Our 'Junk' Aids African Orphans

Not all entrepreneurs are businesspeople. Nor do all measure success in revenue and profit. And some haven't even yet finished high school.

If you know of Tad Malone at all, it is as the teenager who writes the "Tad's Tab" item at the end of this column. Otherwise he's a standard suburban high school senior: worrying about the SAT and college, playing guitar in a garage band and chasing girls.

Yet, it is precisely the fact that my son Tad is such a regular kid that makes what he has just accomplished so extraordinary -- and offers a glimpse of how America's next generation is already combining the Internet, a consumer culture and an entrepreneurial attitude to create unique new enterprises that are changing the world in tiny, but important ways.

Picture of Tad Malone and African orphans.

Tad, in what has to be one of the most unusual Eagle Scout projects ever, decided to fill a forty-foot shipping container with school supplies and then ship it to Children's Town AIDS orphanage outside Lusaka, Zambia.

The project took two years, but this week, a truck finally hitched up to the container on its trailer and drove it away from Silicon Valley to Long Beach, Calif., to be loaded on a ship for Mozambique -- and from there back on another truck to be driven a thousand miles to Children's Town.

The high points are all there, but the key to this story is in the details. And it is in those details that we can get a unique glimpse of this new generation and the surprisingly optimistic future they may create.

The story of Tad's project actually begins with a four-hour miniseries for PBS called "The New Heroes." The series, which I co-produced, told the stories of "social entrepreneurs" -- individuals who have applied entrepreneurial techniques to non-profit institutions -- around the world.

One of the segments told the story of Moses Zulu and his work to provide a home and school for children who had been left orphaned by Africa's AIDS epidemic. Historically, local African villages had taken care of their orphans; but impact of AIDS had been so extensive and devastating that the villages had been overwhelmed, and thousands -- even millions -- of orphans were now making their way to cities like Lusaka and sinking into drugs, prostitution and crime.

Moses had fought to save at least some of those lost children by creating Children's Town, which had begun literally as a single tent shared by students and volunteer teachers, and grown to a compound of cinderblock classrooms and mud huts for more than 300 students and several score teachers. The story of Moses Zulu and Children's Town was one of those miracles that had inspired global social entrepreneurship movement.

Tad watched that series as a 14-year-old high school freshman … and not long afterwards announced that for his Eagle Scout service project, "I want to do something for Children's Town."

What is important about Tad's statement is the amazing ambition of a kid still two years away from a driver's license wanting to do something on the other side of the world. Eagle projects are supposed to be the most difficult task a boy takes on in childhood -- but usually it consists of restoring a hiking trail, or painting a school building, or re-landscaping a playground. And that's challenge enough when you are kid with no experience dealing with the adult world or managing a team of volunteers.

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