I have always had two distinct passions: entrepreneurship and public service. In high school, I had often found it difficult to link these interests because in my mind both were diametrically opposite; the former looked to make money while the latter wished to give it away. As a high school junior, I developed a strategy to maximize the scope of my efforts in business and volunteer service.
I figured that if such notable organizations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Newman’s Own had been founded by successful entrepreneurs and were able to make a huge impact on their communities, there was no stopping a determined teenager from doing the same!
As the vice president of Koyal Wholesale (www.koyal.com), a wholesale wedding and party supply company based in Corona, Calif., I am in charge of marketing for the start-up that my brother, sister and I founded in 2003. After learning about the 1994 Rwandan genocide in a world history class, I was inspired to start my own non-profit, non-government organization called See Evil, End Evil (SEEDE – www.seede.org) encouraging youth to "question, understand and act" upon human rights violations.
My first project with SEEDE involved raising money for the creation of Rwanda’s first public library. In conjunction with Koyal, we sold custom-designed rubber bracelets, buttons and magnets manufactured from Shenzhen, China to recognize the tenth anniversary of the genocide. I also used my contacts with wholesale vendors to market the products in trade shows and events in Las Vegas, Chicago and San Francisco. In total, we raised nearly $24,000 from those projects. My first experience as a social entrepreneur turned out to be extremely successful as both the nonprofit group and the business thrived.
Here are five tips for how youth can combine their interests in business and public service to have a huge impact on their communities:
Start small, but think BIG! Social enterprise can run the gamut from a third grader’s lemonade stand to earn money for a community service project to a large corporation donating proceeds and services to an international nonprofit group. Don’t be pressured into pursuing large and formidable endeavors from the start. First, create a detailed plan and timeframe, and try to remain on schedule with your project. Set reasonable target goals for fundraising and service work. By striving to meet and exceed your expectations, the project will continue to expand at the pace you choose.
Creativity is a key to achieving your goals. Take the time to research similar programs that others have implemented in the past, and note the positives and negatives that occurred. Brainstorm ways in which you can build on the positive attributes by adding your own innovative flair. Make yourself stand out from the crowd of do-gooders and get your voice heard!
Widespread publicity for your organization and project is essential. Get the name of your organization and venture out there as much as possible and maintain a respectable image. This will help both your business and service efforts flourish. With your company, customers will see that you are contributing proceeds to a worthwhile cause and will be more likely to buy your products. With your service organization, people will see that you are credible and honest and they will be more willing to aid your efforts.
Working in a team can propel you even further. Social entrepreneurship is tough because it combines so many different factors and sometimes falls on the shoulders of a single person. College students can often find it difficult to juggle entrepreneurship and service, with all the homework and standardized tests that school brings. Therefore, gather close friends, family and relatives and work together to achieve a common goal. Your project will most likely have a greater reach with a team of motivated individuals working together.
Don’t be discouraged if an idea or project runs into roadblocks.It’s almost inevitable! Your job as a resilient young go-getter is to overcome these obstacles by trying new ideas to propel your project forward. Always have a backup plan if a specific task fails and avoid the same obstacles.
Before I started my ventures in social enterprise, I took a Thomas Edison quote to heart. One of America’s greatest minds, Edison once said, "I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent." This mindset motivated Edison to brighten the world with his innovations.
Now I urge all youth to do the same. Whether you have an invention, a fundraising effort or any other product or service in mind, always remain open to new ideas and approaches to help your community. After all, it’s possible that a light bulb may go off in your head guiding you to be a social entrepreneur.
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