We met up with Ian Manheimer on one of the coldest days New York has seen in a long time. A leader in youth empowerment and an entrepreneur, we were extremely excited to get the opportunity to meet Ian in person. Ian is currently the Vice President of Product Management at Charitybuzz where he improves user experience and exercises his leadership skills by managing a team.
Ian is also the founder and president of RFK Young Leaders, a program of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights. When he’s not busy creating new relationships at Charitybuzz, helping young human rights defenders take action for social justice and human rights, or generously helping those he’s met reach higher goals, he can be found working on some seriously cool projects like a book about pizza in NYC. Carpe Juvenis is excited to share the Spotlight of the inspirational and talented Ian Manheimer!
Name: Ian Manheimer
Education: BA in Communications and English from Tulane University
Follow: rfkcenter.org / @ianmanheimer
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?
Ian Manheimer: There’s a famous speech Robert F. Kennedy gave called “Day of Affirmation” that was given to a student group in South Africa during apartheid. It goes:
“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”
He’s talking about a quality of youth where you’re willing to take risks and live in a much more open world of possibilities. Something happens when you get older where those possibilities become less, so he’s talking about trying to spread that spirit around the world to all people. Robert F. Kennedy is a huge part of the work I do and his shadow looms large over it.
CJ: You studied Communications and English for your undergraduate degree at Tulane University. How did you determine what to study?
IM: I love to read. I was always educating myself and reading books, even if they weren’t in the syllabus. They were the books I wanted to read. My major came from a passion of reading, writing, spreading around ideas, and having the boldness to think that I had an idea or two worth sharing at the time.
Communications and English are about expression. I love journalism, and the intersection of media and democracy. A functioning press in critical to democracy. In 2005, I graduated and a couple big, old newspapers were starting to shudder. I was writing in New Orleans for a couple of papers, but I didn’t think it was the right time to stake a career in that industry so I sat on the sidelines for a bit. I fuse those journalistic practices that I learned into my career.
CJ: You co-founded Glassbooth.org, a nonprofit site to help people decide who to vote for in public elections, when you were 24-years-old. The success of Glassbooth.org inspired you to pursue another online model, Measy.com, that could help people make decisions. How did you know when the right time to take the risk of starting your own company was?
IM: That was a really intuitive jump where I wasn’t the most informed or most capable, but there was an earnest feeling that if I made something I wanted to make and use, there would be others who also wanted to use it. I thought it could be a real thing of value, and then I went for it really hard. I had nothing to lose, and I still try and live as if I have nothing to lose. “Why not?” is always a great question, and a great way to overcome fears. I just grabbed some of the talented people around me and asked, Why not? For me, going from nothing to something for the first time just let me know that I was capable. You just have to jump in.
CJ: You are the founder and president of RFK Young Leaders (RFKYL), which is dedicated to empowering young human rights defenders and motivating a diverse community of young people to take action for social justice and human rights. What has it meant to you to be someone who is inspiring youth and helping people put into action what they want to do?
IM: It’s been humbling and amazing to be able to carry the torch for the work Robert Kennedy started. When he was killed, rather than build a huge monument to his person, his work lives on through his foundation and it allows his vision and dream to extend past his early expiration. Being able to carry that mission out to new generations has been amazing. It means a lot to me.
For me, what means the most is to bring young people into their first experience with social justice and civics, and for them to have a positive experience, and realize their power. This experience leads to a lifelong practice of civics and social justice. When I see those things happening, and those light bulbs going off, that’s what gets me excited.
We’re an all-volunteer program so I also have a day job. My role at RFKYL includes extending campaigns, like our main campaign, which is organizing New York farmworkers. Working with farmworkers, meeting with farmworkers, meeting with advocates of farmworkers. We’re growing the organization and opening new chapters across the country. We meet with young leaders across the country and connect young people with human rights defenders out there to spread inspiration and get young people excited about social justice issues. We’re trying to capture an entrepreneurial spirit of our generation within the confines of foundation’s work.
CJ: You are the VP of Product Management at Charitybuzz. What does your role entail?
IM: I’m responsible for internal products and the products you see on desktop and mobile. I extend business goals via our digital assets and try to create a better experience for our users. We work on making their lives easier and help them find the awesome things we have to offer. I lead a team of developers and designers. It’s a lot of interdisciplinary work bringing a whole company together around our main business goals as they manifest in digital.
CJ: In many of your roles it sounds like you take on a leadership position. What are two of the biggest lessons about being an effective leader?
IM: One thing I’ve learned about being a leader is that you have to let people create their own boundaries and then let them excel or fail within those. I never give someone a deadline, ever. I always ask when they think they’ll be able to get a task done and then hold them to their own expressions of what they’re capable of. It’s always better to give people the autonomy to succeed.
For me a leader is really an administrator and has a certain role, but he or she doesn’t have more votes than anyone else. It’s my role to inspire and to help people become their best selves. I love to invest in people and help them grow. It’s always a team. You’re a leader, but it’s no different a position than a designer or developer.
CJ: How did you go about learning the logistics of starting your companies (logo design, website/e-commerce platform, marketing, finance/budgeting, etc.)?
IM: I’ve never done anything that’s just me. I don’t think you can ever be successful when it’s not in a team. Everything you do will be the success of the team. For me it’s always been sourcing and aggregating talented people. I’m a bit of a generalist and I don’t have too many technical skills, but I can get a team together, chef it and whip it up, and it comes out great.
I have deep respect for technically talented people and always want to respect their craft and learn as much as I can. While I’m not a developer, I’m constantly learning everything my layman’s mind can take on. With anyone I work with, I try to understand what they do, out of respect.
CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?
IM: I worked for this very ambitious organization called Dropping Knowledge and it was a combination of a team at MIT and artists in Berlin and they were trying to create this global knowledge platform. It was weird and wild and wonderful. I spent a month in Berlin with people who had open lifestyles, and it completely opened my horizons. For me that was an opportunity to do this wild thing, and that alone was enough for me to want to take that on.
CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?
IM: I love products and tools to help you make your life more efficient. I surround myself with an ecosystem of products that will do the work for me. There’s a hubris people have about their own sense of time and concentration that leads to failure. For example, if you have a thought and you tell yourself you’ll remember it later, how many times do you go to conjure that thought and it’s gone? Having those things around you to manage your life is helpful.
For my daily management I use a tool called OmniFocus, which takes the Getting Things Done methodology and puts it into software form. It’s about getting the thoughts out of your head immediately and then sorting them later. There is one tool that I love called Boomerang, and what it does is ping me if I haven’t heard from you after sending an email. I then don’t have to remember our conversation and stress about it because the email will come back to me so I can keep the conversation moving.
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
IM: If I’m looking to make a hire at my organization, their interest in becoming better at the thing they do, is the number one quality I look for. I believe that you don’t have a mind that’s in a fixed state. I’m interested in growing my mind and being with other people who have that same appetite for self-improvement.
I’m interested in self-improvement in the form of expanding my mind through meditation or just trying to grapple with new concepts that are foreign and difficult. If I read an article about mathematics I won’t grasp too much of it, but it will challenge me in a way that will create new neural pathways. I’m constantly trying to immerse myself in some challenging things. Right now I’m learning how to code, which is challenging, but the challenge alone is the value.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
IM: My approach to mood is psychosomatic – there’s a mind body bridge. I try to be aware of that. I love to play basketball, do yoga, and these types of things to treat my body well and get as many chemicals firing in my brain. At the end of the day, gratitude is the most grounding concept that you go back to. If you’re having a bad day, think of someone having a worse day. It always works.
CJ: What book influenced you when you were younger?
IM: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.
CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
IM: Nothing I’ve done has ever been just me. At a young age, I would be mindful about people around you who are great at the thing that they do. Be good to those people and do things for them and stay in touch with those people. Grow your network. After years of that practice, you can activate on anything.
I would also put a couple of dollars away. A couple of dollars when you’re 20 is a lot of dollars when you’re older. Think about your future self. I have a character who is Future Ian and I’m also thinking about this guy.
Image: Ian Manheimer; unsplash