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Be a Changemaker

How to Start Something That Matters

Foreword by Bill Drayton



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About The Book

Empower yourself in today’s highly connected, socially conscious world as you learn how to wield your passions, digital tools, and the principles of social entrepreneurship to affect real change in your schools, communities, and beyond.

At age eleven, Jessica Markowitz learned that girls in Rwanda are often not allowed to attend school, and Richards Rwanda took shape.

During his sophomore year of high school, Zach Steinfeld put his love of baking to good use and started the Baking for Breast Cancer Club.

Do you wish you could make a difference in your community or even the world? Are you one of the millions of high school teens with a service-learning requirement? Either way, Be a Changemaker will empower you with the confidence and knowledge you need to affect real change. You’ll find all the tools you need right here—through engaging youth profiles, step-by-step exercises, and practical tips, you can start making a difference today.

This inspiring guide will teach you how to research ideas, build a team, recruit supportive adults, fundraise, host events, work the media, and, most importantly, create lasting positive change. Apply lessons from the business world to problems that need solving and become a savvy activist with valuable skills that will benefit you for a lifetime!


Be a Changemaker | 1 | It’s Your Turn Now
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, in a speech to his supporters in Chicago on February 5, 2008

You’ve heard the saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” I’ve found this to be true more often than one might expect. Sometimes it’s because other people can’t do it. They just don’t have the skills or the tools that you do. Other times they just won’t do it. It is, after all, what you want, and it’s your definition of right.

How many times have you complained about something but done nothing to fix it? Or noticed something and thought, Someone should do something about that? We all have those thoughts sometimes. And it’s okay, because none of us can solve every problem we encounter. But guess what . . . you’re someone. And when you set your mind to it, you absolutely can do something that matters.

Fortunately, there are some exciting changes happening in your world right now. People are realizing that applying the best practices from the business world to the worst problems we face as a society is an effective step toward creating the solutions we need. And, modern-day technology makes it easier for everyone to do, especially young people. You truly have the power—now more than ever before—to be the change that you seek.



Craig Kielburger was flipping through the newspaper in search of comics when he came across the headline, “Battled Child Labour, Boy, 12, Murdered!” Because Craig was also twelve, the words grabbed his attention and he stopped to read the article. He soon learned that the boy, Iqbal Masih from Pakistan, had been sold into slavery at the age of four and chained to a carpet loom for nearly six years. After escaping, Iqbal spoke publicly against the common practice of child labor in his country and others. Many suspected Iqbal’s death was an attempt to silence him and his message.

Craig had never heard of child labor, so later that day he did some research. What he learned shocked him: more than 250 million children were working around the world, many in slave-like conditions. It was more than Craig, growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Ontario, Canada, could even imagine. So he decided to do something about it.

Craig went to school and told his class what he had learned. When he asked if anyone would help him stop child labor, eleven friends raised their hands. Together they embarked on a journey, founding a group called Free the Children. In his book, also called Free the Children, Craig says, “None of us had much experience with social justice work—just a desire to take action.” As you’ll soon see, that desire is enough.

At first, Craig and his friends had a hard time getting anyone to take them seriously. They approached several established charities to ask how they could help, but none of them were interested. What could a group of kids do about such a huge, complex problem? Finally they decided they would have to do it themselves.

After years of hard work and determination, Free the Children has grown and expanded. Now a respected international charity, educational partner, and leader in the field of youth empowerment, the group addresses all kinds of social issues in addition to child labor. Since 1995, Free the Children has provided:

• Medical supplies worth more than $16 million around the world

• Clean water, health care, and sanitation for one million people

• We Day events to celebrate youth activism and volunteerism, attended annually by 160 thousand teens

• Daily education for fifty-five thousand children

• Economic self-sufficiency for thirty thousand women

• Quality activities for millions of young people

• Construction of more than 650 schools and schoolrooms

• Programming and building projects in forty-five countries

So, what can young people do? Anything they set their minds to. And if they can do it, so can you.
Just like Craig (and in no small part thanks to Craig) more and more people—young and old alike—are realizing that young people really can make a big difference in their communities, in their countries, and around the world. It’s called youth empowerment, and many people think it’s the next big movement.

Like other movements before it—civil rights, feminism, and gay rights, to name a few—this new movement is about empowering a group of people whose opinions and abilities have previously been ignored by society. But this time, it’s about empowering the world’s youth—about helping people like you seize the power to make your world be everything you want it to be. And you can be a part of it.

In the past, movements mostly involved people waving signs, participating in marches, and banding together for rallies and protests: actions intended to force the people in power to do things differently. Those are still valuable ways to change the world, but today’s activists have more options. Young people everywhere are rising up and directly creating the changes they want to see in their communities and around the world—right now. They’re applying modern business practices and using powerful new technologies to build brand-new organizations from the ground up. They’re solving the problems they see in the world around them—all by themselves. They are changemakers, and you can be one, too.
In case changing the world into what you want it to be and being part of the youth empowerment movement aren’t enough for you, trying your hand at changemaking has other benefits, too. You’ll learn more about something that interests you, find out more about yourself, have fun with your friends (and make new ones), and solve real problems. Launching a social venture—a project that seeks to fix a social problem—gives you experience being creative yet organized, working with a team, managing your time wisely, and setting goals and taking action on them—all skills that are critical to success in school, on the job, and in life.

Today’s companies—more than ever before—are on the lookout for employees with proven problem-solving abilities, creativity, critical thinking skills, collaboration experience, and communication techniques. After becoming a changemaker, your resumé will practically write itself! Because of that, colleges and universities are looking for applicants who have these kinds of activities, too. Want something to show the college admissions officers—not to mention scholarship selection committees—that you stand out from the other applicants? Changemaking shows off your real-world leadership skills and demonstrates a commitment to community service in a way that short-term volunteer positions can’t.

With all that to gain, what have you got to lose?
In My Experience

If someone had told me when I was a teenager that I could change the world, I think I would have laughed. I was female, at a time when that still limited my choices. I was short. I wasn’t beautiful, wealthy, or connected to anyone with significant power or influence. I knew I wouldn’t go to an Ivy League university. I had never led anything. In fact, I did my best to blend in and avoid being noticed at all costs. Change the world—me? Not likely.

Skip forward several years—okay decades—and I can only pity the girl I was then. That girl never knew I’d have a successful career working at IBM, Microsoft, and Intel—some of the biggest technology corporations in the world—or that I’d help launch a successful startup. She never guessed the satisfaction I’d get from volunteering for organizations whose missions I care about deeply. She couldn’t imagine that I would find my true calling and become a confident leader in the process. And she couldn’t have dreamed I would discover my path to changing the world.

I don’t want you to have to wait that long. I want you to have all of those things—the sooner, the better—because I know you can dream it, and those dreams can come true.
Maybe you think this sounds like something for other people—ones with money, IQ, connections, confidence, free time . . . whatever? Think again. Everyone can be a changemaker! And that includes you. As Craig wrote for Santa Clara University’s Architects of Peace project, “I realize, now, that each of us has the power to be Superman and to help rid the world of its worst evils—poverty, loneliness, and exploitation.”

You already have the ideas, the passion, the energy, and the talent! You will have to learn a few new skills—basic tools that will help you get the job done. And, you’ll have to work hard and do things you’ve never done before. But inside this book, you’ll find all the practical knowledge as well as the encouragement you need to go out and truly make a difference.

Each chapter will introduce you to young people who have already changed the world. You’ll see what they did, why they did it, and how they succeeded—or failed—so you can learn valuable lessons from their experiences. You’ll also gain a whole lot of knowledge and find many resources to help you do it yourself. Plus, you’ll discover some of the many existing organizations dedicated to helping people just like you.

Some of this information might seem a little overwhelming at first, but just take it in small doses if you need to, and work your way through it at your own pace. You don’t even need to read this whole book before you start something that matters! You can read it cover to cover before you begin, or just start whenever you’re ready and use this book as a reference along the way.

It’s true that changing the world—even a small part of it—is rarely easy. You might not end up accomplishing what you set out to do, or it might take longer than you expected. But don’t let that stop you! You can start creating the world you want to live in—today, tomorrow, and beyond—anytime you choose. You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it immediately. Just start something small, and see where it takes you. As Craig says in Free the Children, “It all begins when one person finds the courage to take action.”

You are the changemakers and the change. I’ve seen it, I believe it, and I know it to be true.

Monique Coleman, actress, founder and CEO of, speaking at We Day Seattle on March 27, 2013, attended by the author

About The Author

Photograph by Mary Balmaceda

Laurie Ann Thompson is the coauthor of the Two Truths and a Lie series and author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including the teen how-to Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, a picture book biography about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which was the recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award and was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a CCBC Choice, among other accolades. She lives with her family outside Seattle, and you can visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon Pulse/Beyond Words (September 16, 2014)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781582704647
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® 1130L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"Teens looking to make a difference will find inspiration as well as real-world strategies for realizing their dreams of being the change they want to see in the world."

– Kirkus Reviews

"This book is packed with practical advice and inspiration for anyone who has a yearning to build a better world."

– David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World and columnist for the New York Times

"[Be a Changemaker] is a book that forces readers to not only think realistically but also to think big."

– Booklist

"Socially aware teens are not content to sit idly by and watch the world fail to solve problems. They want to be out there helping and reshaping the world. Savvy librarians will match this book with those teens and get them jumpstarted on their path."


"From discovering potential causes and passions to creating business plans, soliciting donations, and being aware of legal and financial pitfalls, Thompson offers thorough, encouraging advice for the next generation of activists.

– Publishers Weekly

"There’s no time when we most want to change the world than in our youth years. Laurie Ann Thompson speaks clearly to young people who want to make a difference in their surroundings, doing their part to make the world a better place. Thompson explains that no matter how small a good idea may seem, it may be just a tiny seed for something that will grow and affect other people’s lives in a positive way."

– Ana Calabresi, Librarian

Awards and Honors

  • SCBWI Crystal Kite winner
  • Cybils Award Finalist
  • Gelett Burgess Lifestyle Award

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