Build My Idea
Ryan Makhani lives in Houston, grew up in the Bay Area (San Jose and Fremont, CA), born in Chicago with parents from Pakistan. He leads BuildMyIdea.org which aims to inspire young people to become innovative leaders.
Why did you aspire and aim to inspire young people?
Young people today have access to incredible tools to make change. Young people care and want to make a difference. Young people have so much hunger for change and so much talent to share with the world. However, many young people fail to recognize the opportunities they have to be able to make difference in the world and live their dreams. I have seen too many bright young people feel shackled by school in pursuit of getting good grades. Instead of experimenting and challenging themselves, many young people are not able to see the beyond the schooling in front of them. I was one those too. Instead of striving for what may be possible and imagining the impossible of what we want to do, we fall into the horrible formula: Good Grades + Good College + Good Job = Success. Young people are capable of incredible things. I have witnessed young people do extraordinary things such as build non-profits, develop businesses or become accomplished artists. Consider Jack Andraka who made a discovered a method to detect early forms of pancreatic cancer at the age of 15. There is Adora Svitak who became an author before becoming a teenager. Then there is 13 year-old entrepreneur Shubham Bhanjee who launched a company to develop low-cost machines to print Braille. What these young people have that the others often don’t is social support. The young people need either a family, friends or people in their lives saying “you can do it”, “why not try it” or “what’s the worst that could happen.”
I also strongly believe that it is at the young age that we should be teaching servant leadership and engaging in service. I imagine a world where every neighbor looks after their neighbor. This means the child from the wealthy family will see how he or she can make a difference for the family struggling next door. After all, what is the point of it all, if it doesn’t end up helping people or the world. The child from the wealthy family is likely to receive the best education and pursue prestigious opportunities from across the world. They may or may not be exposed to real world challenges and experiences. While, all along they could have engaged in development and utilized their resources to innovate and learn more. How amazing would it be for teens to have a servant leadership mindset before going to college? How extraordinary would it be for young people in college to be learning actively to solve a problem they care about? I wish all young people knew they could innovate and make a difference in the world now.
How might parents inspire them to become innovative leaders?
Parents play the most dominant role in helping their children become innovative leaders. Parents must be aware of their own fears and not pass those fears on to their children. The same goes for their dreams, parents must recognize that the world they grew up in is so drastically different than their kids. Parents have to be willing to let their children make mistakes and small failures that their kids could recover from. Parents can help their children utilize their time in a way that helps them grow. Parents may not have the ability to control fully what happens from 8 to 3 at school. But at home, parents can influence what their children do for the remaining 7 hours. Are their kids dreaming, reading, watching TED videos, building their ideas, making robots, creating art, designing games, tutoring, serving or are they just watching mindless television? If parents can help their children to be curious, challenge themselves, be team players and become self-aware of their strengths and vulnerabilities, then their children can grow to be innovative leaders. At the very least, parents can help their children love learning and recognize that so much learning happens outside of school. I love what Jaime Casap tells parents, “Stop asking your kids what they want to be when they grow up and start asking what problem they want to solve.” I often encourage parents to ask their children, “How can you make a difference with your art?”
When is the best time to empower youths to their true potential?
I visited a Montessori school recently where my cousin teaches a joint group of 1-3rd graders. I used to think that middle school was the best age. But after observing her student’s learning, I realized there is no best time. The earlier the better. At BuildMyIdea.org, we focus on 12-18 year olds because this is usually the time where their creativity, imagination and dreaming may be derailed by conforming to society. The teenage years are also a powerful time period for their identity formation. This is the time where they begin to define who they see themselves as. I would like teens to be able to see themselves as innovators and leaders. Imagine a teen who takes initiative, know’s her strengths and is devoted to a cause. Her experience in college will be like no other.
What are your top 3 strategies to achieve this?
The three strategies that I teach are self-awareness, questioning and the BASE model.
Asking the question, “What are my future possibilities?” is liberating. Too many times, we are asked to pick one major, one profession and one field of study. The truth is most of us don’t know what we want until we try it. If we use this question than we open ourselves up to the different paths we may want to take. This is a critical part of self-awareness and deep reflection. It is having young people imagine, then go within and see what gifts they possess. What do they care about? How did certain experiences they have had affect them? What did they gain from their challenging experiences, failures and mistakes? The deeper inquiry aids young people in going within to see who they are, who they want to become and what possibilities excite them. Another way of phrasing “What are your future possibilities?” is “What can you imagine your greatest self doing?”
The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is the most powerful strategy for inquiry, sparking curiosity and deep reflection that I have ever encountered. It was developed by friends Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana at the Right Question Institute and is explained in their book “Make Just One Change.” I have guided many students through the three step process: producing questions, improving questions and prioritizing questions with the young person’s own experience. It has been a powerful exercise for the young people to ask themselves questions about what they truly gained from their struggle or success.
The last strategy is more of a framework that I teach. It is the BASE model. B is for Beliefs, A is for Alignments, S is for Skills and E is for Experiences. Once a person knows what they want, they must examine their beliefs and see if there are any mental blocks they have created for themselves. If one doesn’t believe in themselves and believe they can achieve what they want to achieve, they will never accomplish it. The alignment is about aligning short-term and long-term goals with what matters to the person. The skill is about gaining the transferable abilities from their education. The experience is about seeking the right experiences in regards to what they want. The model helps young people think about learning as a whole and allows informal learning and formal learning to flow in harmony in their journey. Most of all, the BASE model helps young people realize they must be conscious and intentional in their journey.
Who are you working with for 'BuildMyIdea.org'?
For BuildMyIdea.org, my wife Farah has helped me tremendously.John Raymond at Impactlab.org was instrumental helping me identify the “achievement trap” which is young people going after achievements rather than what they want and what matters. Gettingsmart.com also helped me share my ideas with a parent population and encouraged my efforts. At the moment, I am working with organization called DiscoverU and OneJump which work with many schools in Houston to connect young people with summer experiences.
When was it started?
BuildMyIdea.org launched its website on Martin Luther King Day on Janury 20, 2014. The rationale for launching that day is to reimagine the American Dream. MLK stood for leadership, for service and for a dream. He shared a vision of the world where all people could be treated equally and where we would thrive as humanity. Buildmyidea.org aims to inspire, enable and empower young people to be innovative leaders. The leaders would reimagine the American dream to be one of servant leadership and innovation rather than a house and a car.
What kind of activities/programs do you recommend?
There are many great experiences out there for young people to take part in such as robotics camps, debate competitions, maker movements and so many more. The important thing is for young people to be pulled out of their comfort zone and challenged in such a way that they make mistakes. Too much of their experiences look down on making mistakes as opposed to seeing them as milestones to learning. The most critical activities are those that allow self-reflection and self-awareness. The reflecting and going within enables as much leadership as the experience itself. It is absolutely essential that young people begin to recognize their strengths and what comes to them naturally such that they can challenge themselves based on their strengths. The most important thing is to be intentional about what the person wants to gain out of the activity or to challenge themselves to experience something new. The worst thing a young person could do is pick a program or an activity simply because it will build their resume and look good on their college application. This is often what I did in high school and I wish young people would not make the same mistake.
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