what we lost book with a gold bestseller seal

In 2022, a book was released to set the record straight

It became a national #1 bestseller in non-fiction.

It tells the story of a manufactured scandal designed for partisan purposes. Of a media landscape defined more by clicks and likes than facts and truth. Of self-appointed experts scrambling for the spotlight. It’s a story people think they know – but they don’t.

headshot of Tawfiq Rangwala
What WE Lost author Tawfiq Rangwala was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. He completed his undergraduate degree at McGill University in 1999 and earned his JD from Osgoode Hall in May 2002. He moved to New York to start his career at the law firm Milbank LLP, where he is a partner in the Litigation and Arbitration Group and serves as Chair of the firm’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

Foreword written by
Rt. Honorable Kim Campbell, C.C, O.B.C

The key lessons learned in our youth are irreplaceable. They are essential in developing our values and in shaping our identity. Two of my earliest lessons have come into sharp focus for me since the so-called WE Charity Scandal unfolded in 2020. The first is the importance of answering a call to serve. This was instilled in me by my mother and father, who both enlisted in the Canadian Forces in the Second World War. My father joined the Canadian army in 1939 and would later fight and be wounded in Italy. When women became eligible to serve in theCanadian navy in 1943, my mother became a WREN. After training as a wireless operator, she tracked the transmissions of German U-boats in the North Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Their service—and their stories of the friends who didn’t“come back” after the war—was the backdrop of my childhood.Another lesson from my childhood is more personal. A boy attended a birthday party at our house and was convinced he had left his toy behind. My mother was falsely accused of hiding it, and I recall how much pain this caused her and how hurt she felt. The truth of her observation that there is nothing worse than being falsely accused has stayed with me and been borne out often in my observations of life.WE Charity never hesitated to try to serve when called upon. That was certainly true with respect to the ill-fated Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG).

It is sad to ponder how much could have been accomplished with the CSSG. That sadness is exacerbated by the fact that neither the government nor any private organization proved able to deliver the program when WE Charity was forced to cede administration of it, leaving young people high and dry in the middle of the COVID pandemic. The WE Charity Scandal is a story of how disinformation can take on a life of its own. The results were tragic and the hardest hit were young people.WE Charity became collateral damage in a partisan fight. Being the very battlefield of a struggle that has nothing to do with you is to be in a bad position. But it is even worse if more and more people jump on to seize the opportunity for publicity (their precious fifteen minutes of fame). In this case, social media, the accelerated time frame in which attacks occurred, and ultimately, the lack of sober deliberation had swift and fatal repercussions for the charity. It is quick and easy to attack, to make an accusation, true or false, and disparage someone. Answering and refuting always takes more time. There is an old saying that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.Today, integrity in our public discourse matters more than ever. So much of what happens online is designed to appeal to short attention spans and obscure the complete picture. Worse yet, lies and disinformation are often weaponized to attack one’s opponents. When politicians join the fray and perpetuate lies online, disinformation can quickly gain traction in the mass media and create a narrative divorced from reality. The frightening proliferation of disinformation disempowers us all.

That is why entities such as Facebook and Twitter have had to take the step of curbing political speech that is clearly designed to mislead. There are casualties when you don’t follow the truth.WE, a wonderful charity that was built in Canada by a twelve-year-old boy who called on young people to stand tall and become agents of positive change, was destroyed. WE Charity was admired the world over, and I watched with pride a seven influential figures outside of Canada like Oprah Winfrey saw something special to be celebrated and a movement to be joined. That some in Canada preferred instead to pounce is a disheartening reflection of our tendency to want to cut down tall poppies. Politicians and media outlets reflexively asked: “Who are these Kielburger brothers?” “Who do they think they are?” Tall poppy syndrome is very real. That is why this book is so essential. It is a sober, fact-based account of how and what occurred to pulverize one of this country’s foremost charities. I have an abiding faith in the ability of the Canadian people to draw fair-minded and balanced conclusions. But they must be presented with the facts to be able to do so. Not some facts designed to suit a particular agenda—all the facts. In my view, that has not been the case with respect to WE Charity.In the chapters that follow, you will discover what the headlines and political sound bites did not convey. You will come to understand WE: what it did, how it worked, and what it stood for. And you will finally hear from the many previously unheard voices—students, teachers, volunteers, staff, donors, and those touched byWE’s efforts worldwide.

If you have bought into the negative narrative about WE Charity, I challenge you to read this book.I am not a remote observer of the values that WE Charity promoted and instilled. I watched its growth from Free the Children, with its global impact on child labour laws. When Craig and Marc Kielburger were invited to give the Lougheed College Lecture at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University ofAlberta in 2016, we had to relocate to a much larger hall when we were overwhelmed by the huge number of young people who had been touched by WE and wanted to hear the two young men who had inspired them to be their best.I have seen the organization in action overseas. I stood with MargaretKenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, at the grand opening of WE College in rural Narok County, Kenya. The college offered the first generation of young Maasai and Kipsigis women and men the chance to complete their education without having to leave home for big cities, which for so many is not even a possibility. The pride I felt at being present for such a momentous accomplishment is immeasurable. The outpouring of gratitude from the students, teachers, and families for what Canada had helped them create in their community was tremendous.Closer to home, I was moved to hear young people on the WE Day stage share their stories of being bullied online: how they faced it with support, and how they vowed to help other students do the same and stop it. The same is true with respect to so many pressing issues, like mental health, the environment, and gender equality.

When concerns about the charity surfaced, I refused to form a judgment without facts. I have personally listened to experts, auditors, and independent reviewers. All confirmed that WE Charity operated transparently and properly. You will learn the same in this book.With decades of experience in public life, I have witnessed how service and the good works of charities can effect real change. WE Charity was a shining example of this. Its end in Canada should give us all great pause.There is also a broader lesson here. I have worked around the world, and what we have in Canada is precious. It is not every country that has such a strong commitment to neighbours helping each other, volunteering, and a vibrant civil society. But that does not happen by accident; it is what we teach our children. “WE” was always a Canadian value. Teaching our children the value of service, creating volunteer clubs in schools, and celebrating hard work are all core Canadian values.Now WE Charity has closed its doors in Canada.Its work was uplifting at a time when we needed uplifting more than ever.Our world is diminished as a result of its loss, and our civil society is worse off. It is heart breaking to consider, in light of how much was accomplished, how much moreWE Charity could have done. In light of how many young Canadian lives were deeply enriched by WE, how many more will not be. In light of what we all gained, what we lost.

Rt. Honorable Kim Campbell,
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Notable praise of What WE Lost

Headshot of the Right Honourable Kim Campbell
Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada
"If you have bought into the negative narrative about WE Charity, I challenge you to read this book… It is a sober, fact-based account of how and what occurred to pulverize one of this country’s foremost charities."
Head shot of Martin Luther King Jr III
Martin Luther King III, human rights activist and eldest son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King
“My father believed in both fighting for justice and in the power of youth to be agents for positive social change. So I was saddened by the way in which political partisanship and unchecked media tore down WE Charity, which embodies those ideals. Tawfiq Rangwala tells the untold story behind the controversy that engulfed WE in a moving and powerful way.  This beautifully written book serves as a cautionary tale for all those who care about fair play and will open your eyes to a profound injustice that should not happen again.”
headshot of Charlie Sheen
Martin Sheen, Golden Globe and Emmy award winning actor and activist
"Reading What WE Lost was an incredibly educational experience—it should be part of civics classes everywhere.  While it was painful to absorb the stories of loss in each chapter and to come to terms with the societal costs that resulted from so much misinformation, thanks to Tawfiq Rangwala’s extraordinary work, the truth is revealed."
Mark Bourrie, author of Bushrunner: The Adventures of Pierre Radisson, winner of the RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction
"Tawfiq Rangwala has written a well-researched, solid account of the destruction of the WE movement in Canada. It’s remarkably clearly written. Rangwala is a lawyer who could have gone too deeply into the weeds of corporate and legal jargon, but What WE Lost is compelling and very readable... It is the only complete analysis of what happened to WE and its founders."
Literary review of Canada logo
Literary Review of Canada
"Rangwala goes through these events [the Canada Student Service Grant] in detail and refutes most of the charges convincingly."

Excerpts from What WE Lost

headshot of Gerry Connelly
Gerry Connelly, former Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board
"A highlight of my career has been my service on WE Charity’s Canadian board of directors. During my time in education, I listened to the stories of students, teachers and parents and visited schools in Canada and other countries. I saw and heard first hand the tremendous and positive impact WE Charity had on teaching and learning and the education system as a whole. Nothing about what happened has shaken my faith in the charity and its co-founders."
Headshot of Gail Asper
Gail Asper, C.M. founder of the Asper Foundation
“I think it was yellow journalism. I think many journalists were gleefully indifferent to the pain they were causing, not just to the charity but to the kids. Nobody seemed to care about the tens of thousands of young people who would have benefited from the Canada Student Service Grant program.”
headshot of Chip Wilson
Chip Wilson, founder of imagine1day and Lululemon
“I’m left to reflect on the how and why of it all. Headlines bent on selling advertising instead of reporting the truth, one party’s quest to win the next federal election, and the questionable ethics of opposition parties using a children’s charity as a political pawn.”
Featured Articles
What WE Lost in the news
Literary Review of Canada
As We Know It
In September 2021, Craig and Marc Kielburger, the brothers who created a tiny NGO called Free the Children and turned it into an international network of charities, companies, and foundations, announced that their $65-million centrepiece, WE Charity Canada, would fold.
CTV News
Author Tawfiq Rangwala joins CTV News with more on his new book and the fallout from the WE Scandal.
A Canadian scandal holds a mirror up to media and politics in Canada, with implications for the US and other advanced democracies, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Canada Talks Sirius XM Radio
Tawfiq Rangwala & Kim Campbell on The Ari Goldkind Show
A Canadian scandal holds a mirror up to media and politics in Canada, with implications for the US and other advanced democracies, and it’s not a pretty picture.
The real scandal? Canadians unwittingly allowed WE Charity to be assailed
In their 1989 folk classic “Closer to Fine” the Indigo Girls crooned, “Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. Lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”
Fair Press
What WE Lost: A Review
Tawfiq Rangwala has written a well-researched, solid account of the destruction of the WE movement in Canada.