Exceptional, January 2014

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship

Advantaging the disadvantaged

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As CEO of the US-based Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Amy Rosen is helping to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and global business minds.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) runs programs to inspire young people from low income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for a successful future. We typically work in public schools, offering classes in which every student has the opportunity to create a business plan and then compete in our local and national competitions.

We’re teaching young people to be entrepreneurs, but also to have the mind-set to think entrepreneurially while working in their existing jobs or looking for another job. To date, we have reached more than half a million young people and trained more than 5,000 public school teachers as certified entrepreneurship teachers.

I took over the organization six years ago because I thought NFTE was a brilliant idea that could change the world. Children surrounded by poverty often develop many of the same skills as entrepreneurs. At an early age, they have to work hard to get things want. They just need a broader picture of what success looks like and then they can harness their natural passions and skills.

In the US, one in three high school students drops out — that’s 7,000 students a day and one every nine seconds — and students from low-income families are six times more likely to drop out.

Globally, there are 1.4 billion young people looking for jobs. We’re expanding our program into countries such as Mexico, France, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Entrepreneurs are the most promising employers of our decade, and we need this army of entrepreneurial citizens to grow our world economy. That’s why it’s important that businesses — large and small — support efforts to send entrepreneurs into the classroom and mentor these kids.

Children surrounded by poverty often develop many of the same skills as entrepreneurs.

A lot of corporations around the world, especially those in financial services, need to meet corporate social responsibility requirements. NFTE helps them meet those requirements in terms of economic development, financial literacy and inclusion. We have a number of global partners, and we’ve had a relationship with EY since the 1990s. The magic ingredient to our success is the thousands of employees who volunteer as mentors and judges. Many senior leaders these corporations talk about the impact NFTE has on their workforces. These volunteers bring lessons learned through NFTE back into their companies.

Recently, I was working at an event for our Greater Washington, DC, office and a gentleman walked up to me and told me he was working in an NFTE classroom. He said he initially went in as a work obligation but thought he actually got more out of it than the students.

Our 500,000 NFTE alumni are, by far, the best evidence of how we benefit students.

I have the privilege of meeting more and more of our program alumni every day. There is a great young man named Rodney Walker who is now at Yale Graduate School. When he was 5, his parents were arrested on drug charges, and he spent the next decade in foster homes until he ran away and began living on the streets.

So how did he go from there to here? He walked into an NFTE classroom after coming into school for food. Through this class, he started a video production business. He is a powerful example of what can be achieved.