Junior Achievement is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. The non-profit, which educates and inspires young people about workplace readiness and entrepreneurship, just released results from a survey that shows some 50 percent of teens would like to start their own businesses someday.
Fostering financial literacy among young people and preparing them for the workplace has been the mission of Junior Achievement since it was founded in 1919.
"We are the oldest business and economic education organization in the world," Junior Achievement Executive Vice President Jack Kosakowsky says. "We're now serving 9.2 million young people around the globe in 123 different countries."
Junior Achivement goes to schools
Kosakowsky says his group's programs connect students to local volunteers.
"It's typically a business person that will come in and share the very basic concepts of business with young people," he says. "But unlike a lot of more traditional education, where it is a lecture, everything that we do is experiential, so we put young people into situations where they can actually be engaged in an activity; for example, starting their own mini-student company [where they] experience those same challenges that we as adults would have when we start a business.
Environment related concepts interest many students
Young entrepreneurs, he says, are interested in running a wide variety of businesses.
"We had young people who would start a lot of environmental related companies," he explains. "So we've had students' companies that have gone into recycling. We had out of Norway, a program where a student developed a new type of ski sock that had a special padding in it, and was actually able to get a patent on that and has taken it to market and been very successful. I'm thinking of a student company in South Africa that developed a water carrying device that they were able to take to market and be very successful with," Kosakowsky says.
Learning the ropes of running a business
Sixteen-year-old Sylvia Cheung was introduced to Junior Achievement last year when she joined a student company in Houston, Texas.
"We have 33 company members. We're from different schools but we just meet on Saturdays from 4:30 to 6:30, it's an after school activity," she says.
Through these weekly meetings, Cheung has learned a lot about running a business, from planning and fund-raising to marketing. Her company took part in Junior Achievement's annual conference held in Boston Massachusetts last summer.
"We were selling a variety of products. [We sold] T-shirts, we also sold mini-air fresheners. We actually made them ourselves," she says. "We bought the materials from local companies. This year, we're going to change our T-shirts and make them from recyclable cotton."
Building a business from the 'grounds' up
Higher Grounds Café, in West Hills, California, started with 10 students, and now has 50 members working together to sell fair trade, certified organic tea, coffee and cocoa grown by farmers in Africa. High school senior Chellsey Cruz joined the company two years ago.
"The business was inspired by the movie Black Gold, which was a documentary that premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival," she recalls. "It's about farmers in Ethiopia who are struggling to survive on the poor prices they get for their coffee. After watching that video, we decided to start a business to provide them with fair prices," she says.
Last year, Higher Grounds Café was named Junior Achievement's company of the year. The success of the business, Cruz says, has taught her a valuable lesson in life.
Entrepreneurs stay focused on the quest for success
"I think I learned the skill of really staying focused and staying with a project, because at the beginning our business was not very popular, we were not selling very much, but I learned to stick with it and to not give up," she says. "It taught me to be dedicated, and that if you want to be successful, you have to put in a lot of time and effort. You really have to work at it," she says.
Bo Fishback, spokesperson for the non-profit Kauffman Foundation, says, "It's hugely important and it's never too early to start embedding that kind of mindset," he says.
Fishback encourages young people to join programs like Junior Achievement and says now is the best time to go into business.
"America was really built on the backs of the entrepreneurs who were able to see problems as opportunities and go and fix them," he says "It creates a societal change, an economic growth, it creates jobs. As the world has become so interconnected, it's provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs no matter where they are to access any market that exists," Fishback adds.
Junior Achievement's Kosakowsky agrees that world markets have become more accessible. He says that gives young entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to make a profit while making a difference for communities around the world.