17 March 2008

Big Peeps, Big Conference

I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Social Business and Micro-Economic Opportunities For Youth Conference in Denver, Colorado this past week (wow, is that conference name a mouthful or WHAT?). I was given the job of “demystifying” this crazy group of 1.4 billion people on the planet who are under 25 years old which, since I’ve just spent the last 6 months meeting them around the world, comes fairly easy to me. Still, since most folks at the conference were over 35, I got the usual looks of shock and awe, as I like to call it.

It’s incredible how diverse the reactions are that I get. Everyone under 25 is watching and nodding, as if saying to themselves, “oh yeah, that’s totally me! I get it! That’s it! Everyone 35 and over is watching face scrunched, as if to saying to themselves, “wait, I wasn’t like that when I was 20. How could this be? This kid is crazy!” Then there’s the 25-35 crowd, who spend most of the presentation going, “am I still a youth? When did I become an adult? This stinks. I don’t like this guy.” By the end though, most people are pretty into it, convinced that yes, my generation is absolutely doing their part to change the world.

What made this conference even more incredible was the attendance of two monumental folks in terms of international development – Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and FINCA Founder John Hatch. These are two people who sort-of came up with the idea of Micro-Finance and have – together – raised 133 million families (about ONE BILLION PEOPLE) out of poverty. Hearing them speak then watching how they listened, as if everyone were an expert, was truly inspiring. One of the most difficult parts of being young in this field is that people don’t always take you seriously. “You’re young, what do you know?” IN my opinion, a whole lot, and Dr. Yunus and Dr. Hatch agreed. So what am I saying? If they’re listening, so should you!

I’ll close with some words of wisdom from Dr. Yunus: “Poverty Is An Artificial Creation Of Society.” In that case, lets make it disappear. We can.

Also met several amazing social entrepreneurs (and remembered to take pics of these two)! The first was Ethan who, at six years old, with the help of his parents, decided to wanted to raise money to give teddy bears to orphans in the Denver area. Why? "Because everyone deserves a friend," he told me. He and his parents have built a company similar to build-a-bear, only they use the profits from their parties to donate bears to children in need. Pretty amazing! We had a blast goofing around between sessions!

The second was Joey Baum who, at 16, started his own eco-friendly bag company to reduce the number of plastic bags used in the United States. You know those reusable grocery bags you see in grocery stores? That's him! So, buy yours and help reduce the 7 TRILLION plastic bags Americans use every year!

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