By Sonia Toledo, Founder, Dignity of Children
21st century skills develop in children the capacity to have fulfilling lives and careers. To care about the world and the people around them. To find what inspires them and use it as motivation to chase their dreams and challenge the status quo.
In addition to the four C’s of 21st century skills—critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity—perseverance is crucial to children’s personal, academic, and pre-professional development. Teaching children how to be resilient and push back against boundaries, limitations, and negative thinking is part of our duty as educators.
This month, I spoke with Ron Livingston, entrepreneur and creator of HelpChipIn, about the progression of his dream which has been a decade in the making.
Read on to find out what keeps him motivated and committed to his goal, and what he’d like youth to learn from his story.
HelpChipIn is a digital platform where people can buy vouchers for services—like they do on Groupon—and part of what they pay goes to a nonprofit of their choice. What a great idea! Can you tell me a little bit about how it started?
Sure. At the time when I had the idea for HelpChipIn, I was a restaurant manager. I’d be working until 11:30 every night and I knew it wasn’t the life for me. What I wanted to do was help people give back.
So, I had this idea, but no tech background or nonprofit background. Like zero. I didn’t grow up in the internet generation, either. I didn’t have a laptop growing up, I didn’t have a computer in the house. I just had an idea, and I thought, it can’t be that hard to build a website.
So, I built one. And it was a really, really terrible website. I showed it to some people, and they told me that no way could I use it. And my feelings were hurt. But I had to keep going, because I knew I didn’t want to stay working where I was.
Did you ask for help? Did you take classes?
I did ask for help, and I started taking classes. But that was before internet businesses were really a thing, and the teachers didn’t really get what I was trying to do. When I tried to explain it to them, they looked at me like I was crazy. But I also didn’t know how to explain it properly. I knew it was a good idea, I just didn’t have the words to explain it yet.
I did a lot of research and eventually I learned the language that I needed to use to describe what I was trying to build, and then I figured out how to build it.
How much of what you’re building has evolved from working with other people? How important is collaboration?
Collaboration is so important. When I started working at the Center for Social Innovation here in New York City, just being around people who were working on other creative ideas was helpful. Just to see people being collaborative, being creative, was encouraging. I would tell people about the idea and they’d say, yeah, I could see that working. And it helped a lot.
To make HelpChipIn happen, you had to learn about business, you had to learn about technology, and you probably had to learn a lot about how nonprofits work.
Yeah. I just started connecting with nonprofit leaders to talk and to learn about how nonprofits function and how they make money—what kinds of programs they participate in and why, what they go through to raise funds, things like that—because I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them.
What’s kept you going for 10 years?
What’s kept me going is, I don’t want to ever go back to managing a restaurant again. And I don’t want to work for somebody else. I want to be known as a person who helps a lot of nonprofits and does it in an innovative way.
Where do you think this desire came from?
I grew up in the foster home system of southern New Jersey, which is pretty intense. I needed good people in my life, and I always depended on the kindness of strangers. I want to make the kindness of strangers easier to activate. There are lots of people who want to help out, but it’s difficult sometimes to know how. I want to make it easier for them.
I think what you’re doing is amazing. It sounds really hard.
Yeah, it’s not easy but it’s worth it at the end—getting from the point where I couldn’t even build a comprehensible website, to becoming a big part of the social impact community.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to do something similar to what you’re doing?
Yes. The number one thing you have to do is get up, go out there, and start failing forward right away.
You have to be prepared to look stupid. Learn from everyone. You can’t be scared to look like a student. A lot of people are afraid to fail and a lot of people are very afraid of not getting a perfect score, so they stick to their lane. You can’t get anywhere doing that.
Be confident about what you know, and also be confident in the fact that every single person who ever did anything failed first. No one is walking into the game as an expert. Not one single person. You become an expert through learning, and the best way to learn is through failure. The master has failed more times than the novice has even tried.
Project-based learning programs create environments where children can develop and naturally practice leadership, innovation, and 21st century skills and leadership. Dignity of Children’s all-new platform, IDEAS Empowered by Youth, guides youth practitioners step-by-step through the implementation of successful PBL.
Turn project-based learning theory into practice and create a 21st century learning philosophy in your classroom or youth program at your own pace, on your own time. Website coming soon!