As the economic recovery in the United States has shown, small businesses and entrepreneurs are a key factor in building the longstanding success of an economy. This is so true that developing nations around the world are putting in place initiatives designed to help women, and other groups who traditionally would not choose the path of entrepreneurship, move into that arena.
When people choose to build a small business, they contribute to the local economy. They create jobs for their community. They change the understanding people have of a given block or neighborhood. And overall, they bring money into a community, and help to create a positive spiral of upward mobility.
It makes sense, therefore, that groups like RealityChangers are working with disadvantaged youth to help them go to college, often becoming the first college graduate in their family, and move forward into a positive life.
Understand Challenges That Young Entrepreneurs May Face
To work with disadvantaged youth in any given community, you will need to know the community well. A group of Latino youth will face a different set of challenges than a group of Black youth, and inner city kids have a different struggle than those who are poor in more rural areas. The most successful initiatives often come from within a community, and focus on specific goals rather than broad mottos.
Particularly for those who aspire to go to college, it’s important to know that being a first-generation college student has its own set of difficulties. Those who are the first in their family to attend college are most likely to drop out and never complete their degree. Successful organizations help kids prepare for college environments, workloads, and social situations.
How does this affect entrepreneurs?
When studies look at the challenges that women and other minorities face in terms of starting their own business, it is very clear that accessing capital and lack of mentorship are the two biggest challenges that these groups face in creating a successful entrepreneurial path. When working with disadvantaged youth to help them create a solid path towards entrepreneurship, be aware of what the best non-traditional funding options are in the local area.
Know That Negative Messages Don’t Resonate
One interesting truth that RealityChangers has uncovered is that the traditional messages we give kids who are at risk – don’t do drugs, don’t join a gang – don’t resonate. The organization refers to this as The Tightrope Theory – that is, telling kids all the things they shouldn’t do is about as useful as putting someone on a tightrope and then telling them, “Don’t look down.”
Instead of layering on these deficit-based messages that tell kids all the things they shouldn’t do without actually giving them strategies to avoid them, RealityChangers focuses on what they call an asset-based model, where they help kids use the skills they have to create a better, safer environment for themselves.
What does this mean for young entrepreneurs?
Everyone prefers to hear criticism voice in constructive ways, but with kids who’ve had a record of difficulties or failures, it may be even more important for mentors and those in positions of authority to phrase concerns or suggestions in ways that set up the hopeful entrepreneur as successful in the future, though there is an issue in front of them that requires attention.
Help Youth Set Goals and Meet Them
Kids who have a less privileged background may have a variety of difficulties, making moving forward harder for them. They could have undiagnosed health or learning disabilities that require extra tutoring or accommodations in order to be successful in school. They may have insecurities in their home that make school harder to manage. Starting with this understanding of their background may help a mentor realize that they need to start at a very basic level in terms of goal setting.
How can you help young entrepreneurs with this skill?
If you are mentoring a young entrepreneur who comes from a background that included a great deal of poverty, especially generational poverty, it’s important to understand that they might not have seen a lot of modeling of successful planning. Giving them hands-on tools and crash courses in how to set a reasonable goal, and then determine the necessary steps to make it happen, will help them make their entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
Working with disadvantaged youth is incredibly fulfilling, both for mentor and for mentee. Especially for those who come from within a community and who have managed to make a positive difference, being able to give back to the kids who are moving through the same area can be incredibly inspirational.
What programs are available in your industry to support disadvantaged youth?