When I was fifteen, my days were spent riding my horse and hanging out with friends at the Cleveland Metroparks. Sure, I joined Key Club and helped raise money for the annual Race for the Cure, but I wasn’t really thinking beyond my suburb, or myself, when it came to giving back. The teenagers I met and listened to at this weekend’s TEDxYSE (Youth Social Entrepreneurs) conference in D.C. are quite the opposite.
Today’s teens are more aware of the needs that exist in the world, thanks in no small part to the way we consume information online, making the world a much smaller place than it was 10 years ago. In addition, their connection to the world around them empowers them to make a difference.
Fifteen-year-old Talia Leman began collecting spare change in her neighborhood to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and that small act grew into a nonprofit organization (of which she is CEO) that today has leveraged the power of millions of kids solving real-world problems. To Talia, the notion was simple – she wanted to help and found a way to connect with her community to do just that.
Young people today are not afraid to fail — a characteristic with which prior generations (myself included) often had a hard time. Perhaps that’s due to the broad support systems that exist via social networks and blogs today. Thanks to the online world, it’s much easier these days to find someone like-minded that will be your advocate than it was in years past.
Listening to these stories was inspiring, of course, but also made me realize that taking steps toward making change can be less daunting than we think. We just have to think like a 15-year-old CEO sometimes. Talia’s organization, RandomKid, is built on three simple steps: “select a world issue, choose a solution, make it happen.” And it’s working, with 12 million youth from 20 countries providing aid across the globe. Sometimes, small steps really do lead to large-scale change.
Whether it’s through our work advocating for organizations making social change, or by simply volunteering, making a difference can truly begin with simple actions. I’m proud to work with organizations and individuals every day who are making the world a better place, one idea at a time through clear, actionable steps. I’m also proud to say I’ve come a long way from my teenage days of focusing on what was directly within reach, rather than the impact my actions could have.
I encourage you to read some of the stories that were shared at TEDxYSE — we can all learn something from a 15-year-old CEO.