Women in the World

03.10.12

Talia Leman Harnesses the Power of Kids

The RandomKid.org founder and Iowa teen tells Jill Iscol what she means by ‘the power of anyone.’
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Marc Bryan-Brown

She was an 8th grader in Iowa when Nicholas Kristoff used his op-ed inches to endorse her for president. Now she’s 17 and she hasn’t exactly let him down. Talia Leman is the founder and CEO of a company that engages more than 12 million kids on four continents on issues ranging from education to animal welfare.

It all began with Hurricane Katrina. Talia watched images of destruction on her TV screen and decided to do something. She was going to tap into kid power, she decided, and try and raise one million dollars to help with hurricane relief. It was when she added photos of her little brother in a Darth Vader costume to her website that the effort caught the eye of producers at the Today show. They ran a segment on Talia and what she was trying to do.

“What I did was really an accident,” she joked.

What she did—with the contributions of kids across the country—was raise ten million dollars to send to New Orleans. That put Talia and her kid brigade on the list of the Top Ten biggest contributors to hurricane relief—alongside Fortune 500 companies.

“But these accidents are actually surprises,” she said. “By definition, miracles can only appear in those unexpected places.”

The experience inspired her to create randomkid.org, an organization dedicated to involving kids all over the world in charitable initiatives.

Now, at the ripe old age of 17, Talia finds herself running a company that advances projects all over the world, from reusable water bottles to her newest project, which the teen calls “The Big Return,” and which is still in the pilot stage.

But the message that unites them all, talia said, is simple. To make a difference, “you don’t have to become someone—you already are someone.”