The initial inspiration to create Our Better Angels came from an initiative created in 2014 to raise support for victims of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The Challenge itself was simple: a participant agreed to donate funds to the ALS Foundation, to challenge three other people to follow suit, and to dump a bucket of ice water on their own head. The bucket of ice water was actually optional, but it added a degree of visual humor
that spontaneously made the process go viral. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge became a global phenomenon and proceeded to raise $115 million for the ALS Foundation by the end of that first year. Thousands of large and small donations spurred a massive increase in promising research on ALS. The challenge first received widespread media attention after professional golfer Greg Norman nominated news anchor Matt Lauer in July 2014 on NBC’s Today Show. 

The challenge itself linked the human capacity for empathy with the human capacity for creative humor in the face of suffering with popular media technology. Thousands of participants not only followed and issued the challenge, but also videotaped the event and put it up on You Tube. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge consisted of four critical elements: a Good Cause worthy of widespread support; an audience of empathetic human beings; a simple process of expressing support and inviting others to do likewise; and a widespread technological network to connect all the challengers. Within the Wisconsin Leadership Institute, we saw an opportunity to adapt these four basic elements of the Ice Bucket Challenge to support leadership development among young people. Toward that end, the WLI board created Our Better Angels (OBA) in the summer of 2015. As a subsidiary of the WLI, OBA adheres to the WLI’s mission, vision, and values, but stakes out a different organizational strategy.

OBA is a membership organization which asks members to subscribe to an array of educational and inspirational materials about leadership education and development.  Rather than supporting just one Good Cause like the ALS Foundation, OBA seeks to support an array of Good Causes, especially those involved in developing and supporting leadership education and global harmony. Examples of Good Causes we favor are Ripon College (home of WLI and OBA headquarters) and Kiwanis International (which has supported production and distribution of educational video programs about leadership development produced by the Leadership Studies Program at Ripon College).  

Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, OBA invites its members to recruit other members, thus multiplying its reach and its impact. Also like the Ice Bucket Challenge, OBA relies heavily on the Internet to broadcast its mission, vision, and values. 

In the clip above, Mark Zuckerberg offers the Ice Bucket Challenge to Bill Gates, who then challenges three other people with extremely deep pockets. Not surprisingly, Gates also designed a special gizmo to dump the bucket of ice water on his own head.