The better the question. The better the answer. The better the world works.

How a program can help inner-city kids reach their full potential

Discover how an EY team encourages inner-city kids to think critically about their community and innovative ways to make it better.

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The better the question

How can you help a child dream of a future they’ve never imagined?

Many inner-city kids don’t have the resources to fulfill their potential.

The children of inner-city Chicago are some of the most underserved in the United States. Drugs, gangs and violence are real challenges, leaving some children to wonder if they’ll make it to school safely each morning. Their schools are important community-based institutions, which in combination with collaborators like EY, help make sure students have the resources they need to reach their full potential and to broaden their horizons.

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The better the answer

Mentoring young entrepreneurs

A program that empowers Chicago kids and broadens their horizons.

In the Chicago member firm office, EY people have volunteered for years with the Big Shoulders Fund. Founded in 1986, the organization serves inner-city schools to provide a quality, values-based education for Chicago’s children, thereby contributing to stronger communities. They support the students through scholarships, academic and enrichment programs, school operational improvements and leadership development.

In 2016, Lee Henderson, EY Central Growth Markets Leader and Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Program Director, and Molly Cook approached the Big Shoulders Fund to ask what needs the organization had that EY people could address. The result was the Entrepreneurship Program. Fully funded by the EY member firm office in Chicago, this idea competition, along with mentorship throughout the year from EY people, was created to help inner-city kids think critically about their community and come up with innovative ways to make it better.

In its first year, the Entrepreneurship Program identified 10 Big Shoulders Fund schools that organized classrooms of 10 students each, ranging from sixth grade to eighth grade. The students were challenged to come up with a big idea that would change their community, as well as a financial plan, market analysis and understanding of the materials they would need.

Throughout the school year, EY volunteers mentored the students and helped them work on their ideas, providing in-depth education on business strategy and development that the children had never before been exposed to. A highlight for the students was the opportunity to tour 1871, Chicago’s startup incubator, where they could see people bringing ideas to life just like they did, and aspire to do the same.

At the end of the school year, the students presented their ideas to a panel of partners and entrepreneurs, including an alumnus of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, and in front of more than 100 of their peers. Three winners were chosen, celebrated at the Regional EOY gala, and provided with a financial prize for their schools; but in reality, the true mission of the day had just started.

After the competition was over, the students were brought to the EY member firm office in downtown Chicago to get a glimpse of what professional life could hold. For many of the students, this was their first visit to a professional office environment.

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The better the world works

Future entrepreneurs

Big Shoulders Fund youth entrepreneurship program shows how kids with an entrepreneurial spirit can make a difference in their own lives and their communities.

The program has already grown to reach 13 schools in 2017 and 20 schools in 2018. Some students have returned to the program each year, inspired to create something even better.

“These students are our future and the next big ideas are coming out of these kids,” Lee says, and as the program moves into its third year, the sky is truly the limit for their entrepreneurial development.

One student, who is now in high school, credits the program with helping her realize her own leadership skills. It allowed her to safely step outside of her comfort zone and try things she had never done before, like designing a website logo and coaching other students through a group presentation.

Eventually, the team hopes to see these bright young minds bring their ideas back to their neighborhoods, where local entrepreneurship represents a real opportunity for these communities to develop organically and sustainably. But today, it’s more than enough that these children know they have dreams worth achieving.