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Activist makes a difference in his hybrid

Marc Kielberger and Highlander Hybrid

Michael Rajzman

Marc Kielburger

Profession: Social activist and co-Founder of Free The Children & Me to We

Age: 35

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Hometown: Thornhill, Ont.

The Car: 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Notable achievements

  • One of Free The Children’s most notable projects was a joint project with Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network called O Ambassadors. The project was designed to educate, engage and inspire more than one million young people across North America to take action to help their underprivileged peers overseas.
  • Received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012; also has received the Order of Canada and was elected by the World Economic Forum as one of 250 Young Global Leaders
  • Graduated from Harvard University with a degree in international relations; won a Rhodes Scholarship and completed a law degree at Oxford University
  • Has received six honorary doctorate degrees for his work in education and human rights
  • He’s a New York Times bestselling author who has written five books, including Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World


  • Free The Children’s We Day Toronto. Friday, Sept. 28 at the Air Canada Centre and We Day Vancouver, Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Rogers Arena. Visit for other dates across Canada.
  • We Day MuchMusic broadcast special premiers Sunday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. ET on MuchMusic and Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. ET on CTV

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At only 18, Marc Kielburger and his 12-year-old brother Craig founded Free the Children, an international charity and youth empowerment organization.

That was back in 1995. Now, Free the Children is the world's largest network of children helping children through education – more than 1.7 million young people are involved in its programs in 45 countries.

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The organization's signature event is called We Day – a movement of young people leading local and global change. The Kielburger brothers will hit the stage for We Day Toronto on Sept. 28 and We Day Vancouver on Oct. 18 along with speakers such as Hall of Fame basketball legend Magic Johnson, Academy and Grammy Award winner Jennifer Hudson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to inspire and empower hundreds of thousands of youth around the world to become engaged global citizens.

To get to the Toronto affair, Marc Kielburger will drive an environmentally conscious ride – a 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV.

Why did you choose a Highlander hybrid?

For a couple of reasons. No. 1, I was attracted to the fact it was a hybrid. No. 2, because of our work.

With our organization, we go to visit schools and conferences all across Ontario at all times of the year. I go everywhere from Ottawa to Owen Sound to Timmins to North Bay and everywhere in between. I needed a very safe, comfortable vehicle for that terrain. We have so much material to bring in terms of conference materials, activities and personal guides.

That's the reason for bringing the larger vehicle. When we come to a school, we come with full curriculum resources and materials – everything we need to change the world.

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Did you cross shop it against other hybrids or were you set on the Toyota nameplate?

Toyota. Partially because we do an enormous amount of work in Canada, but half of our work is also in places like Africa and India. And the Toyota brand is incredibly strong and very diligent in those locations.

We have enormous trust for the brand for our work in some of the most challenging locations in the world where we are very far from mechanics or anyone else who could be helpful. So that was very important. And the fact that Toyota made a hybrid sealed the deal for us.

What does a Highlander hybrid say about you?

It says a few things – one, it speaks to our work of who we are and what we do, and two, it also speaks to the fact that as a consumer we can give back, even in small ways.

Being socially responsible is an important part of who we are and what we do and what we care about.

Another piece, which I'm excited to share, is I have a nine-month-old child at home, Lily-Rose. It's our first little one and we're now hauling around car seats, diapers and lots of stuff. It really meets the needs of what we do and who we are.

Have your musical tastes changed since the birth of your daughter – are you listening to Dora in your SUV now?

Yup. We're singing a lot of games and songs. It brings back a lot of childhood memories.

I am a huge fan of CBC Radio One – it's a big piece of what I do everyday when we're not playing Dora.

Lily-Rose has not yet fully appreciated the element of CBC Radio One. We're slowly weaning her on to that – we have time to go.

What's your best childhood memory driving with your parents?

One summer along time ago, we had time off and we didn't know what we were going to do for our summer holidays.

My parents made a relatively spontaneous decision – my parents aren't super spontaneous by nature.

They got us in the car. We had a blue Chrysler minivan at this point and my parents drove all the way down to Disney World. It was so much fun!

It was my first time in southern United States and I certainly hadn't seen it by car before. It was fantastic. We loved it. It was so much fun! I remember my mom got a speeding ticket.

What was your first car?

I inherited my parent's old K-Car. My parents had worn it in well.

It wasn't the coolest car in high school. It certainly makes a fashion statement when you pick up a date in a K-Car. My best memory was not being totally rejected by my date when I showed up at her house in a K-Car. Being able to survive it and still have a certain degree of independence to go on that date.

It broke down all the time. I'm a proud member of CAA for a reason. Every once in a while I was on the side of the road and usually had another driver come and help me out. I literally drove it to the ground. I still have the licence plate in my basement– I kept it. It was my first attempt at independence and adventure.

My first car I ever purchased was a black 2006 Toyota Highlander hybrid. This is our second car.

What's your most memorable drive?

I spend about half my year in developing countries. My most memorable drive was in Kenya – our projects are not too far away.

Taking these incredible safaris with your 4X4 – you need a 4x4 to be able to survive out there and be able to drive by and see a herd of elephants or the migration of thousands of wildebeest. Every once in a while, a bamboon comes into the car or a lion uses the car as a shield during hunting. They'll walk with the car so the car serves as a distraction to the antelopes that are actually used to the car. Animals are quite interesting and adaptive.

How long do you plan on keeping the Highlander?

I think it's going to be with me for some time, especially with my family growing. I can see soccer bags and hockey bags in the future.

If I can bring you the keys to any vehicle what would it be?

One of our supporters happens to be one of the backers of the Tesla Roadster – it's the first socially responsible sports car out there – I don't know if you can actually have a socially responsible sports car, but this is within reason.

I wouldn't want to own it – I'm sure the insurance would be out of my comfort zone, but I would love to be able to drive one. I've heard amazing things about them.

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More


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