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Leadership 2014: Meet Five Incredible Young Leaders

January 4, 2015

Young people laughing 2014 was a year many of us would like to leave behind, forgetting many of the unfortunate events, large and small, that affected people locally and around the world. Rather than talking about the past, let’s talk about the future and what young people are contributing to making our world a better place.

Young people are showing amazing leadership across a wide spectrum. From a young man who is focused on reducing electronics waste to a young woman who is fighting against the adoption of GMO food to an entrepreneur who’s stormed the apparel world, young people are making things happen, often starting out in their early teens. And they’re not waiting to ask permission from adults, or even necessarily asking for their help.

Let’s get started.

Leslie Dewan Leslie Dewan: CEO, Trans Atomic Power

Named as one of TIME’s top under 30 leaders changing the world, Dewan earned a Ph.D in nuclear engineering before age 30. Her degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mechanical and nuclear). In 2011, she co-founded Transatomic Power in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As CEO, she’s leading the company’s research into the design and development of a molten salt reactor which converts nuclear waste into electric power. Called the Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, it will use liquid fuel composed of primarily spend fuel rods from U.S. light water reactors. According to Dewan, this would contain enough energy to power the United States for some 70 years. Her aim is to have an environmentally-friendly reactor within a decade.

Jason Li Jason Li: Founder and CEO, iReTron

Jason’s deep concern with the disposal of electronics and their environmental impact prompted him to create in his second year of high school. The online company pays cash for hundreds of kinds of electronic devices, from cell phones to laptops to tablets, and then sells or recycles them. His work has taken him to a variety of countries where he’s shared his ideas and concept. Take a moment to watch this two minute promo clip developed by Jason.

The company’s promise explains in detail how iReTron serves its customers. A customer simply enters the device they wish to get rid of, sees what iReTron will pay and then uses a USPS sticker to mail it to the company. Payment is usually made within a week once the item is inspected.

Earlier in 2014 Li appeared on Shark Tank, where he received an investment of $100,000 from sharks Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran. Now studying at the University of Chicago, Jason Li continues to build his business, helping to address the mounting problem of electronics waste.

Amy Paradis Amy Paradis: Bionic Woman

Amy Paradis’ life made a drastic turn on December 26, 2009, when a young man with a suspended licence crashed his parents’ car at 133 km per hour. The Windsor, Nova Scotia, teen was removed by other passengers (there were six in the car). Her injuries made her a paraplegic, and she was told that she’d never walk again.

Enter science and new technological developments which show huge promise for those unable to walk. In 2014, four years after her horrific car accident, Paradis, now 20, stood for the first time with the aid of what’s called an exoskeleton suit. Over the course of a few hours she walked 336 steps.

Amy Paradis promised herself and her family and friends that she would walk one day. No one thought it possible just a year or two ago. Paradis has surprised everyone. And with the aid of the EKSO Bionic Suit (only two in Canada and 75 worldwide), invented in California, she can move forward with her life, in more ways than one.

Rachel Parent Rachel Parent: Advocate against GMO foods

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pro or con GMO (genetically modified organism) foods; what’s outstanding about Rachel Parent is her principled stand on an issue of great importance to her. Parent began her campaign against GMO food at the age of only 12. Her website Kids Right to Know aims to educate young people about health and the need for proper food labelling. Take a moment to read her personal note on her website.

Parent doesn’t engage in mud-slinging or name calling, in contrast to Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary (and former member of CBC’s Dragon’s Den). Instead, Parent is highly articulate, rational and focused on arguing for what she believes. Watch this video clip of her taking on Kevin O’Leary on the former Lang-O’Leary Exchange in 2013. It was one of those rare occasions where O’Leary was eventually silenced. Also watch this one minute clip where she promotes her slug fest with O’Leary.

Mo Bo Mo’s Bows: Founder and CEO

Moziah Bridges may only be 12 years old, but this budding entrepreneur has a highly infectious and enthusiastic personality. Mo’s Bows was founded in 2011 in Memphis with the assistance of his grandmother and her wizardry with a sewing machine. Within a short span, Moziah had sold some 5,000 bow ties, earning the business $90,000.

Each of his designs is named, for example, Reed Bold Gingham. Mo’s Bows are not cheap, both in price and quality. These are upscale bow ties with a healthy niche market.

Bridges appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2013. Rather than offering an investment, Damon John offered to mentor Moziah, arguing that this was the better route instead of taking equity in the business. This contrasted with Kevin O’Leary’s usual approach of wanting royalties, which was the competing offer. Moziah wisely chose Damon John’s offer, one that will undoubtedly reap huge benefits in the coming years.

Bridges’ vision, as he expressed to the Sharks is to complete a line of men’s clothing by the time he reaches twenty years of age and to be enrolled in college.

Aitzaz In Memoriam: He Saved Lives by Giving His

Halfway around the world the scene is vastly different for young people who wish to get an education and improve their economic well-being.

He was only 15 years old. All he wanted to do was go to school that fateful day.

And then he saw the suicide bomber.

Without hesitating, 15 year-old Aitzaz Hasan threw himself on top of the bomber in front of his school’s main gates. The suicide bomber was wearing a vest containing explosives and shrapnel. Hasan later died in the hospital; the bomber was killed immediately. Amazingly only two people were injured.

Aitzaz Hasan’s selfless action that day saved dozens, if not hundreds, from injury or death in Ibrahimzai, a Shite village in northwestern Pakistan.

Moving Forward

Take some time to reflect on these young people and their accomplishments–and personal sacrifice in one instance–portrayed in this beginning of the New Year post.

What particularly inspires you from the stories of these young people?

What topic or issue would you like to explore further for your own leadership growth?

What are you waiting for?

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

– Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.

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