I first met the wonderful brothers, Marc and Craig Kielburger, almost a decade ago. Virgin Atlantic had tasked Virgin Unite with finding a charity partnership with a difference. They wanted a partnership that would not only serve the Change for Children on-board initiative but also involve the Virgin family and wider community.
We found this with WE Charity and in particular their WE Villages and WE Schools program. The partnership is cherished by everyone at Virgin Atlantic and, as an amazing bonus; I gained two very close friends in Marc and Craig.
I have learned that it’s impossible to say no to these inspirational brothers. On my first trip to a WE project in Kenya, Marc quietly suggested that I share my African experience at WE Day Vancouver. I was buzzing after visiting a local tribe in the Maasai Mara so I didn’t hesitate to agree.
I later realised this would mean speaking in front of 20,000 students! I was terrified but it turned out to be an unforgettable experience. I wish I could bottle up the feeling of passion and hope coming from the young change-makers in the audience that day. I decided we needed to bring WE Day to the UK.
Fast forward six years and the UK WE movement continues to grow and we're really embracing their ‘get doing’ motto. Indeed, in the last school year, over 4,000 UK schools and groups volunteered in excess of 860,000 hours to the WE movement. WE Schools also collected over 115,000kgs of food for local foodbanks in this time. Everyone involved with WE is united by a passion to make positive change and address critical issues such as homelessness, food security, environment degradation, education and access to clean water. Far beyond the WE Day annual celebrations, this passion is nurtured through WE Schools’ year round program.
In the past six years, WE Day UK has hosted almost 80,000 UK students and teachers alongside an impressive repertoire of speakers. From royalty to renowned actors, musicians and activists, we’ve seen the likes of Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, Kate Winslet, Rita Ora, Martin Sheen and even my dad grace the WE Day stage. These inspirational figures are only too happy to give their time to support these young philanthropists. It truly is an experience like no other.
Yesterday, Prince Harry put it perfectly when he said: “To be amongst all of you progressive, motivated, open minded, change-makers, is what gives me hope for the future.”
It’s the infectious energy and positive power that emanates from the audience that makes WE Day so special. Prince Harry continued:
“Your optimism is inspiring - you see opportunities where other people see challenges; you seek solutions when others just focus on problems. You are the most engaged generation in history. You care about values, doing the right thing, and championing the causes that will shape your future. You don’t judge someone based on how they look, where they’re from, or how they identify. In this room, you see the world for what it is - vibrant, colourful, mixed and full of promise. That is who you are, and that is what makes me feel proud to stand in your presence as you tackle the world’s greatest issues. And you guys know as well as I do, we’ve still got so much to do.”
It was brilliant to see Naomi Campbell open the event yesterday. During her speech she addressed the lack of social mobility in the UK and said: “The empowerment of young people is crucial for the future of our country. Let’s be positive and create our own mobility. Upwards is the word! Never give up and always do what’s in your heart. Give 110 per cent. Remember; just be the best that you can be every single day.”
The audience was equally inspired to create positive change by a speech delivered by the young YouTube star and Pride of Britain Award recipient, Nikki Christou. Following a moving introduction by Nicole Scherzinger, Nikki shared this powerful message: “Just be yourself, that’s good enough. What most boys and girls see as flaws is what makes them unique. I’ve learnt that I shouldn’t change myself for anyone and neither should any of you.”
Another moving speech was delivered by Isabelle Weall, a quadruple amputee who has defied all odds to become a champion trampolinist.
“People underestimate what those of us with disabilities can do. We can do anything that any able-bodied person can do. We just might do it in a different way. Don’t treat life’s obstacles as setbacks, treat them as opportunities,” Isabelle told the crowd.
Temi Mwale and Amani Simpson are two young activists who spoke with shattering honesty of the terrifying, yet all too familiar, topic of knife crime in the UK. You could have heard a pin drop as they spoke of the hurt, fear and pain the issue had caused them personally. Terri and Amani turned their pain into action and have addressed the issue in their own rights.They both believe that through collective action we can find a way forward.
So many incredible stories were told yesterday and there is simply not enough space here to share them all. Over the next few weeks, I’ll describe more of these WE Day moments.
Yesterday, the SSE Arena was filled with the laughter and pure joy that only 12,000 young people could conjure. Brilliant performances from the likes of Tom Walker, Jack & Jack and Pixie Lott were met with eardrum bursting levels of screaming. When Prince Harry brought his lovely wife on stage, Meghan must have received one of the warmest welcome's Wembley has ever seen.
Congratulations to Marc, Craig and everyone in the WE team for putting on this extraordinary event. You continue to inspire not only myself and Lord Rumi Verjee, as co-chairs of WE Day UK, but everyone involved the WE movement each. I’m so pleased I agreed to get involved all those years ago in Kenya.
To wrap this up, I'd like to share Prince Harry’s parting words from his WE Day 2019 speech:
“You know that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. So let that be your true north, let that be your call to action - to inspire those who stand for nothing, to stand for something - and to stand WITH you… Change your thoughts and change the world. Dare to be the greatest generation of all time. I am with you, we are with you!"