The Cleveland High School gymnasium was packed with more than 200 students buzzing with excitement and anticipation, cheers and applause.
But this was no pep rally. The students were social entrepreneurs in Ashoka Seattle’s Youth Venture program, each working to solve important social issues in their communities. After a semester of developing business plans and keen entrepreneurial intuition, they were gearing up to pitch their ideas to Seattle community members (earlier this summer) in order to attract donations, volunteers, and votes for awards like “Most Sustainable Venture” and “Best Overall Pitch.”
From arts education to homelessness, the student teams identified issues that could use a little innovative problem-solving. And instead of hosting traditional fundraisers that strictly generate cash, the students were challenged to develop creative solutions that would have a direct — and more importantly, sustainable — impact.
As a Youth Venturer, it takes a certain courage and audacity to tackle a social problem at age 17 or 18. Tough as it may be, though, Ashoka Seattle’s program is built on the premise that anyone with a passion for improving their community can make a difference.
“Youth Venture has prepared me to be a Changemaker because it’s taught me how to plan and how to organize ... to acquire the things I need to make my business successful,” said Khari Miller, a senior at Cleveland High School. His social venture, Team Success, mentors freshmen and provides them with a positive transition to high school life.
Ashoka Seattle Youth Venture collaborates with local high schools to teach social entrepreneurship. Over 540 students began the semester by reflecting on themselves — what experiences, values and talents defined them and what motivated them to make an impact.
Next, the students identified and researched an issue, dissected the causes and wrote a business plan for their venture, translating their ideas into implementable steps, as well as a feasible budget and potential sources of funding. Finally, the students refined and practiced their elevator pitches in preparation for the community showcase.
In one corner of the gymnasium, Kizzie Foster was walking the audience through the Mural Project, which brought students to crate artwork for their high schools. Foster, a high school senior and avid artist herself, started the initiative after realizing that her school did not have a formal fine arts curriculum. On the other side of the room, A.D.F.S. Clean Up distributed pamphlets about littering, while Education Without Borders presented their solution to the lack of educational resources for undocumented students.
“[Youth Venture] really helped me become a leader,” explained Alejandra Perez, co-founder of Education Without Borders. “I should never be afraid to make change.”
The caliber of the ventures was impressive, but the students’ drive and commitment were even more striking. Many people shy away from big, ambiguous problems, but Seattle's young entrepreneurs have been trained to look at social challenges as opportunities to build lasting solutions. By inspiring a generation of Changemakers, Ashoka’s Youth Venture hopes to create citizens who are motivated to discover new solutions to classic community challenges.
Participate in a global gathering of young changemakers at George Washington University's Mount Vernon Campus later this July (26th-29th)— there's still time to register for one-day participation. As in previous years, 2012 will offer various levels of workshops for the beginning, intermediate or advanced young changemaker, plus an adult track. And for the first time, the Youth Venture Summit will have a specialized University track for students out of high school and university Venture teams.