“We went to Africa looking for adventure and we discovered a tragedy where children were being used as weapons.”
The tension between generations in the nonprofit workplace has spurred some Gen X and Yers to start their own nonprofits. Often these young entrepreneurs are inspired at an early age to make a change or help a cause.
This was the case for Invisible Children. In 2003, when Jason Russell, Bobbie Bailey and Laren Poole headed off to Uganda for the first time, Jason was 24, Bobbie was 22 and Laren was 19. After being forever changed by the unfathomable acts of violence and the extreme torture of young children in Uganda, they made an unspoken promise to each other that they would do whatever it takes to see this conflict come to an end.
They returned home and made our first documentary, entitled Invisible Children: Rough Cut. They showed the film to friends and family and asked our friends to join us in spreading awareness about the conflict. They created the nonprofit in 2005 with the goal of ending Africa’s longest running war and restoring northern Uganda to peace and prosperity. And the rest is – as they say – history.
“There was never a point where joining another nonprofit was even an option. We knew the story we found wasn’t being told, so we made it our mission to tell it.”
Today, Jason is 31, Bobbie is 29 and Laren is 26. They are college educated. They are social entrepreneurs. They are Gen X and Yers.
“We are a young, relevant company. We work hard and love what we do – nobody comes through these doors for the wrong reasons and that really shows in the culture. The culture is energetic and fun loving – there are some impromptu dance parties along the way and we embrace that – but at the end of the day we all have our heads down, working long hours and getting it done.”
And they are investing in the younger generations, training them and giving them responsibility within the organization.
“We believe in the power of youth and believe that an army of empowered young people can make waves that will be felt around the world.”
Invisible Children invests in the young people that come to them as interns and roadies. They provide opportunities for youth to tour the Invisible Children documentaries at high schools, colleges and community groups throughout the country. This vibrant and passionate group of individuals has become the face of Invisible Children to thousands of new supporters. They have changed the leadership model by flattening the hierarchical system. Whereas in most organizations, the interns support the staff, at Invisible Children the staff supports the interns.
“We hope to inspire this emerging generation to use their time, talent, and unique voice to change the world.”
It is quite apparent that Invisible Children is a youth movement. For the beginning, they were sustained on donations of $20 or less, most of which came from supporters under the age of eighteen. This is still true today. Invisible Children very successfully engages young donors. Each fall, students around the country fundraise to support the rebuilding of schools in Uganda through their Schools for Schools competition.
Total raised by high school students each year? $1 million dollars.
Invisible Children is an incredible organization started by youth, operated by youth and fundraised for by youth. Are you in your 20’s or 30’s and have started a nonprofit? I want to hear your story.