Just out of college in 2003, Jason Russell and his buddies, Loren Poole and Bobby Bailey, decided they’d use their newly acquired film-making talents to go to the Sudan in search of a war. They wanted to document it on film, but that idea came to an abrupt end when they got there and found the war had ended. They decided to stay and hunt for another story and ended up in Gulu, Uganda where they tripped camera-first into the world’s worst case of mass child abuse, abduction, murder, rape, and torture. These three American film-makers stumbled on the horror of a community of children who would hide in tunnels and sewers at night to avoid being abducted into an army of brain-washed child soldiers.
The story of how three young men founded Invisible Children illuminates six great tips for creating a company that is made to give:
1. An amazing story moves hearts, minds and money
Joseph Koney’s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) had been waging war against the Ugandan government and raping and plundering the villages of Northern Uganda for many years before they got there, and, despite the UN being deeply involved, the world at large had no idea this war was being waged on these children. Jason, Loren and Bobby became addicted and engaged in the tragedy because they could see themselves in the faces of these Ugandan children living in fear of their lives. As a result they made a commitment to the children of Gulu to tell their story. These adventurous 20-somethings resemble young rock stars rather than the story-telling leaders of a young army of students for change who are focused on ending the 20 year genocide in Northern Uganda.
2. Use the talents and treasures you already have
They came back to the US, made a short documentary of their discovery and their commitment to end the war. They started touring the US, visiting hundreds of school campuses sharing their story through the documentary, inviting kids of all ages to engage and connect with the plight of the children in Uganda through their story. They gave out their DVD, raising money, awareness and an invitation to the kids on campus to hold parties to share the documentary, becoming part of the story and the solution.
3. Seeing yourself in the story is a powerful motivator
These creative activists have been on the forefront of developing and discovering what Jason calls 4D story-telling for the past five years and, in their unfolding quest to end a war on children in Uganda, they’ve inspired, engaged and empowered millions of high-school and college students to become part of a movement of story-tellers and social activists– and raised millions of dollars in the process.
4. Good intentions are not enough, you’ve got to act on them
“We promised them we’d never stop until it was over,” Jason explains. “And we get up every day focused on one thing: ending the war.” He’s quick to point out that this is not a journey of sadness and bleeding hearts, but, rather, an everyday adventure that bounces you out of bed. “We used to live in a world of self-interest, where you take care of yourself, and not really care about the next person. We’re all connected, and these kids in Gulu are our own. Our generation genuinely cares, and at Invisible Children we care enough to never give up.”
5. No risk, no reward
Jason’s dedication is undeniable and has landed him on the couches of the Oprah and Larry King Live shows. He believes that without risk there’s no reward and, unlike the UN who has a zero risk policy, he’s so passionate about seeing an end to this, and passion means being prepared to die for what you believe in, that he’s not giving up until it’s finished. Invisible Children’s risks have certainly reaped rewards. President Obama signed a bill into law as a result of their advocacy and relief work in Uganda, millions of dollars have funded the support of the Gulu community for education and commerce and the rehabilitation of former child soldiers.
6. Don’t follow the rules and never underestimate the power of simplicity
These champions of social justice are on the front lines of innovating new ways to raise awareness of injustice and are changing lives in the process both here and overseas. Their tireless creativity, well-told stories, their own passion for ending injustice and their joy working with and motivating students has created a powerful movement of millennials. Their model of multi-dimensional story-telling allows you to engage in the issue through a connected campaign of digital media, social events, film and a tiered approach to giving and advocacy that has inspired and motivated many other not-for-profits.