Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Global Citizen Year – Shaping the next generation of young Americans

I wrote about Brian, a former student who started The Right Side of History Campaign, in an earlier post. Another ex-student of mine who is just brilliant, Abby Falik (Abby was one of the speakers at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference this weekend), created a compelling organization right out of business school, Global Citizen Year. The idea behind Global Citizen Year is to engage a bunch of young Americans in a 9-month program, after they graduate from high school and before they start college, in order for them to get immersed in developing countries where they work for 6 months with local NGOs.

Abby came to business school with the seeds of that project in mind as she had been struck by the lack of international exposure of Americans in general while realizing also that the younger generation was probably different, namely much keener to get connected to the rest of the world. Being one of the so-called Millennials, she also knew that those folks constituted the most socially-conscious generation in history for which doing well does not come without doing good.

There is a long tradition of service (i.e. volunteering) in the US, dating back to the 30’s and the Civilian Conservation Corps created by President Roosevelt and the Peace Corps in the 60’s. Then AmericaCorps was founded in the 90’s during Bill Clinton’s first term and today thousands of young people spend a year doing service as part of organizations like YouthBuild or City Year.

Global Citizen Year draws upon this tradition and adds an international flavor, also targeting slightly younger folks and integrating some component of learning.

Abby who is an extraordinary young woman (by her smarts, grace, and determination) has been successful at getting her organization off the ground quickly and has managed to gather a “heavy-hitting” Advisory Council in particular, with the likes of Wendy Kopp, Teach for America’s founder, HBS professor and “leadership guru” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, or Matthew Flannery, Kiva.org’s founder and CEO.

Abby’s vision is for her organization to count 20,000 alumni, have reached out to 10,000 “host communities”, and have 5,000 projects implemented thanks in part to the GCY Fellows by 2020. This is an ambitious target for a program that costs over $25k per Fellow but GCY is already active in Senegal and Guatemala and is looking to expand to other countries in 2010.

More importantly, Abby knows that her nonprofit cannot do it all by itself and have a truly significant impact – there are about 75m of 18- to 34-year olds in the US alone after all... She has to create a movement so to speak, 1) to institutionalize a gap year between high school and college (that is what she wants) or to make it standard for young people to include a year of service in their education in the US, and 2) hopefully inspire similar initiatives around the world that would have young folks from northern and southern countries go spend several months abroad working on projects having social impact.

I am proud of you, Abby.

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