Roxanne Joyal speaks at Goodes Hall

Me to We co-founder discusses Free the Children and fair trade

Roxanne Joyal says Me to We donated $1 million dollars to Free the Children in 2010.
Roxanne Joyal says Me to We donated $1 million dollars to Free the Children in 2010.

Consumers will purchase responsibly if they know their money helps to fight inequality, says Me to We co-founder and CEO Roxanne Joyal.

Joyal spoke to a crowd of 35 at Goodes Hall on Tuesday as part of the Centre for Responsible Leadership’s speaker series. Me to We is partners with non-governmental organization Free the Children.

It organizes volunteer trips for adults and youth as well as fair trade consumer shopping. Seventeen years ago, a 12-year-old Craig Kielburger started Free the Children with his classmates.

“Since that time we’ve been nominated for two Nobel Peace prizes and millions of people have asked us ‘how can I be responsible with the choices that I make,’” she said.

Joyal said Free the Children remains focused on child labour, but was initially unable to address volunteers’ concerns with buying socially-responsible products.

“As a result of thousands of requests from these people we were able to create an organization that provides positive choice where you can vote with your wallet and support Free the Children,” she said.

Me to We was created as a social enterprise to meet these needs as well as to help with funding for Free the Children.

Me to We donates 50 per cent of their net profit to help bring Free the Children’s administrative costs down to zero.

“It’s very difficult to finance a charity because the resource pool is very limited. With Me to We, we have the opportunity to grow this pool of resources,” she said.

Now, Me to We’s profits are split in half, with one portion going to Free the Children and the other going back into the organization for the continuation of various projects.

“We don’t measure our bottom line by money, we measure it by how many lives we change,” she said.

Me to We donated $1 million to Free the Children in 2010.

In 2010, Free the Children ran a surplus of around $1.6 million, but last year faced a $1.4 million deficit because of an increased cost for international and domestic projects.

One of the campaigns Joyal said she’s most proud of is the creation of Artisan products by Maasai women in Kenya.

“We’re planning on expanding our operation to countries where Free the Children works such as India and Ecuador,” she said.

Joyal said Me to We currently employs over 500 women to create fair trade jewellery, thereby empowering them and their families. “We are trying to create an incentive to change how businesses make money,” she said. “People will naturally gravitate to the Me to We family if they know their choices will affect the day-to-day lives of someone else.” After graduating from university, Joyal took a gap-year where she travelled to Thailand and Kenya to work with HIV-positive mothers and their children.

“It was really my journey in Kenya that inspired me to come back and study women’s issues and international development as I really felt that I found my calling through that,” Joyal said.

Joyal moved from Stanford to Oxford University and became a Rhodes Scholar, eventually becoming a co-founder of Me to We.

“Everything I’ve done since then … has been about empowering women and I’ve been able to see this from different angles,” she said.

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