March 23rd, 2012
James Marshall Reilly is the author of Shake The World, a new book described by the Los Angeles Times as the perfect gift for an “anxious 21-year-old.” “Just don’t be surprised if they then ditch their plans to take a job in accounting, head off to dig irrigation ditches in Haiti, tweet the results and apply for the next round of TED fellowships.”
I first met Blake Mycoskie in 2008 when I was working as a speaker’s agent. He told me the story behind TOMS and I was duly impressed. As he explained his “One for One” business model that harnessed consumer dollars to solve a health and education issue halfway around the world, I became understandably inspired. I can honestly say that hearing Blake’s story actually changed my life in a very profound way.
I soon realized that many young social entrepreneurs like Blake are accomplishing these extraordinary feats outside the “traditional” channels to do so. Many of them are innovating and delivering results in arenas that they aren’t particularly qualified – from the standpoint of education and experience – to work in. At least by conventional measures. In fact, none of the social entrepreneurs I’ve met over the years had the “right” to expect that they would succeed at what they were attempting to achieve. And yet they were succeeding. Often on a global level. And that planted the idea in my head that we, as a generation, have a lot more power than we sometimes think we do.
I was so inspired by what many of these individuals were accomplishing, and how fast they were executing their goals, that I wrote a book about them and their work called Shake the World. In his review for the Financial Times, Philip Delves Broughton called the book a “Call to arms for the breathless young.” I hope he is right, and that the collective stories of these young game-changers are a call to arms for our generation.
When I tried to distill what I learned from each of the individuals I interviewed, I came up with words and terms like “fortitude,” “passion,” “innovation,” “gratitude,” “meritocracy,” “synergy,” “disruption,” “self-education,” “dogged-perseverance,” and “blind, willful audacity.” I open my book by saying that these individuals are some of the most important young people of our generation.
Here is some of what they taught me:
Blake Mycoskie/TOMS – Blake taught me that “One for One” does not add up to two. If you do the math Blake’s way, what results is immeasurable and exponential instead. Blake taught us that a pair of shoes can be so much more than foot covering or a fashion item – it can be a route to transformational change – if you happen to buy the right pair. And we’ve all seen the astounding results.
Jason Russell/Invisible Children – Jason taught me that a video camera can be a weapon of mass instruction. The footage that Jason and the Invisible Children team captured of what was happening to children in Uganda made the invisible children of Joseph Kony’s war, visible to the world. Through their work, Invisible Children has made a significant global impact, including being the driving force behind a bill signed into law by President Obama calling for the removal Joseph Kony from power.
Ellen Gustafson/FEED/30 Project– Ellen taught me that many global issues – from education to terrorism – have their roots in hunger. Through her work with FEED, Ellen and partner Lauren Bush have provided over 55 million meals to children across the globe. Just like Blake, Ellen taught me that social entrepreneurs who harness the purchasing power of conscious consumers have created a movement that will feed and educate the world’s hungry and make inroads to solve many of the health problems that face our global society.
Tony Hsieh/Zappos– Tony, the CEO of famed Zappos, taught me that, “Failure is not a badge of shame, it’s a rite of passage.” It’s a phrase that I repeat to myself on a daily basis. Rather than dwelling on our “mistakes,” “failure” is something we should learn from, as we move forward – applying each lesson to our subsequent endeavors.
Jessica Jackley/KIVA– Jessica taught me the power of story and connectivity, and about the critical and subtle nuances in the dynamics of “people building.” As the co-founder of KIVA, Jessica is responsible for helping to facilitate hundreds of millions of dollars in interest-free microloans to the world’s poor. But KIVA goes far beyond the loan of money; Jessica helped create a powerful model for personal engagement that changes lives on a far greater scale than possible with mere dollars. By connecting donors and recipients on a human-level, KIVA creates relationships of meaning.
Shawn Fanning/Napster/AirTime – Shawn taught me the importance of being a disruptive force, and that you don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to change it for the better. Rather, one has to be an expert at identifying problems and then applying his or her own unique skill-set to provide innovative solutions to those problems.
Sean Carasso/Falling Whistles– As the founder of Falling Whistles Sean is an advocate for peace in Congo, which is home to one of the most brutal wars our world has ever seen. Sean taught me that you don’t have to be a politician to work in politics – or be in the military – to fight a war. He taught me that community action is now possible on a global stage and that cause marketing – propelled by relentless perseverance – can be an effective, even explosive, weapon of change.
Collectively, all of these young leaders taught me that failure is a stepping-stone; innovative thinking and perseverance are like a religion; passion is a leverageable tool; and that a for-profit venture can facilitate a non-profit goal. But, most of all, they showed me that all of us have significantly more power to impart change than we think we do. So, like Blake, TOMS, and many of the others that I interviewed are doing, it is my hope that more of us will set forth and, in our own way, shake the world.