As opportunity youth continue to struggle to connect to the economy, entrepreneurship offers a chance for them to learn the skills and mindset needed to thrive in today’s economy. Opportunity youth, the 4.6 million young people who are neither in work nor in school, often encounter significant barriers to education and employment, and entrepreneurship programs may offer solutions to the challenges they face.
Through the Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF), the Forum for Community Solutions (FCS) works with a network of over two dozen urban, rural, and tribal communities seeking to reconnect opportunity youth to employment and education opportunities. FCS looks for myriad ways to create these pathways, which was the basis behind the launch of the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund (YEF) in 2017.
Through funding support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, YEF responded to the interest expressed by OYF communities and youth leaders in exploring entrepreneurship as a pathway to economic self-determination and wealth-building in low-income communities.
The YEF seeks to promote racial and economic equity by ensuring that youth experiencing barriers to participation in the economy – including youth of color, Native American, and rural youth, as well as youth who are low-income and reside in public housing – are provided with a full range of opportunities to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skills that can help them thrive in today’s economy, as well as access to tools and resources needed by aspiring entrepreneurs.
A new publication, Creating Entrepreneurship Pathways for Opportunity Youth, co-written with FIELD at the Aspen Institute, examines the potential for using these YEF programs to engage and create pathways for opportunity youth by exploring results from OYF communities that received YEF grants and have entrepreneurship initiatives now in progress.
Mali Linton, 22, worked with Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) and HOPE SF Initiative last year and said the experience allowed her to acquire knowledge she couldn’t have learned on her own.
The focus in the Bay Area provided entrepreneurial education, mentoring, financial literacy training, business development classes, and wrap-around supports to youth residing in public housing, who are among the most marginalized of San Francisco residents and do not have a path into the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem of the city.
“I learned how to be creative and innovative while building my business from the ground up,” Mali says. “I’ve also learned that entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. I had to be comfortable being uncomfortable a lot.”
One of the goals of the YEF is to not just teach young people the tools to create businesses, but to use entrepreneurial education to develop skills that can support them in whatever career they choose.
Mali says she plans on sharing what she learned with others.
“YEF has given my community opportunities such as job readiness, employment opportunities, entrepreneurship education, and also it finds ways to help youth be a part of the growth of their community,” she says.
One of the individuals Mali worked closely with is Derick Thomas, who facilitated the entrepreneurship program for BACR.
“I have always been interested in the entrepreneurship path as a way to empower our communities,” Derick says. “I believe that entrepreneurship is the key to the liberation of our community, by taking charge of our own financial future we can use the money we make to put it back in our own communities.”
Derick says the impact he saw from youth involved in the program was immediate and lasting.
“People starting their own businesses start to feel empowered, they believe in themselves and their ability to take control of their destiny,” he says. “I’ve seen entrepreneurship spark excitement in the eyes of these young people, the ability to be their own boss and make their own money goes hand and hand with the street mentality we develop in our community.”
The effort in Philadelphia builds on existing partnerships to pilot, evaluate, and expand an entrepreneurship pathway for opportunity youth, supporting youth in launching microbusinesses, and developing valuable workplace and career skills. Coming off a successful first year, the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) will begin working with a second cohort of youth participants in their entrepreneurship program starting in February.
Dornella Harvey, PYN’s program manager for year-round programs, said through the initiative they are looking to bring a business panel of Philadelphia-based entreprenuers, and learnings could possibly influence summer programming for young people interested in starting their own businesses.
Dornella says the entrepreneurship program “gives young people the skills they need to succeed, as well as confidence and self-awareness to go out and obtain the careers that they want.”
PYN Executive Vice President Stephanie Gambone believes that helping young people develop an entrepreneurial mindset also imparts work readiness skills, which can be translated across any number of career pathways. She added that PYN and partners are excited to pilot this program in their community, because there has been a real desire to build more entrepreneurship opportunities for youth.
The third community receiving the YEF grant, was Del Norte County and Tribal Lands in Northern California. Wild Rivers Community Foundation, Redwood Voice, College of the Redwoods, Tolowa Dee-Nì Nation, Yurok Tribe, Northern California Indian Development Council and many local nonprofits worked together to launch youth innovation labs using human centered design. The goal is to introduce entrepreneurship skills development into the K-12 and community college system by creating opportunities for youth to solve local issues at their schools, in their community and through small business ventures.
As all three communities enter their second year of the entrepreneurship work, the Forum for Community Solutions looks forward to continuing the partnership and expanding entrepreneurship pathways.
Click here to read the report.