Three decades ago, on a hot summer afternoon at a camp in Lagos, Nigeria, a stranger from Wisconsin befriended a young African boy. This nine-year-old boy, like so many other children in Africa, had never known the comfort and security of owning a pair of shoes. This is the story of how that one gift not only transformed a life, but became a catalyst for an organization that provides “Shoes of Hope” for millions of needy children around the world.
i[x] What was your life like as a child and teen growing up in Lagos, Nigeria?
MO I lived in a 2-bedroom home with 7 siblings, my parents and several other family members. I had no bed of my own and slept on the floor. Like most kids growing up in West Africa my family lived on less than a dollar a day. I would pray every day for God to give me at least one meal. Maybe not breakfast or lunch, but please let me eat dinner. As a child, I took on chores to help the family earn money, so I grew up fast.
i[x] You received your first pair of shoes when you were nine years old. Can you tell us how you received those?
MO One of the jobs I had as a child was selling water to athletes at a local park. Many people in the United States take the convenience of water for granted, but I would walk miles just to get the water and then I would take it to the park every day and sell it to help make money for my family. One day when I was out at the park with my water, a group of missionaries were there and had basketballs with them. At that time, the only thing we knew to do with a ball was to kick it, but they were teaching us how to shoot into a hoop. They decided to have a shooting contest amongst some of the kids and luckily I was chosen to compete. I ended up winning the contest and they presented me with a pair of shoes as the prize. Winning a pair of shoes to us was like winning a car. I was so excited and wanted to immediately run home and show my family. I ran home so fast that I forgot my bucket of water at the park. As soon as I got home, the first thing my mom asked about was where my bucket of water was so I had to run back and get it, but when I got back and showed her my shoes, she was so happy for me.
i[x] After you received your shoes, you were inspired to play basketball and eventually landed a full basketball scholarship to attend the University of North Dakota-Lake Region. How did you feel knowing you were going to get the chance to continue playing basketball while earning a college education in the United States?
MO Before I left the park that day, one missionary from Wisconsin stopped me and told me “Just because all you see around you is poverty, it doesn’t mean the One who created you forgot about you. Dream big.” That’s when I began a journey to discover something different that I was good at doing. I would go to the basketball court all of the time, especially when things got tough around my home. I started to love the game and dreamed of playing in the U.S. I was lucky enough to have a coach who connected me to the states and ended up receiving five scholarship offers and decided to accept the offer to be a student-athlete at the University of North Dakota-Lake Region. It was a dream come true to be the first in my family to attend college and get out of the situation I was in.
i[x] What was it like the first time you set foot in North Dakota?
MO At first, I didn’t know the difference between North Dakota and North Carolina. My family couldn’t afford for me to get a plane ticket so my mom had to sell mostly everything she had for the $1,300 flight, which felt like a million dollars to us. When I first got to North Dakota, I thought I had done something wrong because it was so cold, but the people in North Dakota ended up being some of the warmest and most caring people.
i[x] Briefly tell us about life for you immediately after graduation.
MO After two years at North Dakota-Lake Region, I transferred to Concordia College where I finished up my Bachelor’s degree and then I received my Master’s from North Dakota State University. Upon graduation, I accepted a position at a technology firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. My wife, whom I met in North Dakota, and I had a newborn so we were excited about the opportunity to raise our child in Charlotte.
i[x] Despite your success in the business world, you never forgot your roots in Africa and the boys and girls who were living in poverty, so you decided to leave your position as an executive to start Samaritan’s Feet. Can you describe what led to the creation of Samaritan’s Feet?
MO On a trip back home to Africa to bury my father after he had passed away, I visited the house that I grew up in and was so overwhelmed with emotions that I began to cry. To clear my head, I decided to walk across the street to visit the park where I had sold water as a child. When I got there, I saw kids who were just like me: without any purpose or shoes. That’s when I began to think about what it would be like if I could come back and give them hope and start teaching sports and provide them with shoes. That’s where my dream began.
i[x] How hard was it as a family man to leave a comfortably paying job and start an organization with an uncertain future?
MO When I returned to the states, I knew I was called to something bigger, but I was comfortable in my own world with my job and family. Everything was going well in life, but my heart kept calling and I knew something had to be done. I also knew that starting an organization would take a lot of money, so my wife and I prayed over the decision. It took five years before I finally answered the call to begin Samaritan’s Feet.
i[x] What is Samaritan’s Feet and what is its purpose?
MO Samaritan’s Feet is not just a non-profit, nor just a humanitarian aid organization – but a community of more than 70,000 volunteers who have joined together to make a difference in the lives of children in need in every corner of the world. Our goal is to put a pair of shoes on ten million kids. Nearly 300 million people go without shoes each day and millions are plagued with foot-borne illnesses that may be preventable by simple protection – shoes. Through this simple act of humility and servant-leadership, our team members and volunteers are expressing love, compassion, and a message that brings hope.
i[x] Can you tell us a little about the basketball game in 2008 at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) when then head coach Ron Hunter (currently head coach at Georgia State University) coached a game without shoes and how that impacted Samaritan’s Feet?
MO In late 2007, I wanted to expand the reach of Samaritan’s Feet and I was introduced to Ron Hunter. After we met, he agreed to coach a game without any shoes on and he also pledged to help raise 40,000 shoes. He ended up getting 110,000 shoes and it was just a magical moment for Samaritan’s Feet. The success of that night led us to partnerships with other NCAA teams, the NBA and the NFL, among others. Steve Smith of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers is an endorser and I even got a chance to make an appearance on NBA on TNT. We’ve also created a sister organization which builds schools in international communities. To this date, we’ve engaged over 80,000 volunteers.
i[x] How many children do you estimate you’ve impacted since starting Samaritan’s Feet?
MO So far, we’ve helped close to five million children. It’s hard to know the full reach, because shoe companies have now started to get involved as they have taken notice that shoes are a major need for underprivileged children.
i[x] What is the best way for our readers to get involved with Samaritan’s Feet?
MO They can start by visiting www.samaritansfeet.org to find events near them and sign up as volunteers. Or if they would rather donate, there is a way for them to donate online. One particular event we participate in every year is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service which impacts 10,000 people in about 30 cities.
i[x] Throughout your journey in life, who has made the most impact on you? Who inspires you?
MO My mother is my biggest source of inspiration. I remember her telling me as a child that “the reason the sky is so high, is so that poor boys like you can dream high.” She made me believe that I could do anything I wanted. My wife and children are also inspirational as they have sacrificed and shown support throughout this entire journey. One other person who really inspired me is Martin Luther King, Jr. He stood for courage and lived and died for a cause bigger than his. He used his voice to make an impact on others.
i[x] What message do you want to leave with our readers?
MO What’s your singular purpose in life and what are you using your platform to do? Nobody should waste their stage on themselves. I want to leave them with this final thought: “My life, all that I have, all that I am, and all that I have been given, is too valuable to simply be hoarded for my own temporary purposes. I choose to invest. I choose to give. I choose to serve. I choose to make a difference. Let’s leave a legacy.”
Having discussed earlier some of the best college part time jobs, it’s important to note we left one major option off the list: student entrepreneurship. While certainly riskier and more challenging than conventional employment, becoming an entrepreneur not only gives you the opportunity to pick your own field and be your own boss, it provides some invaluable lessons you can’t learn anywhere else.
While most student businesses won’t turn out to be billion dollar conglomerates like Facebook or Under Armor, there are still hefty profits to be had. According to youngmoney.com, a number of Stanford students sold their group “app” projects developed in a software writing class, some for as much as six figures. One of these students, Joachim De Lombaert, earned around $1 million in advertising revenue.
But you don’t have to be tech wiz to cash in on your ideas. At San Diego State university, 21-year-old Kevin Gelfand opened up a smoothie stand on campus to offer an alternative to the warm, chalky, mixing ball water bottle protein shakes he saw his fellow students consuming after workouts. Now, his company Shake Smart is opening its third location in the greater San Diego area, and is projected to earn nearly ¾ of a million dollars. At the University of Washington, Riley Goodman pulled in six figures of profit from his company Strideline. Selling crew socks featuring various city skylines and colorways, Goodman’s products are not only available in numerous Seattle retail stores, but also from the company webpage.
Profits aren’t the only thing to be gained from entrepreneurship. 20-year-old Georgetown student James Li founded REaction Strategy Group and consults non-profit organizations with the aim to improve their donor relations through digital and social media. After redesigning the webpage for Pathways Volunteer Hospice, Li has established himself and his company as professionally credible.
“I think there’s a strong case for the idea that you can learn more spending a summer working at your own start-up than you ever could at an internship,” says Li, who had to present a convincing pitch to his initially weary clients.
After being sold by Li’s proposal, “board members aren’t afraid to give out our web address,” says Pathways’ operations manager. “[It] was one of the [many] ways [Li] helped us.”
So whether your passion is computers, clothes, or helping others, there’s a way to translate your interests into a business idea that can lead to a rewarding experience, as well as a hard-earned paycheck. For more student entrepreneurial success stories, check these articles at Forbes and The Washington Post. For help getting your business idea off the ground, talk to your advisor or a faculty member of your school’s business department.
Kasim Reed understands leadership. After growing up in Atlanta, he attended Westlake High School and later, Howard University. By the age of 18 he had already started two businesses and amazingly, he was just getting started. He earned a law degree and then pursued a career in public service, serving in the Georgia State House and Senate. In 2009, Mr. Reed became Mayor Reed after being elected as the 59th mayor of Atlanta.
i[x]: Were you involved in any programs or associations in high school or college that lead you into politics?
KR: I learned a great deal about leadership as an undergraduate member of Howard University’s Board of Trustees and I created a fundraising program that has contributed more than $10 million to the school’s endowment since its inception. I was appointed as Howard University’s youngest General Trustee in June 2002, and remain a member of the Board.
i[x]: Why did you decide to enter politics?
KR: I decided I wanted to be Mayor of the City of Atlanta when I was 13 years old. When I was growing up, my father often discussed politics at the dinner table. He admired Thurgood Marshall and told me how influential he was in helping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. achieve his dreams through legal action. Those stories inspired me so much that I wrote a book report about Justice Marshall and decided I wanted to be a lawyer and have a career in public service.
i[x]: Why did you want to become Mayor of Atlanta?
KR: Growing up in Atlanta, the spiritual birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, I was surrounded by forceful and influential African-American politicians who made it possible for me to imagine becoming Mayor. I first met my mentor, Ambassador Andrew Young, who is also a former Mayor of Atlanta, as a teenager. We crossed paths again while I was a student trustee at Howard University serving on the board alongside him. During that time, he encouraged me to pursue this goal. Two decades later, Ambassador Young endorsed my candidacy and was with me at my inauguration. i[x] As you know, i[x] promotes financial literacy to youth throughout the state of Georgia. Can you tell us why you think it is important for today’s youth to practice smart money management? KR In order to achieve long-term financial success, our young people have to understand the importance of preparation and investment as well as the simple practice of saving a dollar. When I was about nine or ten years old, I started a business: Kasim’s Lawn Care Service. I canvassed my southwest Atlanta neighborhood with my very own business cards. Soon, I stopped mowing lawns myself and delegated the work by hiring older friends in the neighborhood. In turn, that allowed more time to cultivate new customers and subsequently, earn more money. If you practice smart money management as a youth, chances are you will carry those habits with you into adulthood. Another powerful lesson in money management that our children should understand is how crucial living within your means and staying within your budget can be for long-term gains. This is a lesson that we must all master as people live longer and healthier lives.
i[x]: What is your biggest hope for the youth of Atlanta?
KR: We all have a fundamental obligation to make sure future generations do better than we do. I work hard every single day so that our youth have the resources they need for continued success. I also want a young public-school boy or girl who is 13 years old right now to acquire the skills necessary to possibly become Mayor by the time he or she is 40, as I did. I want every child in this city to have the fundamental skills needed to pursue his or her chosen career path. The long-term vitality of this city is tied to the success of young people.
i[x]: What is the most challenging part of your job?
KR: Being Mayor is a privilege; however, it comes with huge responsibility. I work on about 12-15 different major projects every day that have an enormous impact on the residents of Atlanta.
i[x]: What is the most rewarding part?
KR:I wake up every morning and feel like it is Christmas Day. I love my job. It is far more rewarding than I ever imagined. It’s not an easy job, but working each day to make a positive difference in the lives of our residents and business owners is enormously satisfying.
i[x]: What makes Atlanta such a great city to reside?
KR:That’s easy. I always say that Atlanta’s greatest strength is its people.
i[x]: not only promotes financial literacy, but also an entrepreneurial spirit. You mentioned your lawn care business previously, but I also noticed you started a jewelry business at the age of 16. Can you tell our readers a little about what it took to start this business at such a young age and the obstacles you had to overcome to make it a successful business?
KR: With starting and running any business, you run into obstacles that you must overcome. However, I learned at an early age that in order to be successful, you must work very hard and make sacrifices. I tell young people that they have the advantage of youthful energy and vigor and that they should work hard now because they will never have the same kind of physical capacity they have right now again. I actually paid for a substantial portion of my education at Howard University with the profits from that 14-karat-gold jewelry business. While in college, I also sold Howard-themed boxer shorts and arranged the delivery of student possessions for off-site storage over the summer.
i[x]: Another important piece of the i[x] program is giving back to the local community. Are there any charities or organizations you are involved with and why do you think it’s important to give back to the local community?
KR: While at Howard University, I persuaded fellow students to approve a surcharge of $15 per semester to boost Howard’s endowment and decrease its reliance on federal funds. I believed that students were too comfortable with taking, and we weren’t accustomed to giving back. Throughout the years, money from the “Independence Fund” helped renovate a reading lounge, buy new equipment for the fitness center, and provide $1,000 debit cards to students who came to Howard from schools in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. This fund now holds more than $10 million. I continue to support higher education, especially at Howard University.
i[x]: Did you participate in sports or extracurricular activities in high school?
KR: I played football, basketball and golf.
i[x]: Favorite Atlanta pro sports team?
KR: It’s a tie among the Falcons, Hawks and Braves.
i[x]: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
KR: I enjoy reading, cleaning my house, and spending time with my family and friends.
i[x]: Top 3 artists on your iPod?
KR: Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and Journey.
OMG have you seen these kids featured on the Forbes web site? Gone are the days of lemonade stands, dog walking, paper delivery or lawn-mowing. These kids even make the mighty Bill Gates look as though he started too late in life (he started at 17 with his Microsoft thing you know).
I agree that it’s never too early to start a money-making idea, but if your first idea or two doesn’t work out, don’t get depressed or get disheartened. Lots of business ideas and entrepreneurships start up and fail but with persistence you can certainly make things work out in the end. The important part is to make sure you have a vision, something you -honestly- enjoy doing. Because if you can combine stuff with love with something people want, the money will come easy. Bank on that my friends.