Program Aims to Develop a Generation of Global Citizens

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Inspired by her summer living in a rural Nicaraguan village as a teenager, Abby Falik (MBA 2008) tried to join the Peace Corps upon graduating from high school, only to be rejected because of her age.

Some years later, that rejection spurred Falik to develop an idea that in 2008 won the Pitch for Change competition, a part of the Social Enterprise Conference cosponsored by HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School. Her winning idea? Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit social enterprise that prepares young people for the challenges of a global economy. Global Citizen Year fellows spend a “bridge” year between high school and college working as apprentices with cross-sector organizations in Brazil, Ecuador, and Senegal. Plans are under way to expand to China and India.

The Global Citizen Year idea also garnered Falik an HBS Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship in 2009, along with a check for $25,000. “That additional investment really helped,” says Falik. “Since then we’ve raised nearly $4 million. In this economy, I think that is a testament to how much resonance Global Citizen Year has had as an idea whose time has come.”

That resonance has to do with the experience Global Citizen Year provides. It is designed to build a leadership pipeline by giving young people deep experience living and working abroad, while cultivating their skills speaking languages and navigating cross-cultural work environments. The need for such experience is clear, she adds. “Two-thirds of business leaders believe college grads are not prepared for the global economy,” says Falik.

Support for Global Citizen Year has been building steadily. This year, 56 young people are in the field, twice as many as last year, and five times as many as the pilot year in 2009. “That’s exciting, but it’s really just the beginning,” says Falik.

By 2016, Falik plans to place 1,000 Global Citizen Year fellows. Her vision is that the program will become a household name with the prestige of the Fulbright Program or Teach For America, and that the idea of a global bridge year before college becomes the norm, not the exception. “We want Global Citizen Year to be a mark of distinction. Imagine if someday colleges require this type of experience as a condition of admission.”

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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.