Living on One Dollar: The Promise of Good Stories

By Charles Tsai

"Why do you focus on youth?" is a question I get asked from time to time about my work with social entrepreneurs. I was even asked this question by a freshman at UCLA during my recent lecture there on The Green Generation, which showcased countless examples of young people around the world developing their own solutions to sustainability. Perhaps even youth doubt their own abilities to contribute meaningful change?

In my response, I tend to mention the creativity, passion and idealism of young people I've worked with. But another reason became more clear in recent days in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I'm here with two students from Claremont McKenna College, Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, founders of the project, Living on One Dollar. They were nominated by Ashoka to speak at TEDxBuenosAires, the largest TEDx event in the world.

In front of 1,300 people, Chris and Zach -- the youngest speakers -- told of how they spent two months in 2010 living in Guatemala on a dollar a day and researched the financial lives of the extreme poor. They brought along two other friends, Sean Leonard and Ryan Christoffersen to document the experience and create weekly videos to distribute through their website and YouTube channel.

They hoped that their own experience of living among the extreme poor and under similar conditions could bring the issue of global poverty closer to their peers -- other American youth.

The gamble paid off. Their first video caught the attention of YouTube and was featured on its homepage, resulting in more than 400,000 views in one day.

Since coming back, they've been focused on putting together their documentary (and going to school). TEDxBuenosAires marks the first time they are presenting their full story as well as their two month research to a public audience.

As an advisor to their project, I came along to help them prepare their talk. Our hope was that it can be told well (and we'd get a good recording of it) and that their story doesn't get eclipsed by the Argentinean speakers.

Little did we expect the media frenzy that was to follow.

Argentina's main national newspaper, Clarin, published a lengthy feature on their project the morning of the event. After the talk, they were immediately surrounded by reporters wanting to interview them for radio, TV, and webcasts. Chris and Zach fielded each interview, sometimes live and sometimes in Spanish, until they became mentally exhausted. That night, we channel surfed in order to catch their various TV appearances.

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