[For Harry, who also believes] In the past year I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a lot of inspiring young people who have been in foster care and have creative ideas for businesses and programs that would improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and families. Three such individuals serve as youth advisors to Minds On Fire. To help them grow professionally, I started funneling resources to them individually, but it eventually hit me that I could easily scale my efforts. So I reached out to other young people I’d met and also asked some colleagues for referrals. The only requirements were that participants have direct experience with foster care and aspire to start a social enterprise or run a nonprofit organization.
We had our first meeting back in September (in AlleyNYC‘s War Room, bien sûr!) and the energy was electric. One person remarked that it was so energizing to meet other young people in foster care who were going to college and intending to give back to their communities. After a particularly joyous meet and greet we talked about my initial idea for the group, and also what everyone else wanted to get out of our meetings. They’re permitting me to do most of the steering in the beginning in order to lay a solid foundation on which we can build.
My primary objective is to expose these young people, who are currently between the ages of 19 and 26, to as many resources, professionals, and ideas related to social entrepreneurship as possible. These are the tools that will enable them to blaze trails into the business world and the child welfare system. What I also hope will happen is that the emerging leaders begin to see themselves as part of a cohort that will support each other’s dreams and perhaps even collaborate on some projects. The underlying belief is that they are the ones who will solve the biggest problems in child welfare because, having grown up in the system, they know its pain points. What’s more, they’re coming out of foster care resilient, observant, impassioned, streetwise, and compassionate. They are the ones who have the capacity to touch and transform our hardest to reach youth.
At first we decided to meet monthly, but we’ve already started building in extra meetings for field trips. (Next week we’re off to The Foundation Center to see about funding!) For our regularly monthly meetings we will work on aligning values/purpose with business ideas, and on sharing and refining those ideas. We will bring in guest speakers to talk about their experiences in nonprofits and startups, and also to share their career trajectories (especially degree choice) to outline how they got to where they are now. I wish to demystify the process of becoming a business owner or organizational leader, and also to disabuse them of the notion that “being your own boss” is all fun and games.
Speaking about things not being all fun and games, managing this group is not a total cakewalk. For reasons that still confound me, we have not been able to figure out a good communication system. [This is the point at which Lindsay and Amy give a knowing smile.] Jermaine set up a Google group for us but I think only half of us are on it, so I’m still having to enter everyone’s email addresses manually. Also, last month only three people RSVPd yes to the meeting (which I sent out via email, iCal, and Google calendar), so I postponed a workshop activity only to find all but one of the emerging leaders in attendance (“Hey, aren’t we going to do the Head + Heart = Hustle activity?”). And the Google drive I set up to share resources and meeting minutes is an echo chamber (although our fearless secretary, Maurice, is as diligent as ever!).
And still…and still. What an uplifting two hours to be in a roomful of emerging social entrepreneurs. I will eventually wrangle brief bios from each of them so you can meet them yourselves and be dazzled by their brilliance and their passion.