Chris Cao Reboot for Youth | CNN Hero | Social Entrepreneur | Shin Fujiyama Podcast

Chris Cao, Founder of Reboot for Youth

Most high school students are too busy with school work, video games, and their social lives to do much else. But Chris Cao, a 17-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson High School is raising the bar for his generation.

At age 15, CNN Hero Chris Cao became a social entrepreneur. He started Reboot for Youth, a nonprofit organization in northern Virginia that recycles, repairs, and delivers refurbished computers to youth in need.

His core team is made up of his friends who go to different high schools in the Fairfax area. Each Saturday, Chris gets the team together at a friend’s basement to further their mission. Of course, pizza is essential at these gatherings.

In two years, Reboot for Youth has delivered 418 computers (as of October, 2016) to youth in the Washington D.C. area, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

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Show Notes & Summary

  • Started the operation at the basement of his friend’s house
  • Chris Cao has several online classes at his high school
  • He spends his weekend like any normal teenager, hanging out with friends and catching up on school work.
  • Chris was tutoring a kid named Sebastian who couldn’t afford to have a computer at his house
  • “Students in our very own neighborhood don’t have access to computers.”
  • Chris began tinkering with and fixing computers at age 10 by watching YouTube videos
  • Chris’s parents were supportive of his interest in computers
  • Chris’s grandfather was a doctor from Vietnam and worked in philanthropy, offering free medical care to the poor in Vietnam
  • The process of becoming a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization was “tedious” for Chris. He found most of his information on WikiLinks.
  • It’s difficult to juggle school work, a social life, and Reboot for Youth simultaneously
  • Homework gets in the way of running Reboot for Youth
  • Chris has a great team he can rely on
  • Chris was only 14 when he started Reboot for Youth, and because of his young age it was difficult to get adults to see them as a legitimate organization
  • Every Saturday the Reboot for Youth team meets for two hours at a friend’s house. They form an assembly line to repair the computers together. Pizza is essential at these meetings.
  • Families in the Washington DC neighborhood could submit a request for laptops on the Reboot for Youth website
  • Reboot for Youth uses Keepod USB drives to provide operating systems for the refurbished laptops.
  • The first international shipment was to El Salvador
  • Sometimes Chris focuses his attention towards his personal issues and away from Reboot for Youth, which is frustrating for him
  • Sometimes Chris gets overwhelmed, feeling like his back is against a wall and there is nowhere to go
  • It was extremely difficult for Chris to take his AP exams while Nickelodeon was filming his efforts all day
  • Chris Cao describes how he felt when CNN called him for the CNN Heroes program. He was happy that Reboot for Youth could finally display their work to the entire world. The showing resulted in many laptops donated.
  • At first not everyone believed in Chris nor in Reboot for Youth’s mission
  • Chris felt a tremendous amount of pressure not to let down his donors, but he used it as motivation to work harder
  • When the Reboot for Youth team encounters a disagreement, they make decisions by voting and through peaceful means.
  • For the Costa Rica project, the Reboot for Youth team had to refurbish 20 computers in one week all the while they had to go to school and finish homework. They stayed up until midnight to finish the project.
  • Chris is learning to be a leader through trial and error.
  • He picked up his leadership skills while a freshman intern at an IT firm in DC. The CEO of the company taught Chris Cao about leadership, recommending him books like Good to Great.
  • The CEO selected Chris as a project manager even though he was only a freshman in high school, leading a team of developers to make a website for the company. He had to lead people who were older. Chris doesn’t think he was a great leader when he did that.
  • He learned many leadership skills at the internship that he can use for Reboot for Youth
  • The CEO saw in Chris drive and the willingness to learn and progress as a person
  • Chris believes that the youth today are very inquisitive and self-motivated to further themselves
  • Intrinsic self motivation is important for Chris
  • Having parents who were not too strict has helped him
  • We live in a world where Asian Americans are underrepresented in the media and in leadership positions. Chris wants to be a trendsetter for Asian Americans.
  • Yang Yuanqing, the CEO of Lenovo tweeted at Chris after watching CNN Heroes to congratulate him
  • Lenovo donated 75 new laptops to Reboot for Youth, which became a turning point for Chris
  • Chris is now finding a new group of high school students to run the local operation so he can head out to college
  • Chris plans to expand the international reach of Reboot for Youth
  • “You’re never too young to make an impact. I’ve met entrepreneurs younger than me.”
  • Chris is grateful for his family and brother who have helped him along the way.