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Behind The Headlines: How Kid President Can Change the World

04/11/2013 12:18 EDT | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 EDT
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Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events. In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

He's pro dance party. Sometimes he naps at his desk. His memos come in the form of paper airplanes and his office is made of cardboard. You could call him a fiscal conservative, but be probably wouldn't know what that is. He's Kid President Robby Novak, and he took office in 2012, at age nine.

When we met Robby a few weeks ago, he was preparing for his visit to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. The Grade 3 student from Henderson, Tennessee, and self-appointed leader of nine year olds everywhere was excited to meet President Barack Obama, but unsure about claiming the Oval Office one day. He said the U.S. presidency might involve "too much paper work."

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Robby is usually up for anything--like the "Harlem Shake" with hip-hop icon M.C. Hammer at We Day Seattle.

When Robby visited the actual president last week he asked Obama what we thought was a brilliant question.

Robby read to Obama from his cue-card, "How can kids and grown-ups work together to change the world?"

Obama said, "The most important thing we can all do is to treat each other with kindness and respect."

He said kids should stand up for bully victims and treat everyone fairly, and, "If you start learning to do that as kids [...] when they grow up they'll be doing the same thing and we'll have a lot fewer problems."

That's great advice. Surely we should all be nice to one another. But it was very much a politicians' response: it answered the question without answering it.

More importantly, it was predicated on the idea that kids must grow up into compassionate adults in order to contribute to society -- no mention of kids working with adults while they're still young.

Kids have boundless energy and big ideas, unhindered by prejudice and unconcerned with adult notions of "impossibility." Adults have resources, specialized skills, and life experience. They're ideal partners, especially in fields where risk-to-benefit ratios would benefit from an equal measure of lofty what-ifs and practical thinking, like medical research or social entrepreneurship.

Obama could have said that every non-profit board of directors should have a youth delegation to attend meetings and share ideas to inform and influence crucial votes. He might have spoken about mentorship opportunities or specialized government research grants for kids under the age of 18. Really.

We could all learn a thing or two from Kid President, and other incredible kids who haven't waited to grow up to change the world. Here are just a few outstanding youth making great strides in diverse sectors.

Medical research

California teen Angela Zhang developed a promising potential cure for cancer -- in her spare time. Outside of her regular high school workload, Zhang created a nanoparticle that attached to a cancer medicine, which in turn attached to tumours. When infrared light dissolves the nanopaticle, the medicine attacks only the cancer cells. In tests, tumours in lab rats almost completely disappeared. Zhang started her research as a freshman and earned a $100,000 scholarship in her senior year, at age 17 .

International Development

Ryan Hreljac, of Kemptville, Ontario, first learned that people were dying for lack of clean water in Grade One. He started raising money to combat the global water crisis and built his first well at a primary school in northern Uganda in 1999 -- at age seven. Ryan's Well Foundation has since constructed more than 740 clean water projects worldwide. Hreljac is now studying international development and political science at the University of King's College in Halifax.

Green engineering

In Malawi, William Kamkwamba built a windmill from spare parts when he was just 14. His only training came from a library book called Using Electricity. The book wasn't even about engineering; Kamkwamba figured that part out on his own. His windmill powered the family home and a simple irrigation system for their crops. Kamkwamba has since spoken around the world, authored a memoir, and built a solar powered water pump for his village's first drinking water system.

Personal finance

For India's street kids, it's tough to accumulate savings. Children might mismanage or lose their funds. Shopkeepers or corrupt police officers might steal from them. The Children's Development Khazana (CDK) is a loan cooperative developed by the Butterflies program for street kids, designed to teach children about finance and empower them to leave the streets. Here's the best part: the banks give loans to and are managed by children under the age of 18. Young recruits are trained in accounting; they take deposits and keep legers in branches throughout South Asia.

The CDK is a just one of many brilliant examples of adults and children working closely together to change the world.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are co-founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in 11 cities across North America this year, inspiring more than 160,000 attendees from over 4,000 schools. For more information, visit www.weday.com.

White House Easter Egg Roll Talent