San Diego, Calif. — The common consensus is that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. Not so, said four big-thinking young philanthropists during the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference on Fundraising (ICON). Today’s youth are today’s leaders, they told a room of 4,000 fundraising professionals here on Monday.
“Youth know that the world’s problems won’t wait for tomorrow,” said 16-year-old Toronto native Bilaal Rajan. “They won’t wait for us to grow up. We want to act now. We are a resource for everyone to tap into today.”
The high school student is also a motivational speaker and the author of “Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever.” Rajan got his start in philanthropy at the age of four, selling clementines door-to-door to raise funds for aid to India after an earthquake. He raised $350. He has since traveled through Asia, Africa and Central America to raise funds and awareness for issues such as HIV and extreme poverty.
“No matter who you are, where you’re from, age, what language you speak, you can make a difference,” he said. “It starts with finding passion, the one thing that makes you want to get involved.”
For Hugh Evans, founder and CEO of the Australian-based Global Poverty Project, that one thing is the eradication of polio. Evans started big, with the goal of ending extreme poverty. Along the way he organized concerts involving U2, Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters and Neil Young.
For 2012’s Global Citizen Festival, Evans didn’t sell tickets. Instead, he gamified the experience. He produced videos about poverty and polio and put them on social media outlets. Social media users could like and share these videos to earn points, and if they earned enough points they received a ticket for the concert, only the second to be held on the Great Lawn in Central Park. “It’s not about any individual or organization, it’s about a movement,” said the 30-year-old.
Evans is a champion of lateral thinking, and so is Barbara Pierce Bush, co-founder and CEO of Global Health Corps (GHC), based in New York City. Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush, uses her organization to train new leaders in global health. But what makes her organization unique is that it trains not only doctors and nurses, but also engineers, architects, computer programmers and others in fields not traditionally associated with health care.
One GHC Fellow was a former supply chain manager for clothing store Gap. Instead of making sure blue jeans go from warehouses to stores to customers in the U.S., he ensured that drugs went from warehouses to hospitals to patients. “Our Fellows have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Bush, age 31. “The one thing more contagious than any disease is the belief that any person with commitment and passion can change the course of history.”
You don’t have to be an excellent fundraiser to be a philanthropist, said Emmanuel Jal. The South Sudanese hip hop artist freely admits that he’s a terrible fundraiser. “When I first started writing proposals, I failed.” He decided to give up one meal a day to build a school in his native South Sudan. It took him 662 days, but the 32-year-old former child soldier raised enough money and attention to build the school.
Jal not only uses his music, which he sampled for ICON attendees, but also his organization Gua Africa, which provides scholarships to underprivileged children in Africa. His goal for 2013 is to visit 100 schools all around the world. He believes peace is achieved through education and food security. “It’s very hard for someone to obey the law when their belly’s empty,” he said.
“That’s where education comes in,” he said. “When you’re educated as person, you’re equipped to fend for yourself, to prevent indoctrination, and you have the tools to compete in this new world. Any country that doesn’t invest in education is a country walking to a dead end.”