WE charity scandal in Canada prompts to examine group’s international footprint – National


The controversy surrounding WE Charity in Canada opens the door to a public debate on whether WE – and groups like him – are actually helping the African communities where they operate.Firoze Manji, Amnesty International’s former Africa program director, said one of the big problems with groups like WE is that they are not accountable to the people they claim to serve.

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“They are accountable to self-appointed boards of directors,” said Manji, originally from Kenya and now a professor at the Institute for African Studies at Carleton University. “The mythology is that they will fight poverty. The problem with this proposal, although it sounds very good, is that it does not address the causes of impoverishment.

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On September 9, WE Charity announced that it would be ceasing its Canadian operations, but its for-profit subsidiary, ME to WE, will remain active, as will WE Charity in the US and UK.

The charity’s programs in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Ecuador will continue “for as long as possible,” the organization said.

Trudeau reacts to WE deal after charity closes Canadian operations

Trudeau responds to WE deal after charity closes Canadian operations

The precise extent and impact of these overseas programs is not easy to discern. It is clear from the organization’s published financial statements and tax returns that WE’s soon to be closed Canadian programs are by far the most important to the charity. In 2019, WE Charity Canada recorded total revenues of $ 65.9 million and expenses of just under $ 68.2 million.

In some years, its US subsidiary sent more money to Canada than it sent to any country in Asia, Africa or Latin America, or spent on national programming.

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In fiscal 2019, for example, US tax returns show that WE Charity US spent US $ 7.6 million on domestic programs and US $ 18.8 million on “grants and other aid to foreign organizations. – of which US $ 10.8 million went to WE Charity Canada.

In 2018, WE Charity US spent US $ 5.8 million on national programs and an additional US $ 6 million in Canada. That year, $ 8.5 million went to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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WE Charity said the money was sent to the Canada office to reimburse it for work done on programs performed in the United States. Staff at the organization’s Global Learning Center in Toronto “create learning programs, organize and deliver digital programs, develop programs, and perform measurement and evaluation work for operations in Canada and the United States. WE said in an email response to The Canadian Presse.

Outside of North America, Kenya was the largest recipient of WE Charity US money

We did not make a representative available for an interview, but in an email response he included a quote attributed to the governor of Narok County in Kenya. “I can say with certainty that no NGO has done more for Kenya than WE Charity,” said Samuel K. Tunai.

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Other Kenyans have a different impression.

Karuti Kanyinga, the director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, said he was not familiar with WE Charity or Free the Children, the organization’s former name.

With more than 10,000 NGOs operating in Kenya, he said it was “difficult to follow what any of them are doing unless they are involved in a huge advocacy job or are one of the larger with many resources to impact change at the national level. “

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WE Charity: Trudeau laments the ‘unfortunate’ outcome of the process behind the Canada Student Services Grant

WE Charity: Trudeau laments the ‘unfortunate’ outcome of the process behind the Canada Student Services Grant

WE Charity does not appear on a list of the 50 NGOs that spend the most on programs in Kenya, published in the 2018-2019 annual report of the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council. All NGOs operating in Kenya are required to submit reports to the board.

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We said that its international program allocations “are deployed in a number of ways, often directly from Canada, so the expenses may not appear to be coming from the charity in Kenya itself. The organization said it was also buying medical supplies from Canada and the United States to send them to Kenya.

U.S. tax returns for 2019 do not show the purchase of medical supplies by the U.S. branch of the charity, while returns for 2018, 2017, and 2016 show the purchase of medical supplies for Haiti, but not all. other country. This kind of information for WE Charity Canada is not publicly available.

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These same tax returns show that WE has only one employee, contractor or agent in six of the seven countries outside of North America where it does business. In the seventh, Ecuador, none are listed. Canada was then listed as having over 200 employees.

WE said he appoints a senior employee in each country to lead and oversee local operations, but said tax returns did not tell the whole story.

“To be clear, the team is not just a ‘single employee’ in each country, but rather an official representative is appointed per country to be responsible for supervision and working with local staff,” he said. he declares.

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Other Kenyans claim that WE – and its for-profit ME to WE subsidiary – are better known for bringing North American and European celebrities to the country than for their development work.

Grace Kerongo, editor-in-chief of The Star, a Nairobi-based national newspaper, said she only heard of WE – then known as Free the Children – because of the celebrities it brings. in Kenya.

“The impact of charitable activities is not felt or known, other than what is on their website,” she said in an email.

Click to watch video 'NDP leader Singh says shutdown of WE Charity's Canadian operations shows he was' in need of a bailout'

NDP Leader Singh says shutdown of WE Charity’s Canadian operations underlines it “needs a bailout”

NDP Leader Singh says shutdown of WE Charity’s Canadian operations underlines it “needs a bailout”

One of the goals of WE has been so-called volunteering, a practice where people from countries like Canada – usually young people – pay to volunteer abroad. ME to WE, a for-profit subsidiary of WE Charity, is a volunteer travel operator.

There have been calls in several African countries to ban the practice, which, according to Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan writer and activist, is based on racist stereotypes. Unskilled young people who come to African countries thinking they can solve local problems are “raised on white supremacy,” Kagumire said.

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We did not answer specific questions about claims that voluntourism is racist, but he did defend the practice.

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“Like any aspect of international development, providing travel to developing communities can be done poorly or be of great benefit to communities and travelers,” the organization said. “When done properly and in partnership with communities, travel can be beneficial by providing organizational transparency, enabling cultural immersion and creating local jobs through tourism and traveler accommodation.”

Kagumire argues that voluntourism does not help solve the larger systematic problems that have led to widespread poverty in Africa: “It’s not like people can’t build their own schools, but even if you build them. , what is the prevailing system? ”

Concerns similar to Kagumire’s have been raised in Canada.

In her 2017 master’s thesis, which analyzed how ME to WE markets to young Canadians, Kelsey Buchmayer, then a student at the University of Ottawa, found that the organization reinforced negative stereotypes about people in country where it organizes trips.

“ME to WE’s brand of volunteerism positions the means to ‘save’ and ‘help’ people at the expense of more sophisticated development approaches that promote partnership, sustainability, long-term support and empowerment. capabilities, ”she wrote.

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Click to play the video 'WE Charity Closing Operations in Canada'

Closure of WE charity operations in Canada

Closure of WE charity operations in Canada

In the absence of strong government policies on education and community mobilization, she added, “the very nature of the ‘development work’ done by ME to WE is problematic and unrelated to development outcomes. . “

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