From Brooklyn School Teacher to Global Kindness Guru: Interview with Orly Wahba, CEO of Life Vest Inside
By Moshe Hecht
Orly Wahba was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. “Just your average jewish girl from Brooklyn,” as she so humbly puts it. She grew up surrounded by Orthodox culture and attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush – the school that she would later teach at following her graduation from college. Now, she is the CEO of Life Vest Inside and a published author, regularly touring the country to teach others how they can best spread kindness in their own unique way. She’s the “Kindness Guru”; the title just fits, and she doesn’t mind.
I sat down with Orly to talk about her journey from teaching students in a local Brooklyn school, to helping millions of people all across the globe make the world a better place.
The journey begins…
Orly taught Torah Studies for 7 years at Yeshiva Flatbush. She had always felt that G-d intended her to use her skills in a different way, and in the summer of 2011, she sensed that calling more intensely than ever before.
On her summer off from teaching, she was able to devote the entirety of her energies towards her new nonprofit, Life Vest Inside, and its inaugural video: “Kindness Boomerang.” She poured her heart and soul into developing the concept; characters who would only appear on screen for ten seconds were given pages-long analyses and her living room was completely covered in sticky notes, each documenting a real-life kindness experience.
After months of painstaking planning and filming, “Kindness Boomerang” was published to YouTube on August 29th, 2011, stunning Life Vest Inside with its immediate virality. Orly spent hours every day responding personally to the video’s comments, in awe at just how many stories of kindness there truly were. With over 30 million views as of September 2019, “Kindness Boomerang” catapulted Life Vest Inside and its work on the computers of millions.
Orly credited the virality of the video to the authenticity of its creative process – she made “Kindness Boomerang” not because she thought it would make her famous, but because she understood that it was the right thing to do. This mentality is echoed in her personality motto, in which she dedicates herself in service to G-d, but she also recognizes that everyone has different motivations. The key, she says, lies in constantly reminding yourself of that motto, even if the allure of dollars and fame tries to get in between you and helping others.
Today, Life Vest Inside is a nonprofit that works to empower the average person to be as kind as possible. It regularly produces inspirational media and educational curriculum, hosting events on an international scale to make its reach as effective as possible. One of its most successful programs is Dance for Kindness, a flashmob synchronized over, as of 2019, 50 countries, to celebrate World Kindness Day.
The next chapter…
Orly was giving a talk in Las Vegas as part of Catalyst Creative when she was approached by an agent at MacMillan Publishers. After a brief meeting in his New York office, she left the building with an advance and a book contract: the beginning of her book, Kindness Boomerang, which was published on January 2nd, 2017.
You just can’t stop Orly…
Her latest venture is a foray into the world of tech: a social network called “Abraham’s Legacy.” Named in honor of her late grandfather, the app allows people from all across the world to complete the Book of Psalms together, unlocking its true spiritual potential. Coming up on October 3rd – the anniversary of her grandfather’s passing – is Abraham’s Legacy’s First International Day of Prayer, which plans to have 50,000 people complete 613 readings of the Psalms.
Orly’s experience building a nonprofit and kindness philosophy from the ground-up has given her a truly invaluable perspective on the nonprofit sphere. At the core of her philosophy is establishing belief, both in yourself and towards a greater purpose. She also pointed out that people have an uncanny sense for genuinity: show that you’re authentic and that you can guide them towards helping something greater than themselves, and you’ll have enthusiastic partners to the end.
“Believe that you were meant to do something in this world,” she told me. “There’s no extra piece of the puzzle.”
Moshe Hecht is a philanthropy futurist, public speaker and chief innovation officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding platform and consulting company that has helped 4000 organizations raise over a quarter billion dollars. His articles have been published in publications such as Forbes, Nonprofit Quarterly and eJewishPhilanthropy. @moshehecht @wearecharidy#tzedakaspresent
This piece is the latest addition to Tzedaka’s Present: A column on current and future giving trends and opportunities.