11/22/2012 08:36 EST | Updated 01/22/2013 05:12 EST

Star Power: Nelly Furtado Is More Than a Role Model

When we asked Grammy-winning Canadian singer Nelly Furtado to travel with us to Kenya a few years back, we had no idea it would lead to an amazing friendship. Now an ambassador for Free The Children, she launched a matching fund to support the construction of a new all girls' high school in rural Kenya.


Star Power: A six-pack of questions for celebs making a difference.

Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free The Children and Me to We, check in with some of their favourite actors, singers and activists to find out how they are changing the world.

When we asked Grammy-winning Canadian singer Nelly Furtado to travel with us to Kenya a few years back, we had no idea it would lead to an amazing friendship, a designer T-shirt for our Me to We Style line, a new all-girls' high school, and many other inspiring spin-offs.

Nelly is one-of-a-kind. Now an ambassador for Free The Children, she launched a matching fund to support the construction of Oleleshwa, a new all girls' high school in rural Kenya. She's matching every dollar donated, up to $500,000. As a mom to a nine-year-old girl, Nelly is passionate about girls' education. Thanks in part to her generosity, hundreds of students in Kenya will benefit from an education.

Before she took the stage at We Day Toronto to sing "Big Hoops" to a grateful crowd of 20,000 young people, we talked to her about our "karmic footprint," love and the amazing women in her life.

What is the issue you care most about it?

It's about looking at things in a holistic way. Even in my work with Free The Children I see that girls' education is not just about girls' education, it's about the earth, it's about the environment, it's about drought, it's about sustainability. I feel like all the issues really relate to each other. Global warming is an issue that has something to do with girls' education and has something to do with war, which has to do with resources.

How do we connect to all of these issues?

I really believe in the [ripple effect], in that we are all drops of water in a bucket and we all have to see the interconnectedness of everything. We have to think about our footprint. But also our karmic footprint -- way we deal in our everyday lives and the things we say and the energy we project to one another.

Love is also the issue of our time. That people have to find the love within ourselves and to really nurture that self love. And also find that love, not just for your family or your friends, but also for that stranger. I feel that it's important to have that common love for all mankind.

Knowing you have legions of fans and you are a role model, who is your role model?

A really important thing in my life is the legacy of women in my family. I think I have really strong female role models, starting with my mother, who I'd call a hero in my life, as well as her mother, her grandmother, and my father's mother.

My mother straddled so many things at once. I remember her bringing me to church council meetings. She was the secretary of the council and she would stare down a room full of men and she would tell them what was on her mind. They would all listen to her. She had a way of carrying herself with grace and poise and intelligence and she never reduced herself to a box or a category.

She was really assertive and she taught me that my opinion was just as important as any one else's. I'm proud to say I grew up in a feminist household. And I think the way you are brought up by the female role models in your life really makes a difference on how you make an impact in the world as an adult.

Because I have been doing work with female education and women in Kenya I see that thread in the mothers that I meet. Many are role models in their community and some of them remind me of how my mother inspired me when I was little. And I want to be an inspiration to my daughter and help empower her.

If you had a socially conscious superpower and could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I would make it so every person in the world would have the ability and the means to travel alone to the furthest corner from where they now live, and live in that environment in another person's shoes for a week or a month and then come back. I truly believe that the world would be a better place if that happened.

Can you describe the moment or experience that led you to decide to give back?

I've always had this fire inside of me to make a difference. But I never came across the right fit until I was invited to go to Kenya with Free The Children. And when I got there I felt a change in me -- feeling my heart just crack wide open, in a great way, letting all of that light in. It was equally inspiring to see all these young people who worked with Free The Children and the joy they got from their work.

What do you want your legacy to be?

When I think about what I do for a living, more than anything I just want to make people feel emotions. That's why I write, that is why I am a songwriter. The music was always in me. The passion that keeps me wanting to share these songs with people, feeling that music is a lifeline for people. I do believe that music is God's language and it's a bridge. It really brings people together. I am a true believe in music. I believe in the rock and roll dream that can heal the world.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit