Activating the Youth Entrepreneurial Mindset with a Charge to Change the World

March 19, 2018

Each year, NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) invites students to think of creative solutions to help meet the United Nations' global goals. For the 2018 World Series of Innovation (WSI), as part of its Pathways to Progress program, the Citi Foundation launched the Decent Work Challenge, which tasked young entrepreneurs with designing a practical innovation that promotes access to decent work and safe working environments (Sustainable Development Goal 8). Citi employees volunteered to serve as judges in the selection of the WSI finalists. Below, the volunteer judges share their experiences of participating in the virtual challenge.

Why did you decide to get involved with NFTE's World Series of Innovation?

Helen Steblecki (New York City): I have had the opportunity to serve as a judge for NFTE in the past and have been so impressed with the time commitment and creativity that students put into the competitions. It was an instant "yes" when I was asked to judge the World Series of Innovation. I looked forward to broadening my knowledge of how students from "outside our backyard" would perceive and address these critical human issues and needs, and what tools they felt would be most effective and useful.

Lenny Vasquez (New York City): Serving as a judge on this challenge was a great way to continue the work I had begun when I served in the Peace Corps. When I was in Peru, I helped local youth develop their business ideas and think about their futures. I saw firsthand how the entrepreneurial mindset can empower young people. Entrepreneurial skills, from problem-solving to adaptability, are valuable to so many aspects of their lives. I was excited to support these budding entrepreneurs and NFTE's mission.

What was your favorite youth innovation for Citi Foundation's Decent Work Challenge? Why?

Robert V. McGhee (Chicago, IL): It was tough to pick one, because I thought there were so many innovations that "answered the call" with respect to the challenge that was posed. But I also felt a personal connection to the premise behind the businesses, such as supporting busy households or creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Business concepts that really served a need or that were especially timely stood out to me. There's a lot of potential to bring these concepts "to market," and to incorporate the practices behind them into our everyday lives.

Lenny: My favorite innovations were the ones that had a really good story in their pitch videos or made me laugh by incorporating humor into their presentations. Not only were the ideas outside of the box; the way they were marketed to grab your attention was creative and clever.

What value does a virtual competition like this have?

Robert: Nothing beats the experience of absorbing the energy and excitement a young person presenting his or her business plan in-person. However, I think it's great that so many people can participate virtually. (The Citi Foundation's challenge received over 100 submissions from around the world!)

Helen: The virtual competition brought together young people from around the world without having to incur the investment of travel time and costs. It also illustrated the universality of issues including the need for employment and entrepreneurship, and safety in the workplace. My participation as a judge certainly broadened my knowledge of how students outside the U.S. recognize and understand the importance of addressing a broad assortment of vital human issues and needs. The public could also obtain a better understanding of the importance of these issues when they see that youth are concerned and eager to invest their time and talent to find solutions. These competitions also provide student participants with a whole host of skills and leadership building opportunities – working as part of a team, doing research, learning about how business works, and creating and delivering presentations to market their innovations. It's really a win-win for all.

Now NFTE is turning to you to help choose the winning innovation during its People's Choice Voting. Explore the top submissions here.

Learn more about Citi and the Citi Foundation's efforts to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals here.

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