The Globe and Mail - December 23, 2009
Michael Furdyk could have lounged around after striking it rich as a teenager in the dot-com era.
But he’s not that kind of guy.
A decade after selling his Internet startup for “a few million” dollars, 27-year-old Mr. Furdyk is using his technology expertise to engage millions of youth and educators around the world in social issues ranging from the environment to globalization.
Toronto-based Mr. Furdyk’s introduction to technology came at age 2, when his parents bought a Commodore 64 computer. He was soon hooked. By Grade 8, in the mid-1990s, he was doing a school project on the World Wide Web. He teamed with five friends from around the world to create his own website, and won advertising from companies including a Liechtenstein casino.
In 1997, he met digital guru Don Tapscott, and they soon became mentors to one another. Still in high school, he co-founded MyDesktop.com, which grew to more than a million monthly readers, then among the world’s most popular online technology portals. It sold to Internet.com in 1999 for a seven-figure sum. An Oprah appearance followed. And Teen People named him one of “20 teens that will change the world.”
“After having some time to reflect on that, I thought, do I really need to invest more time in the for-profit world? Or is it more valuable to spend time developing an organization to support other young people as a charity?”
Because of the attention, he got thousands of e-mails from young people, asking for guidance on how to develop their own ideas. So in 1999, he co-founded TakingITGlobal.org, a virtual global community for young people, and one of the first online social networks in the world.
At the time, the idea was revolutionary. “We thought the Internet would be an ideal place to create a non-commercial community to support young peoples’ ideas, to help them be more culturally aware, and understand the challenges facing our world.”
TakingITGlobal’s 4.5 million global users (up a million from last year) discuss and take action on everything from climate change to gay rights, food security, living with HIV/AIDS and child labour. Members circulate petitions, start projects, take e-courses and share their stories in 12 languages, including Chinese and Arabic. Headquartered in Toronto, the site now has 18 staff, a dozen interns and over 400 “virtual volunteers.”
Licensing technology to other non-profits and training teachers in countries such as Australia and Singapore help fund the charity. “Even though we’re a charity, I’m still using my entrepreneurial background to create a sustainable revenue stream for our programs.”
Michael Furdyk is the Co-founder and Director of Technology for TakingITGlobal.org.