"I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be."
In this powerful, thought-provoking interview, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn from
Talia Leman, the "wise beyond her years" Founder/CEO of RandomKid.org; an organization dedicated to showing kids exactly HOW to lead the way. In addition, she also wrote an inspiring book titled, "A Random Book About The Power of ANYone" (which is where I first learned about her.)
To date, RandomKid.org has helped raise MILLIONS of dollars for various causes worldwide -- causes that were initiated by children!
And how did RandomKid start? Because Talia Leman, who was just 10 years old at the time RandomKid was launched, BELIEVED it COULD be done!
A. When I was 10 years old, I wanted to raise money for Katrina/Rita relief in the aftermath of that devastating hurricane. My method of fundraising was trick-or-treating for coins instead of candy at Halloween time, and my brother was LIVID. For him, that was a complete act of heresy on that sacred day devoted to all things where sugar topped the ingredient list.
Consequently, I became the CEO (Chief Executive Optimist) of this effort, and he became my CON (Chief Operating Nemesis), and we posted our photos on a makeshift website. Naturally, I was wearing a shiny coin costume while he donned a Darth Vader costume, complete with a light saber. The Today Show happened to be trolling the internet for uplifting Katrina stories and came across ours, and invited us on the program, in our official capacities.
It snowballed from there as youth across the country joined their efforts with ours, and we ended up reporting more than $10 million for hurricane relief, ranking the giving power of youth with the top five corporate donors to that disaster. Once I experienced the "power of youth," I was sold. If we can rank right up there with Wal-Mart, Exxon and AT&T, then we can do anything. So, I started my organization, RandomKid (www.randomkid.org).
We provide youth with all the tools and resources they need to take their ideas for a better world and "knock them out of the ballpark." How good are we at doing that? Well, let's put it this way. For every dollar we invest in a youth's initiative, they can deliver a 200%-1000% return for their cause.
Q2. What has amazed you the most about this powerful organization that you have launched?
A. You know what is really and truly amazing? All the little, mundane things we do -- the plans we scribble out, the phone calls we make, the pennies we collect, the posters we draw, the hands we hold, the ice cream we give to our volunteers.
You know why? Because all the truly great things that happen are not completely dependent upon them. Not a great thing EVER would happen, were it not for all the little things. In fact, all great things are at the mercy of them. So, what amazes me most are the minutia... the tedious and devoted things we do that lead up to all the big things that "rock the world."
Q3. Can you share some success stories from RandomKid?
A. Environment: Across the nation youth are working to replace single-use bottles with a safe reusable bottle that can be rolled up and put in your pocket, made by Vapur (www.vapur.us). Through this one act, youth are reducing oil dependency, eliminating waste from our landfills, and using the proceeds to fund projects that better the world.
The funds raised to date exceed $400,000, and are being used to provide safe water in the world, plant organic gardens, and place water filling stations in schools. Youth from 35 states and 3 countries are involved.
Global Health: In this project, youth walk so that another can. Here's how it works: Youth carry a pedometer that we provide, and encourage people to pledge money for every mile they walk or run. Their goal? To complete a marathon -- 26.2 miles over any amount of time (not all at once). We like that number -- 26 -- because the world is 26,000 miles around and it costs $260 to make it possible for a child to walk.
Through this project, youth can gain fitness and use the funds raised to provide corrective procedures for some of the 1.3 million children around the world with club foot -- a completely correctible condition. We launched this one not too long ago. Forty-one kids have had their club foot corrected to date while USA youth gain fitness.
What you may not know is that Spiderman, Superman and Batman are superheroes who were orphaned, making this a fitting theme. We just launched this project and look forward to more youth joining in.
Q4. What are your ultimate goals for RandomKid?
A. Our goals are around two things: First, a mobile app. I want to provide youth with all the tools and resources they need to make projects take off "into the stratosphere" from their phones.
Second, something we call "The Big Return." We ran a pilot of this project in St. Louis, and are about to take it to D.C. What we do is train organizations to rally their youth, and then provide them with the skills, resources and tools so that they can get their own returns of 200% - 1000% for their community causes. I have to add that "The Big Return" does even more than that. It also helps youth learn leadership skills, improves grades, connects them into their communities, builds resumes...so the big return is "bigger" than you think.
Q5. How can parents guide their kids into using RandomKid? Is it really that easy?
A. We make this very easy. We provide youth with something called the "RandomKit"...a play on RandomKid. This kit is made up of tools that help kids increase their impact. We are not invested in what kids choose to do to better the world, because really, there are so many things that need attention. So, they just go with their passion, and we invest in their success.
The tools in the RandomKit (www.randomkid.org) include:
*Project Ideas: On our site, kids can raise money, organize collections or spread awareness (or any combination thereof). On the bottom right side of our homepage (www.randomkid.org), under "Power Up Your Ideas," there is a link to a list of tried-and-true turnkey projects that produce GREAT results. Also look at "Idea Starters," found there too. Kids can run with these or modify our ideas to fit their own purposes.
*Consultations: We do 15 minute consultations...which is usually all we need.. to power up youth ideas using the knowledge we have from our experience.
*501C3 Umbrella: Through RandomKid, kids can apply for grants and offer tax write-offs as long as their projects meet our criteria for being charitable or educational.
*Moolah: We have a community seed-fund pool, also known as our "pay-it-forward" fund. We provide the funds youth need to launch their ideas, and then hold back 10% of whatever youth raise for their projects to launch the next youth's idea. All kids can dip into that pool -- and it's one place where double-dipping is okay! It creates a domino effect where every project kicks off the next one.
*Products: We make it possible for kids to brand their own promotional products with their own logo designs, or sell products they make themselves, or sell products that already exist that are super cool for a discounted price (often wholesale). In all cases, kids keep the profits (proceeds) to benefit their causes, and they can sell their products in our online store on our site.
*Additionally, we offer what you would expect we would: Kids can build their own webpages on our site with their own thermometers to measure online donations, or collections. We provide free web conferencing like GoToMeeting, but ours is through the University of Iowa and is called "Eluminate." Kids can share videos, whiteboards, PPTs and desktops.
*The final big thing we do is leverage "youth power" to make a larger difference.. so if we have like-minded projects, we unify them. That way, youth can fund their project or complete their collections or build awareness much, much faster.
A. In my book, "A Random Book about the Power of ANYone," I tell the stories of kids changing the world, and even though you get to meet them, my book is more about meeting their IDEAS -- and the ideas that link every story together.
These ideas convince us that luck is everywhere we are because it exists in the possibilities; that belief doesn't require rhyme or reason because it has its own innate power; that we don't need to line up our ducks, because the best plans actually emerge; that square pegs can fit in round holes because flexibility is what makes things happen; and that the best place for any cart is ahead of the horse because your dreams should always lead you.
The only people in the world you can learn these ideas from are "kids." Kids do great things precisely "because they don't know what isn't possible." -- they have a wealth of INexperience. For kids, there is no box to "think outside."
A. I have no idea, maybe psychiatry? It literally changes every three months. What I do know is that I will be attending Stanford University in the Fall of 2013, and I am eager to embark on that new adventure.
Q8. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
A. My inspiration comes from my grandfather, Henryk Leman. He is 93 years old,
and a Holocaust survivor (WWII). You would expect him to be bitter and miserly, because he lost everything during those horrific years, yet all of my life he has been gentle and generous, paying for everything when I am in his presence -- my food, my clothes, whatever is needed.
One day I asked him why he did this, and he answered, "Because I can."
That is my motto in life, too. "Because I can." Because we "all can." It's the best reason for doing anything.
So, if you have a child, or know of a child who has a great idea that can help make the world a better place, send her/him over to http://www.randomkid.org/ so that she/he can launch their idea and see it unfold...a powerful idea indeed! Also, read Talia Leman's book, "A Random Book about the Power of Anyone" for further inspiration.
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