Educating a New Generation of Entrepreneurial Leaders

Four schools are leading the way on unleashing the potential of next-generation changemakers.

“Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world,” said the late Nelson Mandela. What can we do to develop a new generation of empowered and entrepreneurial leaders through our schools? We often pay lip service to ideas such as “21st-century learning” and “entrepreneurial leadership development,” but the reality is that the vast majority of schools are not adequately preparing students to lead and collaborate with others to create positive change in the world. Fortunately, there are shining examples of schools from which we can learn—schools that take responsibility for preparing all of their students to become changemaking leaders.

One example is in Ahmedabad, India. A group of fifth-grade students from the nearby Riverside School labor in a factory, tediously rolling traditional incense sticks for eight hours. This is not a form of indentured servitude but an important curriculum lesson engineered by the school to teach empathy. The children leave the factory exhausted, but also awakened to the needs of the world and often charged with a commitment to do something about child labor.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, emerging leaders from across the continent participate in lab sessions at the African Leadership Academy that introduce them to design-thinking principles; they learn to deeply understand the needs of their local communities, and develop and implement sustainable solutions through the school’s Student Enterprise Program.

A continent away, at the Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, N.C., students between the ages of 5 and 18 are exposed to experiential lessons on self-agency, teamwork and collaboration, innovation and execution, resourcefulness, and adaptive persistence while they strive to put their change projects into action.

And at the WeSchool and iFEEL, a business school in Mumbai, India, a seven-month Global Citizen Leader program tasks first-year students with understanding the lives of the poor and co-creating solutions for poverty alleviation. A formal evaluation at the end found that 92 percent of the students reported a rise in social awareness and empathy. Furthermore, 80 percent of the students subsequently indicated a readiness to take on social challenges and felt they had the capability to create change.

The pioneering efforts at these schools are purposefully incorporating changemaking leadership into the educational journey of all students by implementing a systemic, deeply integrated strategy throughout enrollment. By engaging all of their students through a systemic design, these schools recognize that everyone can become a leader of consequence. Further, they recognize that preparing students to become effective and enlightened leaders is critical to their future job prospects, leading deeply fulfilled lives, and becoming positive contributors to society in increasingly difficult times.

The need to think differently about preparing young people for the future is driven by a number of major forces. One is the Millennial generation itself. Half the people living in the world today are under the age of 30. The hundreds of millions of young people born in the digital age are more informed and connected than ever before. They’ve grown up in an era of widespread democracy, with expectations of freedom and equality. They are aware and distressed by the environmental, economic, and political state of the world. Change is very much on their minds: The world we have is not the one that they want. The interest of young people in changemaking is manifest in the surge in social entrepreneurship programs on college campuses and in young people taking to the street en masse for a slew of causes: against economic disparity in the Occupy Movement in the United States, for political representation in the Arab Spring, against corruption via the Lokpal Bill in India, and for affordable education in the Chilean Student Movement. These movements represent the readiness of young people to organize and vocalize their concerns.

Yet, even as young people want and expect more, opportunities are elusive. Job growth is not keeping pace with the increase in schools and college graduates. The current state of youth unemployment is equally dramatic in the wake of economic downturn in parts of Europe; youth employment exceeds 50 percent in Greece and Spain.

The lack of jobs is compounded by the lack of skills among those who have an education. Employers globally declare that educational institutions are not adequately preparing young people with appropriate skills for the jobs they have available. The deficit is greatest in the area of soft skills. In “Expanding the Leadership Equation,” a Center for Creative Leadership survey on workforce readiness, executives named self-motivation, communication, learning agility, self-awareness, and adaptability as the most essential skills required for success in today’s work environment. Furthermore, 90 percent indicated that this leadership development needed to begin before the age of 18.

There is an urgent need for young people to develop the practical skills employers are demanding. At leading-edge educational institutions—such as Riverside School, African Leadership Academy, Ravenscoft, and WeSchool—the focus is on learning agility and the practical application of learning. What’s more, these schools leverage social engagement as a means to develop creativity, collaboration, communication, and resilience. For the students themselves, self-clarity, relationship skills, and the ability to put ideas into action for sustainable and positive change are skills they need to live a life that is self-directed and meaningful.

We need more schools—indeed all schools—to shift away from top-down forms of knowledge delivery with few opportunities for experiential problem-solving, self-discovery, and collaborative co-creation. We need a new future where entrepreneurial leadership development is integrated into every facet of learning for all students. The demands of the world are too great to avoid making this shift. We have models that are working well. The time is now to connect this work and begin to scale it globally.

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  • John Crosby's avatar

    BY John Crosby

    ON March 17, 2014 12:59 PM

    Thank you. You have both affirmed & challenged my thinking as a father and a professional focused on leadership development.

  • BY Carolyn M. Appleton, CFRE

    ON April 4, 2014 07:24 AM

    In Austin, Texas you will find friends at EcoRise Youth Innovations: “EcoRise Youth Innovations inspires a new generation of leaders to design a sustainable future for all. Our school based program empowers youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching environmental literacy, social innovation and hands-on design skills.” Focusing primarily on middle and high schools, EcoRise provides an introduction to “green career fields such as sustainable architecture, engineering, product design, green business, technology, science and engineering.” The website is below. Gina LaMotte, Founder & Executive Director has said she’d love to visit with you (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). Best wishes from Texas.

  • Nice Article Below Article helps Entrepreneurs with the required skills

  • johnengle's avatar

    BY johnengle, Haiti Partners

    ON January 5, 2016 06:21 AM

    I love this article, Christopher and Lyndon! I’m an American but have spent most of the last 25 years living and working in Haiti. After focusing for many years on collaborative leadership and discussion-based education, we felt the need to start our own school in Sept 2012. Here’s a link to our Children’s Academy and Learning Center I’ve learned about CCL and Ravenscroft recently through person involved in curriculum at Milton S. Hershey School. It’s wonderful to learn about the positive things happening around the world. We’re working to have Children’s Academy and Learning Center become a reference that can influence others, in the same way that these schools mentioned above are inspiring others. I’m grateful for the work you’re doing to promote this type of education!

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Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

By Paul Tough

Building on his previous work about the importance of personal traits such as perseverance in student success, Paul Tough focuses Helping Children Succeed on how educators, policymakers, and parents can help children develop those attributes.