Young, disconnected -- and ready for mentoring
A wise man once said that the road to success is not straight. But what he should have added is that the journey isn't a solitary voyage, either.
Any successful man or woman knows this to be true. And they also understand that to receive guidance, wisdom, and inspiration from others is a priceless contribution that is not often afforded to those who need it most. The lucky few who receive the benefits of a mentor appreciate all too well the difference it makes in enabling them to achieve their potential.
A living example is that of Ted Leonsis, Internet pioneer, owner of the Washington Capitals, investor, filmmaker, author and philanthropist. It is true that today Ted is an inspirational mentor to many, myself included. But at one time he was a struggling young adult whose life was dramatically changed by the influence of another.
As Ted explains eloquently in his book, The Business of Happiness, a high school counselor once told Ted that he was not "college material." However, Father Joseph Durkin, a Georgetown author and historian, recognized Ted's potential and took him under his wing. With Father Durkin's mentorship, Ted graduated at the top of his class -- and achieved a potential that would otherwise have gone untapped.
Ted's story underscores the importance of providing young adults with the opportunities and support they need to succeed -- especially those young people who are facing socio-economic challenges. I've seen the power of mentorship first-hand by being involved in a partnership between Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and Year Up, a national nonprofit organization that provides career training to low-income young adults and helps them secure internships with top U.S. companies.
Year Up's participants are among the 4.4 million young adults living in the United States who are "disconnected" -- neither in school nor working. According to Year Up, 15 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds are disconnected and affected by the "opportunity divide," a lack of access to resources and support. The D.C. metro area is home to 33,000 of these young adults alone. How many potential Ted Leonsis-sized successes are hidden in that number?
President Barack Obama recently initiated a call-to-action to help these disconnected young adults by scaling up results-oriented nonprofit programs, such as Year Up, to expand their reach, and help create social change in the nation's communities.
Norean Sharpe, dean of the undergraduate program at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, and Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, executive director of Year Up in Washington, D.C., recently hosted a competition in which GAMBLE (Georgetown's Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs) students mentored and coached groups of Year Up's young adults to conceptualize and develop a business plan. The end result was a business-plan competition hosted by Georgetown, featuring a panel of judges that included Georgetown faculty, MBA students, and D.C.-area corporate executives who voted on the best plan.
What I saw was that the real reward of the competition was not the award presented to the outstanding team, but the fact that two unlikely sets of students formed friendships and connections that will, hopefully, bloom into professional networks in the future.
For Georgetown students, this partnership has represented a chance to share their wealth of knowledge and resources with those who don't have easy access to either. And for Year Up participants, it is a unique introduction to a world of business many of them had never seen, but which now seems more accessible and real.
The intersection of educational institutions, social innovators, nonprofit organizations, and the business community is critical to solving the challenges facing so many young adults.
In fact, it is going to take the concerted, coordinated effort of nonprofits, like Year Up, that find and train disconnected young people; educational institutions, including Georgetown, to mentor these young people; and corporate partners, such as AOL, to help these young people reach their potential.
If these partners unite to connect the 'disconnected,' America's young adults will have better access to real careers, without which they will not be able to move from poverty into the economic mainstream.
At the same time, these partnerships help propel the U.S. economy forward by supplying corporate America with valuable talent that is essential in keeping the U.S. economy competitive on a global scale.
And if that's not enough, these young people will ultimately have the means to give back to their own communities, where they will pay it forward as they become mentors themselves.
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