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Craig Kielburger looks ahead to the next 150 years

Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the We movement.

Amanda Clay Photography/Amanda Clay Photography

My grandfather came to Canada from Romania just before the Second World War, already in debt after buying his boat ticket on borrowed dime.

He spoke only German. Employment was scarce, so he became a boxer in what he called "suicide matches," meaning he wasn't skilled enough to win but he could take a punch if it meant getting paid.

In one sense, the journey was a foolish risk, but I prefer to think of it as selfless and idealistic.

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My grandfather didn't come to Canada for his own sake. He didn't leave behind his family to cross the Atlantic and be knocked to the canvas. He came here so that his son, my father, would have a better life.

Some say there is no uniquely Canadian identity, that our multicultural fabric is too varied to establish a common thread. I disagree. My grandfather came to a country that celebrates diversity, embraces strife with compassion and respects selfless idealism.

Canada hasn't always lived up to these ideals. In fact, at times we have failed considerably during our history, which is full of dark passages, including grave injustices against aboriginal peoples.

As we prepare to mark 150 years since Confederation, we look to the past as a learning experience, and to the future to aspire to be better. "We" is the country's largest youth service organization, and we're betting on the selfless idealism of a new generation. We want to ensure that every Canadian child serves their local and global communities.

My own service started when I was 12, with the small charity I launched with 12 friends. Twenty years later, millions have joined our ranks – educators, business leaders and prominent Canadians. We've grown from an organization to a movement, always with youth service as our foundation. But we've outgrown the name Free The Children.

I am proud to unveil "We" – our name and our philosophy. We provides people with the tools to create positive change at home and around the world.

Above all, We means recognizing that we're part of a larger community, and that our daily choices have an impact on that community. While so many news outlets, politicians and world leaders seem content to divide, it's crucial that Canada raises its next generation to think 'We.' After all, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism. We strive for diversity and inclusion, with social safety nets, equality and democracy. These systems are not perfect, but at their best they embody Canadians' desire to help our neighbours.

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When Syrian refugees crashed onto shores in Europe, Canada has so far sheltered more than 30,000 from that part of the world. Fires in Fort McMurray and floods in Calgary rallied the whole country around Alberta, including many young people in our organization.

To be Canadian is to be selfless. We are idealists who believe there's more that unites us than divides us.

We want to empower Canada's youth to uphold these values by acting on their selfless ideals.

Our We Schools program offers experiential service learning that helps students develop the life skills for success. Participating schools receive curricular resources, campaigns, professional development for educators and mentorship programs to help students become change-makers for life.

Already, participating youth have logged more than 27 million volunteer hours and raised $79.8-million for more than 2,500 local and global causes.

And we invite everyone to take a pledge for service on our website, We.org: "to Live We by making a difference every day." For each promise, our generous supporters will donate $10 to We Charity. Pledgers also gain access to resources, tailor-made to help them take action at home, at work or at school. Parents will find tips for raising socially conscious children; students can unlock campaign materials and fundraising tips for the cause of their choice.

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In honour of Canada's 150th anniversary, we've set a goal for one million youth to take the pledge. And We Schools is partnering with the Canadian government to create a national service program that will engage our future leaders in volunteer service.

I believe that service learning is the future of education, prepping students with real-life skills in response to real-world issues. It is also the future of Canada's economy, as we diversify from wood and water to take the lead on innovation. Tools gained through service – communication, organization, project management and complex problem solving – are preparation for entrepreneurs.

We Schools alumni are also more civic-minded, with those of voting age casting ballots for the 2011 federal election at double the rate of their peers. And the vast majority (80 per cent) continue to volunteer – more than 150 hours a year, according to independent third-party research.

Canada must instill the same sense of wonder at our great country that my grandfather had years ago. It's time to usher in the next generation of selfless idealists – for the next 150 years.

Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the We movement, which includes We Charity, Me to We Social Enterprise and We Day.

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