.”
What Is a Social Enterprise?
A social enterprise is an organization that employs a business model to tackle the world’s social and environmental challenges. There are only three ways that a social cause can garner income: donations, government grants and earned income. This third avenue is at the root of social enterprise.
Social enterprises are able to accomplish this in a wide variety of ways. Some social enterprises provide much-needed services to vulnerable communities—like the Grameen Bank, a microfinance institution for the world’s lowest-income communities, created by social enterprise pioneer Muhammad Yunus. Social enterprises create a positive impact by creating employment for vulnerable populations and/or selling goods and services to fund charitable activities, like ME to WE does.
ME to WE’s Financial Support of WE Charity
ME to WE exists to support its charitable partner, WE Charity. By ME to WE’s charter a minimum of 50 percent of its profits must be donated annually to WE Charity. Any outstanding balance is re-invested to grow the social mission (ex: in 2016–2018, ME to WE launched Fairtrade chocolate production within the WE Villages country of Ecuador). While 50 percent represents the minimum threshold, this number often climbs much higher—WE’s auditor shows that from 2014–2017 ME to WE donated over 90 percent of its profits. Since 2009, ME to WE has donated $20 million in cash and cost offsetting in-kind donations to WE Charity.
The ME to WE financials are audited and reviewed by the WE Charity Board of Directors, as part of a larger annual review process, in collaboration with ME to WE’s Executive Director, Russ McLeod. In addition to funds, ME to WE provides multiple other in-kind benefits to WE Charity. The relationship between the two entities has been independently studied and reviewed by multiple legal and financial experts (see the Oversight and Independent Reviews section at end for more information).
ME to WE’s Non-Financial Support of WE Charity
Although ME to WE was created to fund the life-changing development and educational work of WE Charity, the creation of its socially responsible products and experiences has a significant impact that is fully separate from the donations.
Every ME to WE project is ﬁltered through two lenses. It must make money to fund charitable projects, and—just as importantly—it must do good in the world in and of itself. This takes a wide variety of forms, from the 1,500 women artisans creating beautiful beadwork pieces, to the more than 350 jobs created in partner communities to host ME to WE Trips, to hundreds of farmers receiving empowering wages as they produce ME to WE consumable products. Many of these positions are highly skilled, including architects, engineers, chefs, interpreters and guides.
This is just a small glimpse of ME to WE’s closed loop system, wherein profits from the purchase of socially concious products made in partner communities return to those same communities. The most celebrated example of the closed loop system is the ME to WE Artisans program, which partners with more than 1,500 women in Kenya and Ecuador, empowering each woman to build a brighter future for herself, her family and her community.
Oversight and Independent Reviews
When launching ME to WE as a social enterprise in 2009, there was no legal definition of a social venture or enterprise in Canada. Lacking a more formal framework, we worked with a wide variety of professional bodies and experts to create an organization that operated with the upmost transparency in pursuit of its social purpose. There are many levels of oversight that keep ME to WE from being a simple “private company,” including ones from Canada Revenue Agency, legal entities and third party impact agencies and experts. There is a very strong governance model, system of fiduciary oversight and system of checks and balances. Below you can find an outline of the many steps taken to ensure that the ME to WE social enterprise is effective and exists as closely to the ideal social enterprise model as its Canadian context currently allows.