Suzanne McKechnie Klahr
This profile was prepared when Suzanne McKechnie Klahr was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Suzanne Klahr realized that many low-income students who are not motivated to succeed in school are interested in making money. She decided to use that interest to help students stay in school, learn how to succeed, and go to college. Her idea is to offer them what they want—the chance to start and run a profitable business—if they stay in school. Suzanne founded Businesses United in Investing, Lending, and Development (BUILD) to add a four-year entrepreneurship program to the curriculum offered at low-performing high schools. Understanding that certain inner-city youth need a “real-world” rather than an academic experience to attract and hold their interest, Suzanne created a way to engage university students, young professionals, venture capitalists, and community volunteers in helping students plan, launch, and operate small businesses. She saw this entrepreneurship opportunity as a way to reach those poor and minority students who had lost interest in school. To change the economic outlook for youth in low-income communities, Suzanne needed the effectiveness and economic resources of the private sector as well as the compassion and community knowledge of the citizen sector. BUILD engages volunteers from both sectors, creating mutual awareness and social capital that strengthens the entire community. BUILD redirects students from the fringes of the educational system to a college-bound path. With the support of mentors and specially-trained, caring teachers, Suzanne is proving that through a structured entrepreneurship program and the experience of starting a business, students can gain the academic and social skills they need to succeed. By setting high expectations and helping students meet them, inner-city young people discover and develop their own potential. Their success, in turn, heightens their aspirations and wins them advocates in their schools, neighborhoods and communities.