I'm writing after four days at the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit, the youth leadership conference of Invisible Children. It is hard to describe the amount of concentrated purity and light that filled the auditorium during the final session last night. Suffice it to say that I'm infused with so much residual passion and energy that I'm writing this from the ceiling of my hotel room, where I've been floating for the last 12 hours.
I've made no secret about my admiration and support for Invisible Children, not despite of but because of their willingness to embrace creative, nontraditional, and sometimes plain wacky methods to illustrate the radical idea that we each can make change in the world, and so we each should.
Occasionally when I talk to people about my relationship with Invisible Children there's a pause from the other person and then a veiled criticism: "Oh, yeah, wow they try some different things. That must be interesting." I push the bait aside and rush right into the breach. The fact is, I say, that innovation by definition looks different from the norm, and aren't we filled with gratitude for the innovators among us for showing us a better way? When this comment is lost on the other person I know I can move on in search of more inspired conversation.
In any case, because of what I do I attend a lot of nonprofit events, and while there are better ones and weaker ones, many events feel like they were designed by someone who assumes the audience understands and cares. What I love about Invisible Children is that they turn this around – they show you why they themselves understand and care, and then they create something inspired and joyful and poignant that invites you into a deeper understanding. In other words, they don't assume you get it. They assume you don't – but also, importantly, assume you will if you are just shown why.
Their conference had some speeches and break-out sessions like all conferences. In fact, their "traditional" content was some of the best I've ever seen, including the speech from Samantha Power, newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pictured above. But the Fourth Estate also had dance and musical performances and dozens of incredibly well-done movies and choreography and audience interaction. I felt engaged and part of the event: a participant, not an attendee. The Fourth Estate was inspiring and engaging and emotional, and more than anything, fun. When was the last time you went to a conference that you described as "fun"?
Reverend John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame University, said in his inaugural address, "If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?"
The fact is that all of us are trying to create change, and change by definition means DIFFERENT. It is hard to cure cancer, create literacy, build schools, fight injustice, reclaim green space, or [insert your cause here] by doing the same things that everyone else does.
The next time you are planning an event or program or initiative and you hear people around you telling you "That's not the way we're supposed to do it," keep pushing, because you might be on to something groundbreaking. Invisible Children is not afraid to be different, and that more than anything is the reason that they are moving the needle of change. More, please!