Because International is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization committed to practical compassion. Kenton Lee, Founder of Because International & The Shoe That Grows.
By Peter Lee, Blockchain Industry Group, and Kenton Lee, Founder of Because International & The Shoe That Grows
Because International – http://becauseinternational.org/
The Shoe That Grows – https://theshoethatgrows.org/
LinkedIn Profile: Kenton Lee
Peter Lee: Tell us a little about yourself, Because International and The Shoe That Grows?
Kenton Lee: I am a small-town guy who is passionate about helping others be in a position to succeed. My life took an unexpected turn when I lived in Kenya at a small orphanage right after college. That was when I had the idea for a shoe that can grow. It took 6 years to work on it, but my friends and I were finally able to create a shoe that could grow five sizes and last up to five years. We call it The Shoe That Grows. After accidentally going viral in 2015, we have now distributed over 125,000 pairs to kids in over 90 countries. Our goal is to get these life-changing shoes to kids who desperately need them AND to bring jobs to these developing areas through the production of our shoes.
Peter: A shoe that expands 5 sizes and lasts up to 5 years is truly awesome and strangely exciting!
I recommend our readers take a look at some interesting FAQ’s on your site – http://becauseinternational.org/about-us.html#staff
Peter: Who benefits from The Shoe That Grows?
Kenton: Right now, we have two main groups that benefit from our cause. First and foremost – it’s the kids. We have gotten over 125,000 pairs of The Shoe That Grows to kids in over 90 countries in the past three years. These kiddos are facing the challenges of extreme poverty and their health, education, and confidence suffers when they don’t have a simple daily resource like a pair of shoes. But with our shoes, kids are able to have a fantastic pair of shoes to protect their feet – even while their feet grow!
We not only get shoes to kids, but we also try to bring jobs through the production of our shoes. We currently produce our shoes in Ethiopia at a small local factory. In 2017, we employed 30 people making our shoes.
Peter: I know you’re also working on ‘Bednet Buddy,’ which is mosquito netting to prevent mosquito bites and any resulting malaria. Can you tell us what the innovative feature of this product is and how the prototype is coming along? What do you need (and maybe our members can help provide) to get that finished? Any estimate as to how much impact the ‘Bednet Buddy’ will have? I’m excited to learn how this works.
Kenton: Bednet Buddy is our second official project, and we are so excited about it. Bednet Buddy is a free-standing bednet designed specifically for kids ages 0-5. Traditional bednets are designed to hook to a ceiling and then drape down over a bed. But what if a family doesn’t live under a ceiling? What if a child doesn’t sleep under a ceiling? What if someone is traveling or a refugee or housing is unstable enough that it is not possible to sleep under a ceiling (and therefore not possible to use a traditional bednet)? That’s where Bednet Buddy comes in.
Bednet Buddy is basically a pop-up tent. It can collapse and fold down so it is easy to transport. And then it pops open when kids are ready to get inside. It is also decorated in a really fun way so that kids are actually excited to sleep inside.
We just finished testing 20 prototypes in 3 African countries (Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya). And now we are ready to launch our new product in mid-February. They are $20 each. We are going to try to raise enough for 1,000 Bednet Buddy’s. They will be donated to an incredible organization called Malaria No More.
We believe that Bednet Buddy could be a useful tool for families whose lifestyle doesn’t match with a traditional bednet. And the whole name of the game is to keep kids healthy. Kids ages 0-5 are one of the hardest hit demographics by malaria. We believe Bednet Buddy will be an innovative solution to help these little kids always have the opportunity to be protected from malaria… no matter where they sleep!
Peter: What’s something people don’t know about Because International that you wish they did?
Kenton: I want people to know that we are not anybody special. Literally, I am a small-town guy. I am the son of a plumber. I am not Bill Gates or Bono or anything like that. I just saw a need and wanted to help. And if I can do it – anyone can do it. I wish that everybody knew that they can use small things to make a BIG difference, too. Our shoes don’t solve every problem for the kids we serve. But they do help out a lot. And they bring hope, too. I wish that everybody knew that they can do small things to bring help and hope to those around them and around the world. If I can do it – so can you! 🙂
Peter: What has surprised you most in your journey with Because International?
Kenton: The thing that surprised me the most was how supportive other people can be for something that I started. I mean, I am always happy to work long hours, use my finances to help fund this, and share our story with everyone around me. But then we as have grown, it has been surprising and amazing for me to see that other people can be just as passionate about this as I am. I love that! Other people on our team are working long hours and working so hard for our cause. Other people are donating and sacrificing their money for our cause. And other people love telling our story and spreading the word about our shoes. Surprising and awesome and unbelievable!
Peter: What does Because International look like 5 or 10 years from now?
Kenton: We are excited to continue to get more and more pairs of The Shoe That Grows to kids who desperately need them. And we are definitely going to continue to produce our shoes where they are being used the most. In 5-10 years we hope to be producing in every world area: India, Asia, Central America, South America, East Africa, South Africa, West Africa.
Finally, we are launching a new program to help entrepreneurs pursue their own ideas for innovative products. We call it Pursuit. And in 5-10 years, I hope that we have come alongside dozens of entrepreneurs to help them turn their ideas into a reality.
Peter: How can our Members participate in ‘Pursuit’ or help you move it along?
Kenton: We would love it if Members could help us with our Pursuit program. There are two main ways that people can help. First, we need people to spread the word – especially in developing countries. We want everyone to know that if they have an idea for an innovative product and need help making it a reality – we want to talk to them. But as our program is just getting started, we need help spreading the word. Second, we would love to have people help us to mentor and advise these innovators that we will be working with. Our goal is to surround an entrepreneur with all the mentoring, encouragement, and wisdom that we can so we can increase their chances to succeed with their idea.
Peter: In my book, your organization is a great example for all us in how we might all find ways (innovative or not) to help both that child ‘next store’ and humanity. What is your thinking on this? And, who else do you think is making a big difference?
Kenton: I believe that we can save the earth, this world, and humanity by simply doing small things. I am a big believer that there is power in small things. And small things can make a BIG difference. I just want anyone and everyone to follow their hearts and ideas and get out and do things. Even if they are small. A ton of small things can help change the world.
One person that I believe is making a huge difference is a guy named Shane Claiborne. His books are unbelievable. And he practices what he preaches. He is awesome.
Peter: Shane Claiborne worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta for a 10-week period in his life. What do you think he would say about Because International? Would he be proud or would he exhort you to do more or to do better?
Kenton: Good question. I believe that Shane Claiborne would be proud of the progress that we have made. We are intentionally, purposefully, and relentlessly trying to be the best organization that we can be. We want to squeeze the most impact out of our ideas as possible. We want to do everything we do in the best way possible – bringing the most impact that we can for those who need it most. I think that Shane would be proud of our dedication to doing that. But I also think he would encourage us to get there faster. I think he would even have some good ideas to help us get there faster. He would push us, for sure. And we would love that. We love it when people push us to be our best!
Peter: What don’t we know about you that you can tell us?
Kenton: I lost my travel bug. For a guy who started an international nonprofit and works with people all over the world – I pretty much just stay here in my small town in Idaho. And I love it! There are some incredible people on my team who love to travel and do travel for our organization, but I just stay at home. I lost my travel bug.
Because International & The Shoe That Grows