Kevin’s Trip to Kenya with Free the Children

Earlier this year, prior to the very sad recent events, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Kenya in combination with Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles partner: Free the Children. My family and I had a fabulous trip, including time spent on the Indian Ocean and on a safari with our partner Fairmont in the Masai Mara (both must-do activities on any self-respecting bucket list and experiences I would highly recommend).  For me, the highlight overall was the time spent with Free the Children at their Bogani cottages.
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I’ve long been very proud of Aeroplan and Aimia’s community support activities. To have a chance to see the impact first hand was truly humbling. Aeroplan supports Free the Children through our Beyond Miles initiative (a little more about Beyond Miles is later in this entry). When I speak of impact, while I’m proud of what Beyond Miles supports, it is Free the Children that is setting the example for the rest of us to follow.

For many Canadians, Free the Children has some brand awareness because you remember co-founder Craig Keilburger’s interview on 60 minutes as a young teenager or you recall that he and his brother started a charity or you know somebody that has been involved in We Day, the annual series of stadium-sized events celebrating the power of youth to create positive change.
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I encourage you to spend a few minutes to get to know the full scope of what Free the Children and their Me to We movement are all about. The Keilburgers have created a very creative and unique business model that combines for profit and not for profit activities to drive real change in places like Africa, Equador and India while also acting as remarkable catalysts for mobilizing youth – first in Canada and now extending into the US and the UK.

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This would be an uncomfortably long blog entry if I were to provide the full detail here. Instead, I’ll give two examples.

The first is their Adopt a Village program. Rather than pick off one need or another, Free the Children worked directly with the local Kipsigi and Masai communities to collaborate on a model that drives sustainable change. Clean water is critical but wells must be maintained and that takes labour and money. Building schools is critical but they need to have teachers and students who can come. Those students need to be both boys and girls. What Free the Children did is address all of the barriers to sustainable development and deal with them simultaneously in their model – not imposing them but working with the local communities to organically establish them. Their Adopt a Village program addresses the need for clean water, education, health care, alternative food supply and alternative sources of income. Through this, Free the Children can transform a community and leave having helped it on a new path to self-directed sustainability. As we drove around the Mara countryside, I was staggered by the sustainable impact that Free the Children has had in a decade. Learn more here. 

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A second example is what they are doing with youth and Me to We and We Day. I’ll highlight the innovation shown in the youth volunteer trips. Every year, hundreds of youth travel to Free the Children sites to build schools, dorms, etc. Me to We runs these trips for worried parents so that they can comfortably send their children for incredible international experiences. The profit from the trips goes back into Free the Children’s on the ground activities and the youth are a critical workforce in the Adopt a Village program. A combination of for profit and corporate social responsibility thinking that highlights the creative approach being taken by the Keilburgers (and Marc’s wife Roxanne – can’t leave her out!).

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That brings me back to Beyond Miles. We are proud that we can support organizations like Free the Children. In fact, directly through Beyond Miles, we support ten very worthy Canadian not-for-profit organizations dedicated to improving lives and enriching communities at home and around the world by giving them thousands of miles every year and allowing Aeroplan Members to donate miles to these organizations to help them offset costs related to travel. We also pay for Aimia employees to participate on the ground with these charities. We bring the various charities together to discuss and build on each other’s best practices – something all too rare even in the world of corporate social responsibility where many organizations seem somewhat focused on competing for donor dollars. I’m glad that, in our small way, we can help build bridges between the organizations.

Aeroplan Members can donate miles online at aeroplan.com/donate to the following organizations to help them offset costs related to travel

The other part of Beyond Miles I wish had more visibility is our Charitable Pooling program. If you have a “for good” cause that can benefit from building a bank of Aeroplan Miles (for flights, for auction items, to buy gift cards or merchandise), you can apply online to open a Charitable Pooling account and use the infrastructure we created to market your cause and get others to donate to it – then we’ll top it up! Check out Beyond Miles at beyondmiles.aeroplan.com.

I hope this teases your interest. These are causes that deserve support and I hope you’ll join Aeroplan in helping them achieve their goals.

(What’s my lasting image of Kenya? The smiling faces of the children – running as fast as they can through the fields around Bogani just so they can wave and say, “Jambo!” – magical and uplifiting no matter how many times it happened.)

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