power logo




 



Because I Can | Talia Leman | By Kevin Doyle

While her friends hang at the mall gossiping about pop stars, 14-year-old Talia Leman travels the world raising millions of dollars for the needy

TALIA LEMAN WAS 10 years old when she started a fundraising campaign that raised more than US$10 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Talia・s idea was brilliantly simple: she asked kids across the US to trick or treat on Halloween for coins, which were then donated to hurricane relief.
She was 12 years old when she launched her own non-profit organization, RandomKid, which encourages kids around the world to come up with novel ideas to raise money for worthy causes: helping the homeless in the US, installing water pumps in Africa, building schools in rural Cambodia.

At 13, the bubbly and unreservedly sincere kid from Iowa was tipped by no less a figure than two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nichols D Kristof as a future President of the United States. Late last year, she was honored in New York by the World of Children organization, receiving a sort of Nobel Prize for kids.

Talia, now 14, was recently in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the official opening of a school funded by her organization. She told power・s Kevin Doyle about the power of youth, thinking creatively about solving global problems and what inspires a random group of kids to try and change the world.

In 2005 you started a campaign that raised more than $10 million to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, RandomKid has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the homeless, AIDS and cancer patients, and now you are here in Cambodia for the opening of a school. How did it all start?
When I was 10, I did a project called TLC, which was an acronym for Trick or Treat for the Levee Catastrophe. We got kids to trick or treat on Halloween for money along with candy. Oh my gosh, we were able to raise $10 million dollars! We・ve seen what we could accomplish as kids and I didn・t want to stop there; that・s why I started RandomKid.

RandomKid is a non-profit organization. We help kids to help others. RandomKid is really all about the power of anyone and that you don・t have to give up something to make a difference. I don・t know if you watched CNN Heroes, but it featured a woman who ran in her neighborhood every morning and she happened to pass a homeless shelter. One day she went into the homeless shelter and asked, :Would anyone like to run with me?; One person came, and then every day more and more people came until almost everyone was running with her. And then business people and lawyers came to run with her too. Everyone was running!

And what I thought was interesting was that she wasn・t giving anything up. She
was still doing exactly what she normally did.

Because I Can | Talia Leman | By Kevin Doyle

Your campaigns at RandomKid are not simply about asking for donations. There is also a strong element of social entrepreneurship, such as your project to have schools in the US develop and market their own bottled water products, the profits from which go toward clean water projects in Africa. How important is social entrepreneurship compared to just asking people to donate to a worthy cause?
I think it・s very important. One of the things that RandomKid requires for any of the projects it funds is that you can see a measurable impact; you can pinpoint it on a map so you can see what you got. We visited a school. We saw this school! We know we are raising money for a school in Cambodia! With schools across America bottling their own privately labeled water [to raise funds] to provide [water] pumps in Africa, we took pictures of the [African] kids at the pumps and brought them back. We have videos and pictures of the kids in Cambodia at their school. That・s what kids want to see.

Let・s talk about the $10 million that you raised for Hurricane Katrina relief. Where did that start? Did you just decide one day that you wanted to help?
Well, my dad watched the news so I picked up on a few things there. I picked up on a few things in the newspaper and I heard a lot about it from people. My soccer coach always told me, :Don・t wait for the ball to come to you, go after the ball.; So I said, :All right, I・ll go after the ball V fight for it!; I had this idea, and like any kid does, they go to their parents first with an idea, and my mom was like, :Okay, let・s try to make it happen.;

I think kids have amazing ideas all the time. When they go to their parents and say, :Mom I have this great idea,; and they tell them all about it, and they get so excited, and then their parents say, :Oh that・s neat, go to bed.; I kept going with it and took the steps to make it happen.

What were the steps you took?
Well I sat down with my No 2 pencil and lined notebook paper and wrote :The Plan; at the top and wrote out what I wanted to do. I asked [Midwest supermarket chain] Hy-Vee if they would put advertisements on their grocery bags and they did. They printed 8.5 million stickers and I emailed schools and governors to get them involved, and it really just took off, and the media played a very big role in getting the word out.

Where do you get your fundraising  ideas?
It・s the kids. The kids come to us with the ideas. And we are a place that trusts their ideas and says, :Let・s do it. Let・s get it done.; We brainstorm with them because a lot of kids have the starting idea, and if we just give them a little push, then they・re off to the top.

How does a group of kids get adults to listen to their ideas?
It・s better if you・ve done something first. Because, when a kid says, :I did this,; the adult thinks, :A little kid did that? Why aren・t I doing more?;

Who has been the greatest inspiration?
It depends. I have famous inspiring people and I have family inspiring people. As far as celebrities go, I guess I look up to Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jane Goodall.

In your family?
I have my papa, who is my dad・s dad. He was a Holocaust survivor, so we have very little family on my dad・s side. One of the things that struck me about him is that he always offers to pay the bill. Whenever we are out together he says, :Leave it to me to pay the bill.; And one day I asked him, :Papa, why do you always offer to pay the bill at dinner?; And he said, :Because I can.; And that really struck me as something neat: :Because I can!;

Nick Kristof says he going to vote for you in the 2044 US presidential election. That・s a huge compliment for a young girl, but isn・t that also a lot of pressure?
Of course there・s pressure but that article was really a great leap for us. We・ve gotten so much media since then. It・s a little bit of pressure because of the website we want to get up. But we are just taking it in and moving as quickly and calmly as possible.

Where do you see yourself in say 10 or 15 years time?
College! And being president would be nice! I・m not really sure where I want to go yet. I think definitely to a point of being able to help. Not necessarily a point of power, but a point of being able to help someone.

This [Cambodia] trip has made me so much more passionate about what I am doing. I was talking to the other kids and they also felt so much more passionate. Seeing that we made an impact, that we did this [open a school in Cambodia]. The people of Cambodia are so grateful K they are beautiful people. Their smiles are gorgeous.

This is your first trip outside the US. So how is the rest of the world?
I like it. Very nice.