Cases of Informal Leaders

Here are a few selected cases of “informal leaders” bringing about transformative change in their communities and beyond.

Stories of Everyday People doing Extraordinary Things

*These cases were all drawn from CNN Heroes, a special event organized by CNN since 2008*

Jude Ndambuki

For the past eight years, the Kenya native has been refurbishing computers, printers and other electronic educational resources otherwise headed for landfills, then sending them to grateful students back home. He wants to make their life easier than his, and introduce them to technology earlier than they would have. For every computer donated by Jude, the Kenyan recipients agree to plant 100 trees to help improve the environment. An added bonus is that the trees help keep dust from getting into the computers. Click here to watch a video profile of Jude Ndambuki.

Betty Makoni

Zimbabwe native Betty Makoni founded the Girl Child Network to provide a haven for young victims of sexual abuse. Many young girls in Zimbabwe are victims of a widely held belief that if a man with HIV or AIDS rapes a virgin he will be cured of his disease. This so-called virgin myth, perpetuated by Zimbabwe’s traditional healers, has led to the rape of hundreds of girls, according to UNICEF. Some of those victims are too young to walk, much less protect themselves. Betty Makoni has fought for nearly a decade to protect her country’s young girls from sexual abuse. Her organization has rescued more than 35,000 girls since 2001. Click here to watch a video profile of Betty Makoni.

PonHeary Ly

When she was young, her father and 13 other family members were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and she had to live in poverty. But she found a way out and became a teacher and certified tour guide. She noticed children begging tourists for money, so she began using tips and tourists’ donations to help send children to school. Today, her foundation helps support more than 2,000 children throughout Cambodia. Click here to watch a video profile of PonHeary Ly.

Susan Burton

Susan Barton has served six prison terms for drug related crimes, unable to break the cycle. Prisoners are given $200 upon release from prison, and the just -released prisoners are easy targets for drug dealers and pimps, and the temptation gets the better of a lot of released felons. When she finally managed to break the cycle and stay clean, she decided to start a safe haven for incarcerated women to help them break the routine. Susan Burton has helped more than 400 female ex-convicts get back on their feet.  Click here to view a video profile of Susan Barton.

Thulani Madondo

Thulani Madondo struggled as a child growing up in the slums of Kliptown, South Africa. He was the first in his family to finish high school but he couldn’t afford to go to college. Though he was disappointed, he and a few others in the community chose to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for the government to come to the rescue. Today, their Kliptown Youth Program provides school uniforms, tutoring, meals and activities to 400 children in the community. Click here to view a video profile of Thulani Madondo.

Aki Ra

As a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, Aki Ra planted up to 5,000 land mines a month. Now he goes into rural villages to find remaining mines and defuse them. Over the past three years, his organization has defused over 50,000 unexploded land mines, and has also taken in about 100 orphans. Click here to view a video profile of Aki Ra.

Evans Wadongo

The youngest of four children, Wadongo grew up in a home that stressed the importance of education — his father was a high school teacher. But years of exposure to smoke while studying by kerosene and firelight left Wadongo with eyesight problems. With a lack of good light to study by — Wadongo often had to share one lantern with his siblings and other family members — he remembers the frustration of unfinished homework and poor exam performance. He designed and now produces solar-powered LED lantern to help light rural homes, and with the help of a nonprofit, he estimates he’s distributed 10,000 lanterns — for free. Click here to watch a video profile of Evans Wadongo.

Viola Vaughn


A group of failing schoolchildren in Kaolack, Senegal, once asked Viola Vaughn to help them pass their classes. Today, her “10,000 Girls” program is helping girls succeed in school and learn business skills. Click here to watch a video profile of Viola Vaughn.

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