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10×10: Yoni

Yoni Kalin

LearnServe Fellow 2011, LearnServe Paraguay 2011

When is a crayon more than just a crayon?

It all has to do with the art of perception – the ability to look at something not just for what it is, but for what it can be.

Right now I’m holding up a crayon.  What do you see?  Do you just see a used piece of wax?  What else can this crayon become?  I want you to look at this crayon not just as something to discard, but as something to repurpose and reuse.

Color My World began with a simple family visit to Outback Steakhouse, and the box of kids’ crayons they had placed at our table.  I put the crayons down after my meal, barely used, and I saw the waiter pick them up and toss them in the trash.  I talked to the waiter, and she said they’re throwing out hundreds, hundreds of crayons.  And it’s a shame.

I wondered, what if we collected the crayons from the restaurant – took them away from the landfill, and donated them to public schools and early childhood centers.  90% of the schools we contacted actually needed crayons and art supplies.  So we started at just one restaurant, to try it out.  We wanted to make sure it was a realistic idea.

In just two months after placing the first bin in that first restaurant, we had collected more than 700 crayons, most of them unused.  Three years later and we have collected and donated more than 250,000 crayons.  We are working with teams in 17 states and have partnered with more than 100 restaurants.

I had always wanted to create a social venture, but I never had the resource or the backbone of where to start.  Even so, I struggled to get my venture off the ground – I happened to be one of the last LearnServe Fellows in my group to put together a plan for moving forward.

But I stumbled across Color My World and decided to run with it, and began to feel more confident with my idea.  There’s a beauty in watching a social venture grow from nothing, from just an idea.

I’ve learned that you should never do anything by yourself.  You need a team.  With a team comes fresh ideas that can help you get to the next level.  As we added restaurants we could use them as referrals.  LearnServe helped us put together a business plan and timeline that would lay the groundwork for our future plans, and launched us with a seed grant.  We found the more people, the more partners, the more passion involved – the easier it is to grow.

A lot of people think “Crayons, what’s so important about crayons?”  Well, like I said small changes can make a big difference.  One crayon can stimulate a child’s mind, creativity, and imagination.  Those things are huge!

Yoni Kalin graduated from the LearnServe Fellows Program and LearnServe Paraguay Program in 2011. Yoni is a graduate of the Field School and is currently a student at the University of Michigan.  He is founder of Color My World.

 LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011). Additional reflections shared in an interview with Nathan Bynum for LearnServe International (2011) and by Yoni Kalin and teammate Gawan Fiore at TEDxRedmond (2012).

Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.

6 thoughts on “10×10: Yoni

  1. Yoni,
    I really like your vision in that one thing such a crayon can make a big change in someone’s life and that is a positive attitude towards the improvement of society and I would like to follow you in the same mindset. I am inspired by your idea “Color My World” because it brings something people used as a kids into something so much more than it is envisioned to be.

  2. Color My World is a great initiative, with a simple premise: donating used crayons to elementary schools in need of school and art supplies. This venture’s model is what most other social entrepreneurship business models’ ought to strive towards – positively affecting as many lives as possible, while also doing good on a more local scale. One of the things I most admire is the efficiency of this model, but also just the premise that one crayon can stimulate so much, and can spur significant development in a child. The fact that you’ve been able to expand this venture so quickly is very impressive, despite its initial struggles taking off. Mr. Kalin, Color My World has impacted many children’s lives for the better, now that thousands of kids across the U.S. have access to materials almost essential to their education and creative development.

  3. I love the name, Color My World, and the idea behind it. It’s completely new and innovative and a great way to save things for kids and people who need it. It’s just another example of how privileged we are and how much can go to waste. I was so surprised to learn that 250,000 crayons were donated in only three years. That’s a crazy amount! Yoni Kalin reminds other the importance of noticing how small things, like crayons, can make a big difference. After reading it, I wonder what advice Kalin can give relating to starting ventures?

  4. I absolutely love this. From the piece on perception to the venture itself. Like you mentioned, not many people care about crayons but they can play a big part in a child’s life. Art isn’t taken seriously in the school system. Sometimes the funding of art departments get cut or maybe even the department as a whole. I love that your using something so small to change something so big. This venture is perfect and I fully support it.

  5. Hello Yoni
    I have never expected to see such kind of social entrepreneurship , i didn’t know what effect it will cause , the idea is simple but the impact is huge , Thousands of schools suffers from a lack of Stationery supplies , Imagine we applied this idea for other supplies not just for Crayons , how much change it will occur ? instead of throwing tons of stationery why not donate it to schools and Educational organizations,
    your Idea made me rethink about how simplest things can make this change .

    Thank you for making the world a better place to live .

  6. Hello,

    First of all I wanted to say that your concept for your social venture was extremely creative and important. Although there is an emphasis on less fortunate children receiving text books and even more basic social services, the idea of giving a child a crayon to express themselves is very cool to me. As someone who appreciates and occasionally does art, I think it says a lot about you that you gave the opportunity to impoverished children to do the same. I, too, would like to create my own social venture, but lack inspiration? I want to achieve something new, relevant and that I am passionate, but how do I go about finding such a thing in my everyday life?

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