One day while living in Nairobi, Kenya, Kenton Lee found himself walking to church next to a young girl. He noticed that, despite their lengthy walk, her shoes were far too small for her little, but growing, feet. He felt sorry for her and wondered why such injustice existed. To him, shoes seemed like such an obvious thing; a basic necessity. And yet here, for this child, shoes were once given to her, but that was in a distant past and that same pair no longer sufficed for her present needs.
That formative encounter happened in 2007. After much pondering on the simple notion of “why,” Lee launched ‘Because International’ two years later. It’s first project: The Shoe That Grows – an adjustable show that can grow up to five sizes, sturdy enough to last five years. They come in small and large, so that the two pairs can outfit a child from kindergarten age through the ninth grade.
For over a billion children in extreme poverty throughout the world, this shoe can be life saving. While we think of shoes for comfort, fashion or warmth, children in underdeveloped nations are at high risk for soil-transmitted parasites and diseases. In this sense, shoes are truly a barrier against harm – hazards, both seen and unseen.
Adding to the fascination, Lee has innovated not only the product itself (a shoe that grows), but also with his distribution model. Because International encourages its supporters to bring a duffel on their journeys to underdeveloped parts of the world. Each pair of shoes compresses down into itself; thus, you can fit 50 pairs of shoes in a regular suitcase that is allowed by airline weight limits. Yes, you can bring 50 pairs of these shoes in one suitcase, on a plane. So let’s do that math – one person’s trip means 250 collective years of safety for children’s feet. A true game changer.
So how did this all come about? Back in 2007, on that walk to a Kenyan church, Kenton Lee was observant. He had the wherewithal to notice the young girl who was walking alongside him. Had this been you, would you have noticed her? Are you ‘heads up’ in the world, noticing the limitless possibilities around you? Or are you ‘heads down’ in your to-do list, inbox, or Twitter account? If the later, you’re bound to miss tremendous opportunities for inspiration and breakthrough ideas.
Instead of waiting in line and checking your social media feed for the 36th time that day, why not play “I Spy” with yourself? Challenge yourself to simply notice the intricacies of your surroundings. This heightened level of awareness will help you break free from previously held patterns and discover new routes to innovation and success.
You’ll never seize your girl-on-her-way-to-church moment if you’re buried in tasks or distractions. I can say with confidence that she’s not on your cell phone screen. She’s out there in the world, and is just waiting patiently to be discovered.
Do yourself – and her – a favor. Look up. Absorb what’s around you. Utilize your surroundings. Extract the possibilities from everyday experiences, and you’ll be amazed what creative ideas spring forth as a result.