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Leaders Under 30

Being an intern at washingtonpost.com, where I often help out with the On Leadership site, means that leadership is all I get to think about some days. And as a 22-year-old college student, what naturally interests me most are young leaders -- talented individuals of my generation who are already showing qualities of a great leader.

Here are some interesting links about five people who have caught my attention and whose stories I find inspirational:

1. Mark Zuckerberg (23), CEO of Facebook

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard University. What began as a campus networking website is now one of the most popular networking tools on the Internet. He may be a multi-millionaire CEO of a major company, but when Leslie Stahl asked him last year on 60 Minutes: "Have you changed your lifestyle?" Zuckerberg laughed and answered, "No, I'm not buying really expensive clothes. I have a little, like one bedroom apartment with a mattress on the floor."

2. Spc. Monica Lin Brown (20), Second woman to receive valor award since WWII

On March 21, 2008, Monica Lin Brown became the second female soldier since World War II to receive the Silver Star (presented to her by former-Vice President Dick Cheney), the nation's third-highest medal for valor. In April 2007, Specialist Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers by running through insurgent gunfire and using her body to shield wounded comrades. In a recent interview with Katie Couric, Brown discussed the difficulties of fighting on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

3. Jon Favreau (27), Barack Obama's Speechwriter

The man behind Barack Obama's eloquent, powerful words is Jon Favreau. After graduating as valedictorian from College of the Holy Cross, Favreau worked for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, during which he first met Barack Obama. Today, he is the Director of Speechwriting at the White House, making him the second youngest person ever to hold that position. His most recent assignment was of course, President Obama's inaugural speech, which he drafted at a Starbucks in Washington, DC. Esquire magazine recently voted Favreau one of the "Best and Brightest of 2008."

4. Kaylee Marie Radzyminski (16), Founder of "Tunes 4 the Troops"

Kaylee Marie, a high school junior from Cleveland, Tennessee, started a CD and DVD collection campaign called "Tunes 4 the Troops" for U.S. soldiers stationed overseas. She was inspired by the military personnel she met at a U.S. Naval Sea Cadet camp when she was 14, who told her one of the things they missed most was entertainment. By 2008, her project shipped more than 200,000 CDs and DVDs to soldiers overseas. She was named one of America's top 10 youth volunteers in May 2008 at a ceremony at U.S. Chamber of Commerce, receiving a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

5. Luke Ravenstahl (29), Current Mayor of Pittsburgh

At age 26, Luke Ravenstahl became the youngest mayor in Pittsburgh's history, not to mention one of the youngest mayors of a major city in American history. After graduating from Washington and Jefferson College, Ravenstahl ran for a seat on the Pittsburgh City Council at the age of 23.

What young people inspire you? Let us know.

By MJ Lee  |  February 18, 2009; 2:04 PM ET  | Category:  Young leaders Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Two obstacles seem to block young people from serving in leadership here in DC: institutional complexity (the inevitable learning curve) and veteran leaders (the stakeholders in the status quo).

There will inevitably be a lot to learn in a city with agencies and institutions as old as DC's. History has generated many protocols and and facts that a DC leader must master. As a result years of "homework" lie in front of any young person who aspires to civil leadership. (Political appointment and elections are another matter because the basis for promotion is often work done outside of DC.)

Second and more frustrating is the obstacle that mature leaders pose who are entrenched in the status quo. I wonder if my elders don't sometimes perpetuate the culture of "patience before promotion" because that is the basis for their current standing. How much do they defend the rulebook just because they're ahead in the game?

It is a rare miracle when mature leaders *proactively* pass responsibility to a younger person. I for one hope to be both the beneficiary and the benefactor of this trust many times in my career.

Posted by: LCY1 | February 25, 2009 9:57 AM

Good afternoon,

while at lunch i decided to check in on washpost.com to check out the lastest news and the first article that grabbed my attention imediately was this one! This is the problem, Alot of the older generation can not see what young people are doing. They are rapped up in all the negative behaviors we do and not the positive. With all the economic problems right now, its nice to see people succeeding. As a 26 year old who had his own company, it motivates me to see other young adults progressing and achieving great things at a young age. Its facinating. One gentlement mention that facebook had been conceptually stolen, (HELLO you missed the point of the article.) The article was about individuals under 30 creating an idea and changing peoples lives.

Stop always trying to down us and give us some create and support! we are young energeitc and thriving make something of ourselves. In fact hopefully you will see my name up there shortly. I agree with the writer!! keep up the good work!
-Carlos

Posted by: clacosta | February 20, 2009 2:12 PM

Good afternoon,

while at lunch i decided to check in on washpost.com to check out the lastest news and the first article that grabbed my attention imediately was this one! This is the problem, Alot of the older generation can not see what young people are doing. They are rapped up in all the negative behaviors we do and not the positive. With all the economic problems right now, its nice to see people succeeding. As a 26 year old who had his own company, it motivates me to see other young adults progressing and achieving great things at a young age. Its facinating. One gentlement mention that facebook had been conceptually stolen, (HELLO you missed the point of the article.) The article was about individuals under 30 creating an idea and changing peoples lives.

Stop always trying to down us and give us some create and support! we are young energeitc and thriving make something of ourselves. In fact hopefully you will see my name up there shortly. I agree with the writer!! keep up the good work!
-Carlos

Posted by: clacosta | February 20, 2009 2:11 PM

I think the whole idea of a few (mostly famous) wunderkids is a phony media device used to extend our celebrity culture.

There are many, many wodnerful emerging leaders doing great work around the world who have not won the fame sweepstakes game. Just becasue they have not come to the attention of national or global audiences does not mean they are not doing great things, perhaps in a quiet way.

Also, many people in their 20's are exhibiting great "followership" skills as they prepare to be great leaders later in life. In many fields it is difficult to accumulate credentials or enough experience to be a leader while you are still in your 20's.

In the fields of religous service and social work it is wise to remember the idea of Mother Theresa who said: "There are no great things, only small things with great love." I am in my 50's and continue to be exhilirated by the commitment, energy, and leadership of twenty-somethings. Many of these people ARE celebrities, but only to the people they serve.

Posted by: outragex | February 20, 2009 12:35 PM

@herzliebster

"Wunderkinds" is an anglicism. It's not illiterate to modify a loanword.

Posted by: Packherd | February 20, 2009 11:52 AM

To have such an inspiring group youth share recognition with a dubious character like Mark Zuckerberg is shameful. Persistent questions remain about whether the Facebook concept is stolen intellectual property (or that credit at least deserved to be shared), and decisions he has made at the helm of CEO (the disastrous Beacon and the current change in Terms of Service controversy) really put into question whether he is the wunderkind that people claim him to be. There is a reason he sleeps on the floor of his apartment -- He's saving his millions for the legal challenges he inevitably will face as he continues to make such short-sighted choices.

Posted by: gumbrinus | February 20, 2009 11:34 AM

The plural of "wunderkind" is "wunderkinder." Or if that feels weird, then don't use "wunderkind" in the plural. But "wunderkinds" is illiterate.

Posted by: herzliebster | February 20, 2009 11:11 AM

Why wasn't my comment allowed? I submitted it at 8am for review. It's a great story about a young leader. If you've got to take the links out, fine, but please at least post the story about Soeren! Thanks!

Posted by: ryaneades | February 20, 2009 10:21 AM

I don't know about Mr. Zuckenberg. Facebook has been, even back to it's 'disputed' inception, an ethically challenged company. One ethical misstep after another. And those missteps are ethical no-brainers to anyone who has even a modicum of moral sense. I actually am quite apprehensive about what this company might do if it gets even more ubiquitous in our online lives.

Posted by: aardman | February 20, 2009 9:42 AM

If Zuckerberg is so smart, why did he think he could steal his clients intellectual rights without backlash?

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | February 20, 2009 8:42 AM

MJ, Thanks for the interesting list. Though old, I'm no less inspired by today's young people, who ought to be dubbed the Smartest Generation, imo, for knowing more about everything, it seems, than any generation before you.

My own twenty-something son and daughter-in-law are my personal exhibits A. After earning a degree in Russian, she's pursuing a new dream of working as a marine biologist. Volunteering at a public aquarium, she's been advised not to go for another degree as planned, but to work her way up, directly, with her favorite critters, cephalopods - squids and octopuses.

Though formal education is excellent, it's inspiring to learn it's still possible to begin at the bottom and pursue a dream job.

My son took the traditional route. Though he "hated" homework, he always loved learning so earned a double-degree at his first choice university, a BSEE and BS in computer science and Russian, enabling him to obtain his dream job as an engineer at Apple.

One thing he does is help keep their stuff from being hacked, for which he qualified, as you might guess from long being a "poor but honest" leisure-time hacker. He was one of the guys who finally succeeded at hacking into the Wii, for which deed, he's been invited to speak around the world, expenses paid. He's circled the globe, an amazing feat for a twenty-something, even if I, his proud mom, say so.

BTW, I apologize for my generation messing up big time with the economy and causing the worst recession of our lives. With your help, I've no doubt the situation will soon enough right itself, giving you all the opportunities you deserve.

Posted by: jhbyer | February 20, 2009 6:37 AM

MJ,

Thank you so much for this article. As a senior in college, it can be daunting to think about all of the challenges that face our generation. Seeing that there are young people out there making real changes in the world is both reassuring and inspiring. Keep the good stories coming!

Posted by: kenneyld | February 19, 2009 8:02 PM

Hello.

Working in the NGO, tech, and governmental fields, I must agree with the familiar additions of Mr. Zuckerburg, Mr. Favreau, and Ms. Radzyminski, not to mention new faces (for me) Ms. Brown and Mr. Ravenstahl.

I'd also like to point you to another special young leader, Kjerstin Erickson. Ms. Erickson founded FORGE at the age of 20. FORGE is an NGO serving over 70,000 Congolese, Sudanese, Rwandan, Burundian, and Angolan refugees in Southern Africa. In the five years since its founding FORGE has seen annual budget increases of around 50% and growth from its flagship 5 projects to its current number of 23.

In addition to FORGE, Ms. Erickson is known as a leader in the push for non-profit transparency, as chronicled on Jeffrey Skoll's The Social Edge and Sean Stannard-Stockton's Tactical Philanthropy. She also is respected as one of the foremost female Social Entrepreneurs, a sector with a decidedly louder male voice.

Please consider Ms. Erickson for this list. More infomation can be found at www.FORGEnow.org and www.socialedge.org/blogs/forging-ahead.

Thank you,

Nick Talarico
President
FORGE

Posted by: ntalarico1 | February 19, 2009 2:57 PM

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