Connect, Communicate & Contribute

Engagement is the hot leadership strategy these days. On some subliminal level, we know what it means. But on a practical level, it is much more difficult to define. It is like so many ideas during this time of epic transition in society.  Abstractions are easier to understand that actual actions.

I'm involved in a project with the Presbyterian Churches (PCUSA) in North Carolina to raise money for our ministries on college and university campuses. It is more than a fund raising project. It is an engagement one, as we engage all segments, levels and congregations of the North Carolina Presbyterian world to support our work with students, faculty and university administrators.As we have worked through the various strategies that we need to successfully meet our financial goals, we are at the same time affecting change in people's perceptions and actions. This is very much what engagement means in its current use.

Our engagement strategy is built around actions that we are asking people and their churches to take. In this sense engagement, isn't just marketing, but encouragement to action. The emphasis on action, rather engagement, is because engagement is an ambiguous term. It can mean only mental engagement. And ultimately that sort of engagement does not produce results. Actions builds confidence, and confidence builds strength. So the goal of any engagement process should be more people participating, action, doing, taking initiative in three specific areas that we have identified as critical to our success.

We are focused on three types of actions: Connection, Communication and Contribution. If we succeed in increasing the level of connection, communication and contribution, then our campaign will be successful. This is true for any organization.

The simple idea that lies behind connecting, communicating and contributing is the importance of personal initiative. If you want people to be engaged, then they have to take initiative. When their initiative is focused on making connections with people, communicating their mission in terms of a story, and intentionally and strategically contributing by making a difference that matters, then engagement ceases to be a cool abstract business idea, and a living reality within your organization.

I cannot emphasize enough that the key is creating an environment where people feel free to take initiative to connect, communicate and contribute. If there is fear or too many boundaries to cross or obstacles to overcome, then they won't.

What does it mean to Connect, Communicate and Contribute?

Here's a starting point for each.

Connection: Connection

We all move through our lives in relationships with others. Some people are family, others are friends, many are colleagues and the vast majority are people who are nameless faces that we pass by along our life's journey.

There are three keys to connection.

The first key is that through our connections we open ourselves up to a broader, more diverse context.  The perspective we gain helps us to better understand who we are and how we fit in the social and organizational settings where we live and work.

The second key is our connecting strengthens community. When I introduce one person to another, the opportunities that can grow from that connection far out weight the ones we have without those connections. Living in isolation, which is not the same as being an introvert, weakens the institutions that society depends upon for its strength.

The third key is that when we connect, we are placing ourselves in a relationship of potential mutuality of contribution. I can pinpoint people with whom I connect with around the world for whom our mutual support for one another is an important foundation strength for our lives. We don't connect just to receive something from someone, but also to give in mutual benefit.

Communication: Communicating

With the growth of social media, everyone is a communicator. However, what do we mean by communication?

The most common fallacy regarding communication is that it is about what I communicate to others.  It is the old model of information distribution as communication.

The kind of communication that matters, that engages people to participate and contribute, is one that is more like a conversation. It is a two exchange, rather than simply a one-way download of my opinion.

The real purpose behind communication is to establish a connection that builds an environment of respect, trust, commitment, and contribution. This produces real conversations that matter. This is how communication becomes genuine engagement.


I have seen so many organizations during my professional career that were languishing because there was no spirit of contribution.By this I mean, the people who were the organization did not see themselves as the owners of its mission. They were employees hired to do a job.

A culture of contribution is built upon a foundation of appreciation and thanks.

Typically, people see thanks as a response to a gift of some kind. As a response, it is less an act of initiative, though deciding to write a note, rather than sending an email, is a greater act of initiative because the effort and cost are more. 

The purpose here is to understand how increasing contributions by people is a form of engagement. Five Actions of Gratitude - blogpixRED

The Five Actions of Gratitude are acts of personal initiative. They are intentional and strategic. They are acts of mutuality that provide meaning and reality to the connections that we've made. Let's take a quick look at each to understand their function as sources of contribution. I've written more extensively about this under the title, The Stewardship of Gratitude.

Say Thanks: Too often saying thanks is a way we close a conversation. That is not what this is. Instead, we are expressing a perspective that identifies how the connection to someone, group or community has made a difference to them.  Our giving of thanks contributes to the strengthening of the ties that bind a social or organizational setting together.  I've heard it said that Saying Thanks is the "lubrication" that greases the wheels of society, making them run smoothly.  This is part of its contribution.

Give Back: When we give back in service, we are giving, contributing to a person, an organization or a community that has given to us. This is the heart of what we know as volunteerism and philanthropy. For many people, this is where our most significant contributions are made.

Make Welcome: This act of hospitality, or Hostmanship as Jan Gunnarsson suggests, creates an environment of openness, inviting people to join as participants who give, create, contribute their gifts and talent.  Openness and hostmanship are not automatic actions. They are intentional actions of initiative that create the opportunity for an organization to develop a culture of open contribution. Where there is openness to contribute, there is engagement.

Honor Others: When we practice honor, we elevate the human connection that exists in an organization or a community. I cannot think of an more important contribution than to create an environment where each person is honored with respect and thanks for the contributions that they make. Do this, and the motivation to contribute will grow.

Create Goodness: If we were to live to create goodness, we'd spend our days as contributors, and less as passive recipients of others creative goodness. My vision of this is to see an organization where every single employee take personal initiative to create goodness that makes a difference that matters.  To do this means that we'd face all those obstacles and cultrual barriers to engagement, and create a place where people can discover a fulfilling life of contribution as creators of goodness.

Strategic Connection, Communication and Contribution

These actions of personal initiative are not tactics for failing systems to buffer themselves against the harshness of a declining situaiton. Instead,these are strategies of change that help leaders and their organizations make the necessary transition from the organizational forms of the past into those that emerging. These are strategies of engagement because that create a different social environment for people.

At some fundamental level, we'd have to address the organization's structure to determine to what extent it can support a growing environment of connection, communication and contribution. This is the most difficult question because are embedded forms that are resistant to change. They do not adapt well to creative forces from outside of their own control. Yet, the engagement are identifying with these three strategies is an intentional relinquishing of control so that people are free to create their own ways of contributing.

In this sense, leadership shifts from a control mandate to a facilitating, equipping and visioning one. Leaders create an environment of openness so that personal intiative can create new structures for contribution. As a result, leaders become the keep and nurturer of the values of the company. They are constantly reminding everyone of these values of personal initiative, creativity and contribution.  They are protective of this openness that produces engagement.

The future belongs to those people who can create an organizational and community environment where personal initiative to connect, communication and contribute becomes the culture. When we do this, engagement transitions from being the hot topic of the moment to the reality that we find live with every day.

Kids get Philanthropy

Acumen Fund Fund Day for Kids

Oh, to be a kid again with the whole world opening up to you as you get exposed to people like those at the Acumen Fund. Watch this video of Fund Day at the Acumen Fund.

And how cool to hear a kid say,

My favorite part of the day was creating a business.

Share the video with kids that you know. Influence them to see that they can make a difference in the world.

This week's The Economist has a article - The Patient Capitalist - on the Acumen Fund. I also encourage you to read founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz book, The Blue Sweater. I posted my review of her book here.

RandomKid/ Sustainable Cambodia/ Green Valley School (PA) water project

If you children want to get involved in social enterprise opportunities, check out RandomKid, a place where kids can get the mentoring to take their own ideas for helping and making a difference and change the world.

Yesterday, I received a report from RandomKid president Anne Ginther about one of their projects. Here's what she wrote.

Recently we partnered with a group to put a windmill in Cambodia that will provide the energy to water gardens for 40 families. The cost for the project was $4500, and the funding was donated to us by Exelon Nuclear for this purpose, in partnership with a RandomKid school in Pennsylvania. The cost included the windmill materials, catchment, seeds-- everything needed from start to finish. It's being built as I write this.

These kinds of projects are taking place all over the world. Just as the Acumen Fund needs investment funds, so does RandomKid, and a host of other organizations that help kids become social philanthropists. If you can help financially do so, if you can, pass along this post to those who can. Your influence just may make the difference for a child.

Thought you'd like to see one of the children from the village that  received the well. Her name is Sreyvin. Here's her letter of thanks.Nou - Mong Village Cambodia - RamdomKind

My name is Sreyvin, I am a 12 year old girl. I have four sisters, and no brothers. My family and I eat fish for dinner. I live in Mong village, Svay Att commune, Pursat town. I am in grade 4 at Chhom Monny primary school. I like to read books in my free time. I know a little English.

They built a basin next the pond. There will be a fan about the basin to suck water into the basin. There are water tubes to share the water from the pond.

Because of you, I am able to go to study on time and regularly. You have provided me with enough water to use daily, and to cultivate my plants. My community has become a very green community. Because of you, my family will have a better life.

Here's a drawing of their village by one of the children. 

Mong Village drawing - RamdomKid

The children, with RamdomKid's assistance, worked with Sustainable Cambodia on the water project.

Richard Allen describes their organization.

As volunteer CEO and co-founder of the Rotary-supported nonprofit
organization Sustainable Cambodia, I invite you to explore the work our staff is doing in Cambodian villages. We are a working to help the residents of these rural villages create a sustainable quality of life through wells, irrigation systems, schools, training and empowerment. By our founding principles, only native Cambodians may be employed as paid staff, and all international officers, directors and consultants must be unpaid volunteers, ensuring that 100% of funding goes directly into the rural village programs. Please explore more about Sustainable Cambodia at 

These are projects that children through their schools, congregations and other organizations can support. Acumen Fund and RandomKid are doing different things, but they are complementary. Acumen Fund addresses poverty through "patient capitalism" through investment in the establishment of micro-enterprises. RandonKid is a catalyst for children's interest in making a different in the world by connecting with projects suited to their commitments and abilities.

These are the kinds of organizations that will be the media structures for the emerging global society. Stay in touch and support their efforts. They are the real change agents of the future.

The Blue Sweater - by Jacqueline Novogratz - A Leading Questions review

Our perception of things when we lack physical proximity is often determined by the media we consume. When we come face-to-face with the reality that our perceptions are wrong, and possibly destructive, we need to change the way we think, and what we expect. This truth I believe is at work in our American perceptions of Africa.

Blue Sweater

For many people in my generation (over 50 years old) our perception of Africa was first formed by watching Tarzan movies that were produced during the 1930s and 1940s. The notion of the noble savage became a staple of Western perception. Africa was a land of romance and adventure and Western colonialism. Today, our perception is far more determined by news accounts of war, poverty, famine and genocide.  The one counter to this perception, at least for me, has come from hearing stories and having interaction with missionaries and African citizens who talk about their work and lives there. It is still a place of romance and adventure, but now, creating a place of hope and health with self-determination is the focus. 

It is from this perception that I came to Jacqueline Novogratz's fascinating book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected world. Novogratz is the founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund. Her book is both a memoir and a manifesto. It should be read by everyone who has any sense of connection to places on our planet where people lack the opportunities that you and I take for granted everyday.

She begins her story this way.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took mine and fell flat of my face. As a young woman, I dreamed of changing the world. In my twenties, I went to Africa to try and save the continent, only to learn that Africans neither wanted nor needed saving. Indeed, when I was there, I saw some of the worst that good intentions, traditional charity, and aid can produce: failed programs that left people in the same or worse conditions. The devastating impact of the Rwandan genocide on a people I'd come to love shrank my dreams even further. I concluded that if I could only nudge the world a little bit, maybe that would be enough.

But nudging isn't enough. The gap between rich and poor is widening across the world, creating a dire situation that is neither socially just nor economically sustainable. Moreover, my work in Africa also taught me about the extraordinary resilience of people for whom poverty is a reality not because they don't work hard, but because there are too many obstacles in their way.

The Blue Sweater is a book of stories. To tell you one is to possibly miss the importance of the flow of ideas and impressions that build a perception about how to address poverty in the world. She writes early on her experience in Africa,

I finally understood: In order to contribute to Africa, I would have to know myself better and be clearer about my goals. I would have to be ready to take Africa on its own terms, not mine, and to learn my limits and present myself not as a do-gooder with a big heart, but as someone with something to give and gain by being there. Compassion wasn't enough.

I think that was the moment when humility in its truest form - rather than an easy but false humbleness - began to creep in. Until then, I'd been too vested in knowing the answers and in being right. For the first time in my life, being right had nothing to do with being successful or effective. I also began to be more honest about what was happening around me - I couldn't stand all talk without action, and too many expatriates and elite Africans seemed to revel in it. I wanted to work directly with poor women themselves.

The Blue Sweater is the story of her growing into this person. The stories are vivid and engaging. We understand because she is an excellent story teller. And she understands that her own transformation is part of the story, and can become our story.

Jaqueline Novogratz's story is also about the kind of leadership that is needed now in our time.

After more than 20 years of working in African, India, and Pakistan, I've learned that solutions to poverty must be driven by discipline, accountability, and market strength, not easy sentimentality. I've learned that many of the answers to poverty lie in the space between the market and charity and that what is needed most of all is moral leadership willing to build solutions from the perspectives of poor people themselves rather than imposing grand theories and plans upon them.

This is true for all people working in all organizations. Big ideas that are impractical and are not shared by the people who implement them are doomed to failure. Rather, what is needed is leadership that understands how to facilitate the process of idea creation within the context of relationship building. Only from this foundation can the appropriate organizational structures be created to facilitate their success. This is what Acumen and other groups are now doing in Africa and other parts of the world.

The organization that Jacqueline Novogratz created is the Acumen Fund. Here's a brief description of their mission.

Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.

They call this "patient capital." It is so because it is built around quarterly reports, but the sustainability of small centers of commerce and change.

The Blue Sweater is a book about leadership, the kind that is needed today, and what will be known as 21st century leadership in the future.

The entrepreneurs who will help us create the future for all people are individuals who exist in every country on earth. ... They are the ones who see a problem and don't stop working on it until it is solved. They refuse petty ideologies and reject trite assumptions.They balance their passion for change with an ability to get things done. Mostly, they believe fundamentally in the inherent capacity of every human being to contribute.

At the same time, today's most effective leaders have a pragmatic bottom-line orientation that results in focusing on measuring what they accomplish, building institutions that can sustain themselves long after their founders are gone.  They world will not change with inspiration alone; rather it requires systems, accountability, and clear measures of what works and what doesn't. Our most effective leaders, therefore, will strengthen their knowledge of how to build organizations while also having the vision and heart to help people imagine that change is possible in their lives.

Jacqueline Novogratz's story is one of perceptions. What we perceive becomes our reality. What is your perception? Are you open to having it challenged and radically altered? I hope so because if you let yourself be open to a different perception about charity, poverty, Africa, Asia and leadership, you may find your own life deeply enriched and impacted by her story. I highly encourage each of you to read her book and begin to imagine what you can do to encourage this kind of development.

Finally, here is Jacqueline speaking at the TED conference in 2007. It will give you a flavor for what you'll find in the book.

Quick Takes: 10 Principles for a Black Swan-proof world

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan offers ten principles for a Black Swan-proofed world in the Financial Times that is worth reading.

Here's some of what he suggests.

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible "expert" advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the "Nobel" in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

This is a rational look at the economic system. However, the current system is far from rational because it is built upon a collusion of greed between Washington and Wall Street.

My 11th principle is get the politics out of the economy.
Politics only encourages greater division and corruption. Politics is not about governance, but about power, and power is about who wins and loses. The system we have now is too fragile (see #1 above) to allow corrupted self-interest be the guiding ethic of global economics. There are plenty of examples of enlightened self-interest, of philanthropy and social enterprise, for us to believe that we have now is our only option.

Read Taleb's whole article.

Talia and Bill on Giving

Here is Talia Leman, RandomKid visionary, on how to turn kids' desire to give into opportunities to make a difference. Listen carefully. This is not like anything that has been happening.

Talia references Bill Gates 2007 Harvard commencement speech. In that address, he says.

But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.

If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution.

Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers anytime an organization or individual asks “How can I help?,” then we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares — and that makes it hard for their caring to matter.

Cutting through complexity to find a solution runs through four predictable stages: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have — whether it’s something sophisticated, like a drug, or something simpler, like a bednet.


Pursuing that goal starts the four-step cycle again. This is the pattern. The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working – and never do what we did with malaria and tuberculosis in the 20th century – which is to surrender to complexity and quit.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

You have to have the statistics, of course. You have to be able to show that a program is vaccinating millions more children. You have to be able to show a decline in the number of children dying from these diseases. This is essential not just to improve the program, but also to help draw more investment from business and government.

But if you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers; you have to convey the human impact of the work – so people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected.

  There are many obstacles to making a difference, and they are all overcome with a power that each of us has. Each of us as the power of initiative. Either we take initiative or we don't.  If we don't, something happens, and often it is for the worst. If we do, we have a chance to make a difference. Most of us don't know until we try.

Talia tried, and tried again, and again and again. Her life is making a difference. And yours can too if you take the first step.

Talia for President

See UPDATE from RandomKid below.

Nicholas Kristof in the Sunday NY Times writes about Talia Leman. Talia Leman

When Talia was 10 years old, she saw television clips of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and decided to help. She galvanized other kids and started a movement to trick-or-treat at Halloween for coins for hurricane victims.

The movement caught the public imagination, Talia made it on the “Today” show, and the campaign raised more than $10 million. With that success behind her, Talia organized a program called RandomKid to help other young social entrepreneurs organize and raise money.

Talia is an eighth grader from Des Moines, Iowa, who is the embodiment of the idea that kids can make a difference if only given a chance.

She's a friend of our family met through our daughter's involvement in RandomKidTalia is the CEO, and has just been honored by World of Children for her activism. 

I'm very happy for Talia. She's a great kid from a wonderful family. Her little brother, who goes by the name Little Wolf, is one of my all time favorite kids. Check out his weblog.

RandomKid helps kids with philanthropic/ social entrepreneurial projects. A kid contacts RandomKid online, and and the RandomKid team gives them the support to make their dream a reality.. It can be a small project like raising money for a sick kid at school, or big like building Habitat houses along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. RandomKid is also helping kids raising money to provide water wells in Africa. It is an amazing organization that holds great promise for the future of our society.

Nicholas Kristof concludes, "If kids like Talia can accomplish so much, without credit cards or driving licenses, just imagine what adults could achieve." I totally agree.

I'm convinced that kids 10-13 years old are THE prime candidates for leadership development and philanthropic initiative. Once puberty sets in all sorts of doubts intrude into the psyche of kids and for many adults, they never get over believing that they have nothing to contribute to this world.

The distinctiveness of Talia and her RandomKid counterparts is that acted on their ideas. If you have a kid, talk to them about how they can make a difference. Don't tell them, ask them, and then help them to make it happen. If you need help, contact RandomKid. There is no better time than now to do so.

UPDATE: Thought you'd like to hear from Talia, CEO and Anne Ginter, President of RandomKid.  If you wold like to receive these newsletters, go to the RandonKid website and sign up there.

Hello all our Random Friends!

This week has been a wonderfully crazy week!  We have had the pleasure of hearing from many, many random kids who want to solve real world problems, after being inspired by a column in Sunday's New York Times (  We're also thrilled to be hearing from lots of random grown-ups who want to support these awesome kids!

We're already kicking off a number of new awesome projects... the brain-children of... well... children!  We only wish our new website were online now.  We can't wait for you to use it!  We're in the process of redesigning our entire website to make it so much easier and faster for millions of kids to safely connect to solve real world problems.  If you're interested in investing in new technology to help this new generation of philanthropists, please let us know.  Our 13-year-old CEO Talia Leman has a great track record for Return on Investment (see for examples).

If you're a teacher, a youth group leader, or a kid looking for a cool way to solve real world problems, please check out

One project that has a lot of momentum right now is our water project to ease thirst around the earth:  See and -- be sure to check out the videos of the kids and their teachers talking about what a life changing experience this has been for them!  Our National Task Force to Rebuild the Gulf is also really close to finishing a house for a family in Mississippi that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina 3 years ago-- you could help us with that simply by purchasing a carabiner or making a donation!  (

And if you're an education university student who needs an internship, let's talk!  In 2009 we want to explore having someone help us formalize some of our project curriculum that we provide to teachers.

And now, I'd like to close with this wonderful story.  We have been working with many schools on the water project.  The stories across the country are all very similar, but each one is unique and touches us deeply.  One of the schools we're working with right now showed us their students' test scores.  Before the water project, there were 11 kids "at risk".  Now that they're well into it, all of the kids are testing in the 90th percentile and above.  Why?  Because they're putting their education into action.  They're passionate about what they're doing and they're taking ownership.  Three moms came up to us at one event with tears in their eyes, telling us how much this has changed their child's experience at school.

We are humbled and honored to be serving so many outstanding kids, random kids just like you, who want to change the world.

With gratitude,

Talia Leman, CEO and Anne Ginther, President

Sharing in the USA - USAToday Special Section

USAToday has a special section today on philanthropy in America - Sharing in the USA. Thenewfaceofgivingusatoday

The project that this young man is involved in a water project similar to the kind that RandomKid, a kid's charity that our family is involved in, is doing.  Here is a description of RandomKid's water projects and a post I made on their project.. Here's the article about kid's involved in charities.

Read about what is going on. This is the foundation of the leadership that we need to be giving our nation.

Pick up a copy or read it online .

RandomKid December 2007 Newsletter

RandomKid is an organization that my daughter has been involved in for about a year. I wrote about the organization here.   It is a unique organization because it is focused on kid initiated, kid directed projects.  Check out the project page of their website.  These aren't adult projects where kids can participate. These are projects that kids have thought up, and through the support of their parents, families, friends and RandomKid, are either making a difference or a looking for the funding to start.

Here is their latest newsletter. I post it to bring encouragement and opportunity. Share it with kids that you know. Maybe one of them has a project idea that RandomKid can help them start.

RandomKid NewsletterRk_logo
National Task Force Visits the Gulf

Watch NBC Nightly News This Sunday, December 23*for a Special Report on RandomKid's Water Project. 

December 2007

I’m really excited for you to read what we have to share with you in this newsletter. RandomKid’s National Task Force to Rebuild the Gulf, a group of 10 kids from around the country, had the opportunity to visit the largest chapter of Habitat for Humanity, tour and volunteer in the gulf, thanks in large part to a grant from Target Corporation and a kind invitation from the Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  Our mission was to witness the progress that’s being made, the work that still needs to be done, and report back to kids across the USA to encourage continued support.

There are still nearly 60,000 people living in FEMA trailers over two years after Hurricane Katrina.  Faith has helped them all get through a tough time. It is a message we hear from everyone over and over again. They also are being helped by Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and the countless volunteers that go down there to rebuild homes. But none of this can happen without money. We can’t allow ourselves to be tired of the story because it’s old news and we want to move on to something new. We have to commit to helping every last hurricane survivor back on their feet.  It is the patriotic thing to do, and our human responsibility to help people who can’t help themselves. We need to show them that the power of their faith can also be seen in each of us, their fellow Americans who care.

All but one of the articles here were written by the RandomKid Task Force kids.  One column was written by our newest Board Member, and dad of one of our Task Force members, Ed Brenegar.  Please take a moment to see the gulf from a kid’s point of view.  We hope you’ll help.

Happy Holidays!

~Talia Leman, 12-year-old CEO, RandomKid

“The Gulf trip was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life! I got to meet new people and help out in the Gulf.  After being there, I’ve come up with a new idea on how to children in that area.  I LOVE being a part of RandomKid!” –Task Force Member, 10-year-old Emma

Having Hope and Faith on the Gulf CoastRk_shelby_2
By Task Force Member Shelby of North Carolina

Nasheka Chatman and her three children met with the RandomKid Task Force on a warm Fall day in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Chatman has been living in a FEMA trailer with her three small children and her husband for over two years now. The FEMA trailer that the Chatman family is currently living in is 10 feet by 40 feet, or about the size of your garage.  They are very cramped and there is not a lot of privacy. When Nasheka was asked how she has gotten through everything over the past two years, she replied, "with prayer, lots of prayer." Chatman says she has had lots of support from family and friends. Of all the things that this family lost, what they miss most are family pictures. She wants other people to know that Habitat for Humanity was "sent by God. The people were sent by God." Nasheka's children, ages 4,6 and 7 have put lots of thought into what colors they will paint their new bedrooms.  The family is moving into their Habitat house on November 12th and they are going to celebrate by making a sign for the front yard that says, "Thank You Jesus for our new home." Chatman reminded us that, "People on the Gulf are doing okay. We still need you're help, but we are okay. People here are strong in their hearts." When asked what other Katrina victims should remember, she thought for a moment, then added, "Don't give up on your dreams [of getting out of a FEMA trailer and into a new home]."

“They will remember this trip for years to come.  So will I.   Nicholas is already brainstorming new ideas.  He can’t wait for the next conference call!” –Task Force Mom, Kelly

Leaving LouisianaRk_nicholas
By Task Force Member Nicholas of Massachusetts

As the jazz music dies; the scent of beignets disappears; the wrought iron architecture ends; and the skyline of the French Quarter blends in with the horizon, the memory of the destruction comes back to mind. The bus rattles and shakes along the highway. We pass abandoned homes and empty lots – painful reminders of the past. I can’t help but think of everything lost during the storm. There are so many still left with so little. It makes me feel like I need to do more. Money is really necessary to help others. I am reinvigorated. I am inspired to take up the task where I left off. I will once again look for new and creative ways to get others interested in the Gulf Coast disaster. So many have forgotten. But not me. I want to help the poor people of Mississippi and Louisiana. And I will.

Click here to DONATE  to RandomKid’s “Rebuild the Gulf Fund.”  100% of your donation will go to our “Rebuild the Gulf” program, 90% of which goes directly to building a Habitat for Humanity house in Biloxi, MS.

“Being a RandomKid parent has been an amazing experience!  I feel blessed and renewed as I see our children...our FUTURE... at work, giving so selflessly of themselves and their time!  I feel like I’m along for the ride of a lifetime as I see what these children are able to accomplish through their hopes, dreams, and energies!”  -Task Force Mom, Eldonna

A "Taste" of the GulfRk_task_force_2
By Task Force Member Emma of Iowa

(Editor's Note:  These are reflections written after a day when the task force got to experience many of the wonderful, unique things about the Gulf  Much of their time was spent in the New Orleans area on this day, and Gulf Port / Biloxi the other two days.)

Our day started with a LONG bus ride!  During the ride we rode on the bridge over Lake Ponchartrain.  It was really scary because the bridge went on and on for miles over nothing but water!  It was a funny feeling!

When our ride was done we ate brunch at Court of the Two Sisters in New Orleans!  It was really good food, and they had a jazz trio playing that was fun to listen to.  I tried crawfish for the very first time (I don't think I'll try it again for awhile!), and I also tried grits (I'll pass on those next time too!).  But the omelets were super, and so were the desserts!

After brunch we went on a ferry ride across the Mississippi River.  It was really cool! Even cars could drive right onto the ferry so they could cross the river! That was a strange sight!

After the ride we went to the Swamp Fest at the Audubon Zoo.  It was neat seeing al those animals!  It's hard to believe that alligators can be so dangerous because they looked really lazy and didn't even move a muscle!

Next we went to Cafe du Monde (that's where the picture of the task force above was taken), and ate bengiets.  They tasted like funnel cakes at our State Fair, only better!  I ate three! We then had about an hour to walk around in the French Quarter and do things. It was really fun.  My mom and I had a street artist draw our caricature!  We look kinda funny in it...he gave us real big heads and big teeth!

Then we went to the "old" Brock Elementary in Slidell that had been destroyed by Katrina.  We interviewed the principal, Rose Smith.  The school was all boarded up, but they're working on the inside and hope to be in by next school year.

We then saw the current school the Brock students are in.  They all have double-wide trailers for their classrooms.  It was neat seeing all the things they've been through and knowing that they have never given up hope.  Their trailer classrooms were actually very, very nice and big.  It was a nice feeling to know the kids can have good classrooms until they get back in their real school.

At the end of the day we ate at the Southside Cafe.  It was really good food...I had fried oysters!  I like oysters anyway, and these were yummy!

After that we went back to our stadium and went to bed.  It was a good, busy, and tasty day!

“We are honored to be hosting these children here in the gulf. They have proven to be a driving force in bringing awareness to our gulf rebuilding efforts, and we hope that their reports from the gulf will inspire many more children around the country to continue to help rebuild the thousands of homes that were destroyed by the 2005 hurricanes.” ~Kent Adcock, Director of Business Development & Community Relations for Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Carabiners:  A Kid’s Idea and a RandomKid “Micro Loan” are Catalyst to Gulf TripRkcarabiners
by Talia Leman, RandomKid CEO  and Task Force Member 

It all started with our carabiners. You know, those cool clips you can stick on your backpack, key chain, and just about anywhere else (They make GREAT GIFTS—HINT HINT!!   Click here to buy some!). Click here to read backstory on carabiners.

Kent Adcock with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of Habitat for Humanity received a carabiner at Habitat for Humanity’s “1000th Home Celebration.”  He thought they were pretty cool, and called us up to see if we’d partner with them to sell carabiners with their logo and our logo on them at a big event with professional golfers in November.   Next thing you know, he invited the task force to come!  But we still had a big hurdle:  How to pay for everyone to get there.  That’s where Target Corporation comes in.  Hooray for Target! They helped the entire task force come together in the gulf.  The Task Force has worked  together for over a year, and finally met in person for the first time.   We stayed in the Salvation Army’s VolunteerVillage in Biloxi, MS.  The Salvation Army ROCKS!  We met a really great kid named Conner there.  He and his family moved to Biloxi to help the Salvation Army after the 2005 hurricanes, and they’ve been serving volunteers in the MS Gulf Coast now for a year and a half.  I am happy to say that Conner is the newest member to our task force!

In Closing

by Anne Ginther, President of RandomKid

There are many more stories to tell.  "RandomKid National Task Force to Rebuild the Gulf" members met kids who had to swim through their house to get to safety, parents who lost everything.  Can you imagine having survived such a disaster and then living in temporary housing for over two years, knowing that there may be thousands ahead of you on the building list? 

GOAL:  Break ground on a  RandomKid / Habitat for Humanity house in Biloxi in 2008 = $25,000 needed!

The children on the Task Force were so moved by what they saw, that they have decided to set a goal to raise enough money to break ground on a MS Gulf Coast Habitat for Humanity house in Biloxi in 2008.  These kids have already raised a lot of money with their entrepreunrial ideas.  They need to raise $25,000 more to be able to break ground on a house.  Please help these kids make their goal, and help a family into their home.

Please click here to donate online using any major credit card, or make out a check to

"RandomKid - Rebuild the Gulf",

and send it to: 


P.O. Box 2064

McKinney, TX 75070.

In the coming months we'll share more of stories, photos and video from the Task Force trip.  We'll also introduce you to the new things they are doing to help our fellow Americans in the gulf.

We thought we'd close with some favorite quotes from Task Force member Shelby:

*Be the CHANGE you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi

*A big shot is a little shot that kept shooting.-Unknown

*You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however. -Richard Bach

Thank you for not only helping the gulf, but helping KIDS realize their power to help others.


The RandomKid National Task Force to Rebuild the Gulf:

Ellison, Tiron, Shelby, Tonisha, Sarah, Talia, Lanna, Emma, Tonisha, and Conner

Anne Ginther, RandomKid President

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Comment: I written about RandomKid previously here .   You are going to hear more from me about RandomKid. I've just joined their board. I believe in their mission. I endorse their - our - mission because it is about the Kids and their ideas, and their leadership and their impact.   

Your financial support will help kids make difference.  I hope you'll consider making a donation.  You are not only investing in the future, but making a difference today.

Quick Takes: Kiva

My experience with organizations has taught me that the great untapped, unrealized resource in all of life are the people at the bottom. Whether it is the love and commitment of employees for their employer, as strange as that may sound, or the hard work and sacrifice of the poorest of the poor, these are the people who have been largely ignored. No longer.

Muhammed Yunnis founded the Grameen Bank thirty plus years ago to provide small loans to the poor in Bangladesh.  Last year, Yunnis was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.  Watch Yunnis' Nobel speech here or read it here.

A company with similar mission is Kiva. Read this Stanford magazine story on Kiva. Then read Guy Kawasaki's blog post on the lessons of Kiva. 

Grameen and Kiva are models of a new kind of leadership. If you aren't sure how it is, or what it exactly means, just ask.  Just think about the impact that a company or organization is suppose to have on people or even a nation. It is worth a thought.

HT: Bill Kinnon