Philanthropy’s Child Prodigy

Talia Leman came up with the basis for RandomKid, an organization that enables children to solve problems across the globe, when she was only 10 years old. Eight years later, she’s one of the world’s most effective philanthropists.

03.06.12 4:57 PM ET

At 10 years old, Talia Leman already had the business acumen of a self-made billionaire. After being struck by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she decided to help the storm’s victims by trick-or-treating for coins instead of candy during Halloween—but coins from one kid wouldn’t be enough. She realized that by harnessing the fundraising power of kids across the country, she’d raise more than she could on her own. At that moment, the basis for RandomKid was born. With the help of her parents, Leman mobilized a national network of concerned kids ultimately raising $10 million for hurricane relief almost overnight, putting them in the same league as some of the country’s biggest corporations.

Seven years later, Leman is the CEO and Founder of RandomKid, a nonprofit based on the fundraising power of children, having raised more than $11 million for different philanthropic projects across the globe. The objective of RandomKid is to give children the seed money and resources to turn their fundraising ideas into reality. From clean drinking water to building a school in Cambodia, 90 percent of the money RandomKid raises goes toward their projects, while 10 percent is reinvested in a seed pool devoted to developing more ideas from more random kids around the world. Leman, who just reached voting age, describes her organization’s process as microloaning with huge return–between 500 and 1,000 percent.

“I love the business side of things … that’s my favorite part,” she says. To hear her speak is to hear that passion combined with the heart of a do-gooder and the simplicity of a child.

In a short seven years RandomKid has worked with more than 12 million children from 20 countries on projects large and small. Leman corresponds with many of them herself throughout her day, sometimes during a passing period in school.

She truly incorporates equality and diversity into her business model. She avoids the terms “donor” and “recipient” as she believes they are in a mutually beneficial relationship. Within that equality, she promotes “bold diversity,” which she describes as inviting people who are truly different from one another to work together.

Still a humble high-school junior, Leman says her organization’s principles work because she’s open to the unexpected, which she believes, leads to true innovation. She uses the tools and her natural understanding of business to bring her projects to scale and show a return on investment or, as she would describe it, “pinpointable.”

“I think innovation is just problem solving really,” she says. “Something like Facebook, it changed the world because it was innovative, but the creators were just solving a problem. That’s what RandomKid does and that’s what kids are doing all the time. They see problems and they address them. You may not know it, but kids are innovating all the time.”