Organization Contests Bloomberg Businessweek Story: WE Charity
To the Editor:
WE Charity disagrees with Bloomberg’s narrative in its December 29, 2020 article, “How a Charity Superstar Innovated Its Way to Political Scandal.” So much of the story, from its major themes to minor details, is factually incorrect. We write today to begin setting the record straight.
1. WE Charity prohibits and takes steps to prevent corporal punishment in schools it manages in Kenya. WE Charity was troubled by Bloomberg’s allegations about corporal punishment at WE Charity schools. As far as we have been able to determine, these allegations are unfounded. There is nothing more important than the safety and wellbeing of students, and WE Charity expressly forbids corporal punishment in the schools it manages. WE Charity has canvassed current and former students and parents and found no reports of corporal punishment. WE has provided Bloomberg with statements from four former classmates of the student Bloomberg cites as its source, all of whom would have witnessed the alleged caning and deny that it occurred. The senior representative of Narok County for Education has provided a statement that there were no reported incidents of corporal punishment at WE Charity schools. WE Charity also conducts trainings with teachers at partner schools operated by the Kenyan government to further decrease the prevalence of corporal punishment in the wider community.
WE Charity maintains relationships with students, parents, teachers, government administrators and local elders in Kenya, but has never heard reports of caning at its schools. It is unfortunate that Bloomberg presents as fact the isolated criticisms of one named source and two anonymous sources whose statements stand in conflict with the experiences of thousands of others who benefit from WE Charity’s projects in Kenya. WE Charity offered Bloomberg the opportunity to interview WE Charity’s Country Director for Kenya, the Director of WE Villages who oversees WE’s schools in Kenya, Kenyan community leaders and other individuals with first-hand knowledge about WE’s schools, but Bloomberg declined.
2. ME to WE’s trips have demonstrably benefited the communities WE serves. WE Charity provided Bloomberg with third-party reviews prepared by social impact measurement firm, Mission Measurement, demonstrating that ME to WE trips deliver a positive impact in partner communities in Kenya. Mission Measurement is headed by Jason Saul (PhD), who is the Executive Director of the Center for Impact Sciences at The University of Chicago. WE Charity also provided Bloomberg with statements by local leaders in communities served by ME to WE Trips providing positive feedback about the charitable value of the trips. The Governor of Narok County, Kenya, told Bloomberg, “no NGO has done more to benefit the people of Narok, Kenya than WE Charity.” Ever year over 12,000 Kenyan children attend primary schools built by WE Charity. Additional programs include a free college, hospital and mobile medical units, secondary boarding schools, boreholes and water programs, and alternative income programs for women.
3. WE’s corporate structure is necessitated by Canada and other nations’ tax laws. Bloomberg presented WE’s structure as unnecessarily complicated but did not explain that Canadian federal rules limit the scope of businesses that a charity may operate to raise funds for the charity. Because of Canada’s tax laws, WE structured its organization into multiple entities to combine its charitable works with a social enterprise. WE Charity provided Bloomberg with a formal legal opinion from leading Canadian counsel confirming that the organization’s structure is necessitated by Canadian tax law. Social enterprise is an important tool to achieve charitable purposes. Auditors have confirmed there have never been any dividends paid: ME to WE Social Enterprise has provided 100% of its profits to WE Charity or reinvested to grow the social mission. We also directed Bloomberg to a report by the Senate of Canada Special Committee on the Charitable Sector, which describes the problems and complexity caused by Canada’s “outdated, convoluted” legal framework for charities. WE also explained to Bloomberg that many of the entities listed on its chart of “The WE Organization’s Structure” have nothing to do with WE and Bloomberg has provided no explanation for contending otherwise. WE Charity provided Bloomberg with reports from leading forensics accountants and auditors that confirmed that the charity and social enterprise operate with financial integrity.
4. WE’s real property holdings are appropriate for, and proportionate to, its charitable works. As reflected in WE Charity’s audited annual reports, a majority of WE’s programs are domestic, serving 7000 schools in Canada, and many require real estate to operate. WE Charity uses its domestic properties for purposes such as hosting school groups for seminars and establishing space for youth-led charities and social enterprises. WE Charity provided Bloomberg with a chart explaining the use of each location of Toronto real estate owned by WE Charity or ME to WE. The article mischaracterized WE as mostly serving communities overseas and ignores WE’s important domestic work, incorrectly claiming that “to conduct foreign activities at the scale that WE Charity was doing does not require that much real estate.”
5. WE Charity ensured that Imagine1Day had access to more funding than before, not less. The Article reports that after assuming responsibility for Imagine1Day in 2017, funding levels dropped until WE Charity returned the entity to its founder with the funds that remained of its initial endowment. In fact, as WE Charity told Bloomberg, WE Charity and Imagine1Day obtained $8.2 million USD in new funding for Imagine1Day in 2020 and returned the organization to its founder with more committed funds than ever before. Bloomberg incorrectly reported that Imagine1Day’s founder and director declined to comment when in fact WE Charity provided Bloomberg with a joint statement on Imagine1Day and WE Charity’s behalf describing WE’s stewardship of Imagine1Day as a “great success.” WE Charity also provided Bloomberg with a recent article Imagine1Day’s founder Chip Wilsonwrote for Maclean’s praising WE Charity and refuting the thrust of Bloomberg’s reporting.
The statements above do not encompass all of the points in the story with which WE Charity disagrees. For example, as any visitor to WE projects is aware, there is no need to make work for volunteers as there is plenty of work to be done. All projects including our Kenyan Women’s Empowerment Centre are designed solely to meet the community wishes and donor plaques are literally cemented into the project walls and cannot be “swapped” like “Velcro.”
We identified multiple senior WE Charity personnel, Kenyan officials and community leaders, and others as on-the-record interview subjects who were willing to participate in the story and Bloomberg declined to speak with all of them.
We encourage readers to visit WE Charity’s website at we.org for the truth about our organization and the many people around the world that WE Charity has helped and continues to serve.
To read this article, go toHow a Charity Superstar Innovated Its Way to Political Scandal
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