Global Citizen Year Creates Social Enterprise Leaders

Josh grew up in a rough neighborhood of Oakland, Calif. Some of his friends had died young, others were in jail for drug dealing. But Josh was different. Despite learning disabilities and other challenges, he was accepted into a program that let him spend the year after his graduation from high school in a community development program in Senegal, Africa.

A year later, he stood in front of an audience including his parents and local community leaders and talked about his experiences. And in September 2011, he is headed to a college in the northeast on scholarship to pursue a career that will take him far from those Oakland streets.

The program that helped Josh is called Global Citizen Year. It’s the realization of a master’s thesis that founder and CEO Abigail Falik wrote to get her degree in education at Stanford. As she told me in a July 20 interview, when she graduated from high school, Falik wanted to join the Peace Corps but she was deemed too young. Global Citizen Year is her effort to turn that thesis — outlining a gap year program to expose high school graduates to global social enterprise before they entered college — into a real organization.

Behind Global Citizen Year is a mission of creating a new generation of leaders for addressing global development challenges, an idea that Falik markets to graduating seniors, their parents, and college admissions officers. She has to make Global Citizen Year compelling to

  • The students — which she does through Facebook, Twitter, and direct referrals from their peers;
  • Their parents — accomplished through testimonials from parents of alumni; and
  • College admissions officers who must permit students to defer admissions for a year to participate in a Global Citizen Year program.

Global Citizen Year has programs in Brazil, Ecuador, and Senegal. Students accepted into Global Citizen Year are notified in the spring of their senior year. In the summer, they participate remotely in a training from a distance program that exposes them to basic principles of organizing and fundraising, using blogs and social media to mobilize supporters.

In the fall, the entire cohort travels to Stanford for a two-week pre-departure training, where they learn from business leaders and social entrepreneurs and prepare for their projects in the field.

After the training, Global Citizen Year participants spend six months working in individualized apprenticship placements in one of the three countries. These apprenticeships typically pertain to education, health, girls’ and women’s empowerment, or the environment. While the participants are working in country, they use social media to provide their communities with bi-monthly syntheses of what they are learning from the experience.

And in the spring, they come back to California and participate in the program capstone –presenting at local high schools, thanking their donors, and getting ready for entering college in the fall.

Speaking of money, 40% of Global Citizen Year’s budget comes from parents paying tuition. The balance comes from individual donors, foundations, or corporate sponsors.

Global Citizen Year’s team has grown since it was founded in 2009 after Falik graduated from Harvard Business School (HBS) where she was a Social Enterprise Fellow. She decided to go to business school because her work in the non-profit sector after she graduated from Stanford demonstrated to her that these organizations had the potential to make much more effective use of their resources. She believes that HBS has given her the skills to achieve that.

Her team has grown from 2 staffers and 11 students in 2009 to 10 staff members and 30 students in 2010. This year, her staff totals 16 and Global Citizen Year has 60 students. And in the next few years, she hopes to add programs in China, India, and the Middle East.

Falik’s long-term goal for Global Citizen Year is to create a pre-college global immersion movement along the lines that Teach For America has done for post-college teaching service. To that end, she wants  Global Citizen Year alumni to become world leaders when it comes to solving global development issues.

That’s why Global Citizen Year’s student selection process is so important — it looks for high school students who demonstrate initiative when it comes to social issues. For example, Global Citizen Year looked favorably on applicants who took the lead in setting up organizations in their high schools to help Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake there.

Falik is turning her high school dream into a reality. If it helps put more people like Josh on a path to being productive global leaders, the world will be a better place.

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Global Citizen Year is moving forward as part of our new, larger brand: Tilting Futures. New name, same mission, expanded programs and impact.