On the eve of the 5th Annual LearnServe Venture Fair, we welcome Scott Rechler, CEO and Director of LearnServe International to GoodWorks! LearnServe International’s program prepares students in greater DC to be the next generation of global leaders and social entrepreneurs. Their Fellows Program brings together over 70 high school students from 30 public, private and charter schools to learn how to bring sustainable social change to their communities. Over an academic year, students design and launch their own social ventures — action projects to benefit their schools and communities — while learning core business entrepreneurship skills, including budgeting, strategic planning, and team-building.
Can you really teach social innovation?
by Scott Rechler, CEO & Director, LearnServe International
Could the next Jamila Larson, Mazi Mutafa, or Robert Egger be sitting in class right now in the District, Maryland, or Virginia?
In a March Washington Post article, J. D. Harrison opened his article titled “Can you really teach entrepreneurship?” with a similar question, but a different cast of characters: Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg.
Toss in Bill Gates, and you’ve got the three examples of entrepreneurs referenced by every high school group I speak with. And for good reason. All three have built successful companies whose products shape our daily lives, and a personal brand that complements their corporate identities.
Ask a room full of high school students for examples of social entrepreneurs? Uncomfortable silence.
We are surrounded by powerful examples of social entrepreneurs here in the DC region. But they’re not (yet) household names — unless you happen to spend time with their organizations.
Take for example Jamila Larson, founder of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which brings much-needed recreation to kids living in shelters. Or Mazi Mutafa, founder of Words Beats & Life, giving young people a voice through hip-hop. Or Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen — and of C Forward, an initiative to raise the profile of the non-profit sector nation-wide.
The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg may well be sitting in a DC classroom today, preparing to launch the next breakthrough technology or scalable business. And sitting right next to her is the next Jamila, Mazi, and Robert.
LearnServe is committed to inspiring and training the rising generation of social entrepreneurs. These are the young people who know they want to do something good in the world — but may not yet know what or how. We help them blend this passion with the tenacity, vision, and technical skills essential to entrepreneurship in order to transform the lives of their classmates, neighbors, and communities.
Tricia Granata, executive director of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in DC, reflected in Harrison’s article on the “innate entrepreneurial spirit” of young people, and the importance of helping them develop the accompanying technical skills.
LearnServe offers an outlet for our students to channel this innate entrepreneurial spirit and build those technical skills — coupled with a powerful dose of empathy and social insight.
LearnServe alumni have gone on to launch companies introducing fair trade coffee to China, and improving hygiene in India through the sale of sustainable soaps in the U.S. They have created lasting organizations teaching foreign languages to elementary school students, and science to middle schoolers. Yasmine Arrington, a LearnServe and DCPS alum and founder of ScholarCHIPS, was awarded the Washington Women of Excellence Award for Community Service earlier this month for her work raising college scholarship funds for children of incarcerated parents.
Tomorrow, 70 more young social entrepreneurs will “pitch” their social venture plans to a panel of business and community leaders at LearnServe’s 5th Annual Venture Fair and top projects will receive seed funding to help get their ideas off the ground. We invite you to join in celebrating their creative spirit and vision for our community. These are our region’s rising generation of social innovators.
Harrison concludes his article with a quote from Wendy E. F. Torrance, director of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation: “No matter what career they choose, it’s important for young people to look at the world through the lens of an entrepreneur.”
We couldn’t agree more — and we are working to ensure that lens is wide enough and community-oriented enough to include Jamila, Mazi, Robert and Yasmine, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
To learn more about LearnServe International and their Fellows Program, visit them online at: www.learn-serve.org. Meet the Fellows at the 5th Annual Venture Fair tomorrow (4/24) or get involved here!