Spotlight on the Future Leaders Institute – high school social entrepreneurship

 

Just in the past few years, teenagers at a variety of East Bay schools organized benefit concerts raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity. Others helped build playgrounds with recycled shoe leather, threw baby showers for struggling young mothers, wrote original novels for which they landed publishers and donated the proceeds, and organized successful bike-to-school campaigns.

The Future Leaders Institute (FLI), the Oakland-based nonprofit through which the students devise these projects, goes beyond encouraging teens to perform community service. The yearlong leadership class uniquely involves participants in launching and managing social entrepreneurship ventures.

High schoolers research and work with community organizations to identify local and international issues, brainstorm projects and rank them according to feasibility and social impact, and then carry them out. This involves marketing, recruiting, professional communication, and budgeting a $3,000 seed-capital grant from FLI. Students work in teams to share advice and ideas, but each creates and executes his or her own project.

Editor’s note here, click below for the rest of the article:

Eve Cowen and the rest of the FLI crew encourage people to consider signing up as professional or leadership mentors for teens here: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=44

Also, people can register to host house parties to benefit the Future Leaders Institute: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=47

Students in high schools without FLI programs can sign up for an after-school version of Future Leaders through Project ENGAGE, where they meet regularly and design projects with the help of community leader mentors: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=65

In one of this year’s projects, FLI participant Cara Hunt developed lucrative house-party fundraisers for Bead for Life, a microenterprise organization of Ugandan women jewelers using recycled materials. Proceeds go back into the Ugandan communities for health and education, as well as income for the craftspeople. Hunt said FLI taught her that it works much better to go ahead and ask for something rather than automatically losing out by not taking the chance. Also, her FLI team members thought of details she wouldn’t have even considered and were extremely helpful.

Future Leaders’ program acknowledges the value of planning, persistence, and knowing when to take a chance on a good idea. The annual awards dinner specifically honors a participant who showed resilience in carrying out a project – this year FLI celebrated Jimmy Zhang, who developed an environmental and fitness-oriented campaign to encourage students to bike to school. His challenges included the steep Oakland hills and targeted outreach to ethnic cultural clubs on campus whose members happened to be less familiar with alternative transportation.

Founder and executive director Eve Cowen related that the organization itself faced a variety of financial and logistical obstacles in the early days. “People told me I was crazy,” she remembers. Yet she persevered, in part because of her own frustration with the abstractness of her high school studies and the bureaucratic experience of dealing with a large school’s procedures.

“I wanted to start learning real skills, put together a body of professional work. And as an adult I can see that that’s necessary for people entering the work world. Everyone’s looking for experience as well as knowledge.”

FLI chose to assist participants with gaining real-world practical experience as early as high school because the leaders believe in the capabilities of teenagers. “Brain research shows that older teens have adult cognitive abilities, but do not yet have adult ingrained habits and ways of thinking. So we can influence them for good when they’re just coming into their intellectual peak.” And teens definitely respond to FLI’s respect: space limitations force the program to turn away would-be participants every year. One hundred percent of teen Future Leaders go on to college, even some who are the first in their families, and so far every one of them has mentioned their leadership experience in college admissions essays.

What FLI students learn through the program dovetails with the general society’s rediscovery of social entrepreneurship. This has become a hot concept in the business and philanthropy worlds, but its fundamental ideals go back at least as far as the nonprofit schools and hospitals of Florence Nightingale’s era. Community leaders apply marketing and financial management skills from the corporate world to help sustain enterprises which benefit people and/or the environment.

Cowen described how a healthy balance of business skills and planning can help corporations innovate and maintain market share.  

“Helping yourself and helping others are parallel. As people become more aware of the larger picture, businesses will start to lose out on customers if they aren’t a social asset to the world.”

Cowen continued, discussing how nonprofits and charities can protect themselves from crashing and burning. “You can make a healthy amount of money and still do worthwhile work. 35% of U.S. nonprofits have gone under since the beginning of this year…sometimes because they didn’t also take care of themselves. You can have an ‘us-us’ focus rather than a ‘me-me’ or even a ‘you-you’ orientation, where you work to meet your own needs along with those of others. “

This balance allows the Future Leaders Institute to survive despite the world economic downturn. “We’re still growing, just not as fast as before,” Cowen explained.

As mentioned many times during the Legacy Awards night, financial challenges can refocus an organization towards its most important priorities and inspire greater efficiency and creativity. These changes, while not easy, can bring about long-term benefits if one stays positive and flexible.

“And it helps that we planned to have a diversified stream of funding,” Cowen continued. “We’re still getting money from some schools, even though corporations have cut back their giving.”

Several sponsors, including the Princeton Review, a leading provider of academic test preparation materials, continue to support the FLI. To them, training the future workforce through practical experience is uniquely worthwhile even when they, along with most other firms, must make difficult choices.

FLI also goes out of their way to appreciate and thank its donors through acknowledgements and receptions, and to create and publicize opportunities for corporate and public involvement through mentorship.

Eve Cowen and the rest of the FLI crew encourage people to consider signing up as professional or leadership mentors for teens here: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=44 Also, people can register to host house parties to benefit the Future Leaders Institute: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=47 Students in high schools without FLI programs can sign up for an after-school version of Future Leaders through Project ENGAGE, where they meet regularly and design projects with the help of community leader mentors: http://thefutureleadersinstitute.org/page/view/&id=65