Cross-Continental Marathon

Sept. 28, 2010, 1:02 a.m.

Cross-Continental Marathon
Courtesy of Travis Kiefer

Stanford student hopes to combat poverty by traversing the globe

Meet Travis Kiefer ‘11: He runs. A lot. In fact, he is in the midst of running a marathon on every continent, in an effort to foster awareness for poverty alleviation through social entrepreneurship.

So far, Kiefer’s marathons have taken him to: Cork, Ireland; Rosario, Argentina; San Francisco, Calif., and most recently, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. But he is far from finished. He has plans to complete marathons in Japan and Australia and finish off on Dec. 12 of this year by running the Antarctica Ice Marathon, which he will train for by setting up a treadmill in a meat locker.

Kiefer is currently the executive director of Gumball Capital, a non-profit organization that challenges students to combat poverty through entrepreneurship. The Gumball Challenge (which will take place on Stanford’s campus on Nov. 15) is a microfinance benefit competition, beginning by giving students $27, 27 gumballs and one week to create value.

According to Kiefer, the return is at least twice as much as the initial loans. All of the student-raised money from Gumball Capital goes directly to provide aid to the working poor.

“Social entrepreneurship is not simply about making money,” Kiefer said. “It’s about finding innovative ways to help people improve their quality of life despite a lack of resources or constraints on what they are able to do.”

Kiefer thought up the ambitious project winter quarter of his junior year. He went for a run one day, then the next and then the day after that–all the while keeping Twitter updated of his mileage.

“On the third day of consecutive running, a friend of mine said on my Twitter profile he would give a five-dollar donation to the organization of my choice for every day I ran,” Kiefer said.

And so it began.

At first, he wanted to log 500 miles in 50 days in order to raise 250 dollars, but according to Kiefer, “Five-hundred miles is cool, but I wanted to up the stakes, so I decided to run a marathon. I started out running four miles a day, adding two miles a day each week until I was in marathon shape.”

Kiefer ran his first marathon while he was studying abroad in Oxford spring quarter of his junior year. Continent number one. He later went to visit a friend in Argentina. Continent number two.

For Kiefer, “Running a marathon symbolizes the globalization and interconnectedness of the world–no matter where I go there are people who run,” he said. “Also, I believe social entrepreneurship is best symbolized by the training required to run a marathon. Both take work, effort and a lot of self-sacrifice and self-discipline. Similarly, you can’t just get up one day and run a marathon. Becoming an overnight success takes years and years of hard work.”

The marathon has also given Kiefer an opportunity to see much of the world on foot. His most recent marathon took place in Zimbabwe.

“It was absolutely beautiful!” he exclaimed. “I saw Victoria Falls at dawn and baboons alongside the road. The scenery was an incredible motivator.”

However, the people he met while traveling most affected Kiefer: other runners, those who cheered on the sidelines and the people native to Zimbabwe.

“I was able to experience firsthand the poverty situation,” he said. “But I was most surprised by how similar people’s stories were. Everyone is working hard to put food on the table; they are working for the hope of a better future.”

Kiefer hopes to raise $125,000 for Gumball Capital within the next year and to inspire others to get involved in social entrepreneurship.

“I want to make a difference,” he said. “And I see entrepreneurship as the way to do that.”

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