WASHINGTON, DC (October 19, 2011) – The economy seems stuck, going nowhere. Most Americans do not believe our country’s leaders can fix it. Where are the solutions? In part, the answers are found in the entrepreneurial spirit that has always been this country’s foundation. Today, The Hitachi Foundation presents seven examples: young men and women selected as the Foundation’s 2011 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs.
“Whether they are mentoring youth in struggling school districts, painting blighted buildings, harvesting tea leaves, or providing micro-loans for start up businesses, these entrepreneurs have demonstrated the resilience of American ingenuity.” said Melissa Bradley, CEO of Tides, Hitachi Foundation Board member and Chair of the Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Selection Committee. “They are showing the difference one person can still make in the U.S. economy – and they are using the principles of business to make that difference.”
The Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs demonstrate business approaches that help create greater economic opportunity for low-wealth individuals in the United States. This marks the second year of the Foundation’s Young Entrepreneurs Program. To be considered, entrepreneurs must have been under the age of 30 when they started their enterprise, and operating viable businesses that create jobs, supply goods or services, or use internal management practices that offer low-wealth individuals in the United States a leg up.
Individually and as a group, they prove that young Americans can and are helping the American economy move forward:
Andy Posner (26) believes that access to capital has the potential to transform individual lives, communities and the environment. In 2009, as a student pursuing his master’s degree, he co-founded the Capital Good Fund (CGF). CGF is a nonprofit micro-lender with a mission to create a poverty-free, inclusive green economy in the United States. While pursuing graduate studies, Andy further learned that millions of Americans are completely shut out of the financial system because of language, cultural, and/or legal barriers as well as a lack of or poor credit history. CGF loans help low-income individuals access the financial system through equitable loans and financial coaching. At the same time, CGF works with clients to green their homes and businesses and take other action and leadership on environmental issues. CGF currently offers business loans, from $500-$5,000, and personal loans, from $200-$5,000. To date, CGF has made 149 loans totaling more than $163,000. In addition, CGF offers one-on-one financial and business coaching and free tax preparation. So far, CGF has graduated 102 people through business and financial coaching and provided tax prep to 26 individuals.
Moving Forward Education (MFE) is a multi-generational mentoring program aimed at fostering academic and emotional success for underserved students of color in California. Lacy Asbill (30) and Elana Metz (32) co-founded the program – they were inspired by a vision of an organization run by young people, for young people, focusing on students’ emotional well-being as a critical strategy for improving their academic achievement.
MFE offers its services in two distinct programs: Girls Moving Forward, a program for girls run by young female educators, and Boys Moving Forward, a boy-centered program run by young male teachers. Girls Moving Forward focuses on building girls’ confidence and self-belief, addresses the persistent pressures that girls face around their body and appearance, and fosters healthy relationships among girls. Boys Moving Forward teaches boys to experience and express their emotions, works to develop boys’ impulse control and ability to resolve conflicts, and provides boys with much needed positive male role models. Both programs include reading, English language arts, and mathematics instruction. Since MFE’s founding in 2006, the organization has served 3,000 students, most at no cost to their families. In addition, MFE has trained 500 young adults to enter careers in the educational field.
While working with indigenous communities in Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil, Runa co-founders Tyler Gage (25) and Dan MacCombie (26) saw firsthand the tradeoff they face: while they want to preserve their cultural heritage, they must earn money and feed their families in an increasingly globalized economy. After discovering the commercial potential of guayusa – a naturally caffeinated leaf from the Amazon tree of the same name – as an export product, Tyler and Dan created Runa, a Fair Trade business, to share guayusa with the world. Runa produces and markets ready to drink bottled teas, specialty bagged teas, and wholesale guayusa. It is the first company to bring guayusa products to the United States. In addition to creating an economic base for the Kichwa people, Runa is creating jobs for people living in the U.S. who are of Ecuadorian descent as sales representatives and facility managers. Runa will build its organic tea factory in Brooklyn – New York has one of the largest populations of Ecuadorians in the world. The company also supports indigenous farmers and reforestation in the Amazon rainforest. In less than one year of operations, Runa has partnered with over 800 farming families to plant more than 100,000 trees on their lands, and paid over $6,000 of supplementary income for guayusa leaves harvested from existing guayusa trees.
While an economics student at Stanford University, Garrett Neiman (23) decided to use his research and work experience in education to help close the college opportunity gap and increase college options for low-income students. With co-founder Jessica Perez, he created an organization that provides the only SAT preparation curriculum tailored to the needs of low-income students. These students often remain locked out of the test preparation industry, resulting in a nearly 300-point disparity between low-income students and their wealthiest peers. SEE provides an in-depth SAT preparation and college-counseling program, which provides the necessary inspiration, mentorship, and know-how for low-income students to succeed on the SAT and in the college admissions and financial aid process.
SEE programming focuses on core academic material that students may have missed in their under-resourced classrooms. Students report that SEE’s programs — which solidify math, reading, and writing skills — have a positive impact on everyday academic performance in high school and college. A significant portion of teaching and mentoring teams are people of color and many are among the first generation in their families to go to college, providing real life examples to SEE’s students. In addition to an average SAT score gain of 202 points, students also leave SEE with drafts of college admissions essays and personal statements.
Young Picasso Painting (YPP) is an eco-friendly professional painting company created with the goal of strengthening the underserved communities in which it operates. Blaine Mickens (21) founded YPP to break the cycle of poverty by employing low-wealth individuals, including the formerly incarcerated, and working in low-income communities to enhance the look of blighted buildings. In addition, YPP infuses environmentally sustainable practices into its operations, including using low VOC paints (Volatile organic compounds) and no VOC spackles. YPP allocates five percent of net profits to its “Give Back Fund,” which is designated for community outreach efforts, including restoring faith-based organizations, day care centers, and other socially valuable businesses. The company removes graffiti and paints exteriors of abandoned properties to both raise community morale and property values. YPP also offers a summer internship for underserved youth.
Each individual or enterprise team receives a two-year grant and technical assistance to support their skill development and strengthen their business. Through partnerships with leading organizations, including Investors’ Circle, Social Venture Network, B-Lab, MIT Sloan School of Management, PICnet, and others — Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs receive state-of-the-art mentorship and coaching. In addition, each award recipient instantly becomes part of a dynamic peer-learning network.
The Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs will be honored at a special event in Washington, DC on October 25, 2011.
For more information: http://www.hitachifoundation.org. Photos are available upon request.The Hitachi Foundation was established as an independent nonprofit philanthropic organization by Hitachi, Ltd. in 1985. Governed by a Board of Directors composed of highly accomplished Americans, the Foundation seeks to discover and expand business practices that create tangible and enduring economic opportunities for low-wealth Americans, their families, and the communities in which they reside.