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Joel John Roberts Headshot

The Next Generation of Charity Execs Are Social Entrepreneurs

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I sat in my chair all day, riveted, listening to these idealistic, technologically savvy leaders of companies and NGOs describe how they are literally changing this world. The speakers were this country's next generation of executives, influenced by role models like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Bono, creating life changing products of charity that are altering history.

If you combine TED (the innovative gathering that highlights technology, entertainment and design) with CES (Consumer Electronics Show), and a group of pioneering charity executives, then you would have been sitting with me last week at the Ideation Conference, a congregation of innovators from around the country who worship the idea that new technologies can change our world.

There was the guy who founded an international human rights organization that battles the scourge of sex slavery among children through the power of social media. He named the agency Love146 after the number tagged onto a little girl being sold for sex in Asia. How can your heart not break listening to her story?

Or the founder of an Obama-esque social movement that mobilizes young people to stop the reprehensible act of an African nation -- placing child soldiers on its war's front line as human shields, armed with just a whistle. Their supporters are called whistle-blowers.

I was blown away by the entrepreneurs, who could be hocking the next alternative to iPads or hybrid vehicles, but instead are determined to sell technology that will change the world.

There was the group that designed an amazing Madison Avenue marketing campaign that sells a simple, almost old-school technology -- a water well that provides African communities clean water.

And the guy who convinced Walmart to sell chewing gum and mints where 50 percent of the profits go to charities that heal, save, house and feed hurting or homeless people in this world. Or TOMS Shoes, who for every purchase donates an additional pair of shoes to a child in need.

So amazing to see simple technology provide life-changing, history-making transformation in this complicated world. A number, a whistle, a well. A cool pair of shoes. Chewing gum and breath mints.

When it was my turn to share at Ideation, I shared about an old technology that sought to house homeless children.

Decades ago, when average Americans were determined to be part of a world-changing movement, they picked up their pen every month and wrote a few numbers on a paper bank check. They were supporting a child from a "third world" country whose image flickered on a television commercial. That was that generation's technology for changing the world.

Today's generation of charity supporters and whistle-blowers would be too jaded to blindly mail a check to a nonprofit just because of a picture of a hungry child. But it worked back then. For charities. And even for me.

The first years of my life, I lived in an Asian orphanage, sponsored by ChildFund International (formerly Christian Children's Fund), a large charity that pitched the idea of monthly sponsorships for impoverished homeless orphans, like me.

A family, here in America, found me at that orphanage and took me into their familial tribe as one of their own. This act of charity altered my life. Dramatically.

I was transformed from a homeless, impoverished child into an entrenched American, privileged enough to lead an agency that is seeking to transform charity.

All because of simple technology, innovative marketing and transformation -- and heart-felt values of this generation's charity leaders, as well.

I think we are in good hands.