Hot kidpreneur programs that are making a difference; turning kids on to the passion of business is just one of the benefits of these exciting youth programs.
The SWAYBO students review their curriculum in a litany reminiscent of drills used in |60s African-American heritage preschools. "What is an entrepreneur?" asks the instructor. "An entrepreneur is one who assumes the risks Of Owning and operating his or her own business," the youngsters answer in unison. "What is a business?" he wants to know. "A business is an industrial or commercial enterprise," they chorus.
The students recite poetry by Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni to practice public speaking. Testing their knowledge of economic news, they discuss the President's deficit reduction plan. Revealing how SWAYBO Inc., a private, nonprofit volunteer organization, encourages them in positive pursuits, they discuss the torture-murder of a 15-year-old girl who was killed because she wanted to leave a gang.
"Everything matters to us, Edward Menifee, SWAYBO's founder/director, explains to the young members. "There are two are types of businesses--personal business and commercial business. If you don't get your personal business in order, you can't do anything commercially."
Programs teaching children how to own and operate businesses are popping up in African-American communities across the country. No one knows exactly how many programs exist, but experts agree that entrepreneurship education for children has blossomed since the mid-1980s. Most of these programs combine an academic curriculum with hands-on experiences, rendering business skills both challenging and fun for children to learn. But there's another mission. These programs cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in African-American children, making them comfortable with the idea that owning a business is something they really can do.
It was just this vision that led to the founding of the Camden, N.J.-based Education, Training and Enterprise Center (EDTEC).
According to its co-founder, George Walters, this for-profit consulting firm provides training and markets its curriculum to other agencies, groups and individuals who want to start youth entrepreneurship programs. Walters and his partner, Aaron A. Bocage, also operate a summer entrepreneurial program in Camden and publish a monthly business newsletter for children, Market Street Journal "People who had information about entrepreneurship didn't talk to our kids about it," Waters asserts. "They talked to them about getting jobs and being good employees, which is important, but no one talked to them about ownership."
Fueling the movement to teach black children the basics of entrepreneurship is the concern that too many of them are "at risk." Sound-bites and statistics tell a distressing story: the growing number of African-American young people falling prey to gang violence, drug addiction, teen pregnancy and crime. "Where you see the concept of youth entrepreneurship popping up-boom--there's response because people are looking for an answer," says Kathleen Sullivan, managing partner of AVS & Associates, a for-profit entrepreneurial youth training firm based in Oakland, Calif.
Concerns about the stagnant national economy, which continues to produce fewer jobs, are also providing momentum to the movement. "The increase in the number of programs for children entrepreneurs is a natural outgrowth of the economic plight we're in," says Amy Green, executive director of the National Student Business league (NSBL). The collegiate division of the Washington, D.C.-based National Business League, NSBL comprises 800 college students in 42 chapters at campuses across the country. "Realities say that we're going to have to take control of producing goods and services to pull out of this economic quagmire," Green asserts. "Entrepreneurship is part of the solution."
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL OPTION
That message has been preached at SWAYBO for almost two decades. "The whole concept is that our kids can go anywhere, they can do anything, but they've got to do it through business," says Menifee, who is also president of Southeastern Management and Business Development Co., an Atlanta-based consulting firm. "The best thing going in America other than free religion is free enterprise. Our kids have to have the attitude that they with be enterprising."
A model of black enterprise, SWAYBO was launched in 1974 with $25-a start-up loan from Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, where the group still meets every Tuesday evening. The first eight members invested in candy and potato chips, which they sold for a $40 profit the first week.
Today, the Menifees--with the help of parents, SWAYBO alumni and Atlanta-area business owners--donate money, in-kind services and time to support the group. Menifee estimates the value of that support at $120,000 per year.
During the past two decades, SWAYBO group and individual ventures (such as selling T-shirts and bubble bath, and providing babysitting, pet care and tutoring services) have grossed more than $2 million. Every year, students also sell advertisements for their anniversary program book. Profits help defray the costs of group activities, including annual group trips throughout North America, Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Traveling as "goodwill ambassadors" from Atlanta, the students visit businesses as well as colleges and universities in the destination cities.
Ed Menifee says the program's human results are equally impressive. Of the 367 youths who have joined SWAYBO over the last 20 years, Menifee can track 70 who graduated from high school while they were still in the program. Sixty-seven went on to college or trade school (five currently own businesses). Three joined the military. Most members come from low- and middle-income, single-parent families, but Menifee bristles at the notion that they are disadvantaged. "I tell the kids that their only disadvantage is that they don't have the same opportunity as some other kids to learn about business and economics," he says. "Every black person is disadvantaged to that extent."
Kwanza, an 8th-grader at Sandy Springs Middle School, joined SWAYBO last year. She intends to go on to college and then to medical school. "My mom was in SWAYBO, so I decided to make it a whole generational thing," says the teen, whose mother died in 1986. "And I wanted to start learning to be responsible for myself because I know my grandparents won't always be there for me."
SWAYBO has been around long enough to produce a second-generation member. But in Chicago, the Heartland Institute's Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship (CTE) has just three years' experience under its belt. This year, 116 low- and middle-income central-city youths attended 10-week entrepreneurship courses at various youth centers. Five graduates who launched businesses during the sessions are still averaging $100 per month from those ventures. Another 1,300 students were introduced to entrepreneurship through one-day workshops conducted at schools and community centers around the city.
"We focus on developing business skills, but everything is tied into the kids' personal, financial and emotional development," declares ReDonna Rodgers, CTE executive director. "We infuse the concepts of pride, integrity, ethics, brother/sister love and family throughout the curriculum."
Rodgers uses a curriculum developed by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) Inc., a New York City-based organization whose program targets inner-city and disabled children. "Entrepreneurship education is a universal life skill every human being should have," says Steve Mariotti, founder and president of NFTE, which is funded by corporations, foundations and individual contributions. "In a free enterprise economy, not understanding entrepreneurship is like being an economic illiterate. It's a handicap, the equivalent of not being able to read."
Rodgers augments the NFTE course with a motto she developed: "Your Life is Your Business, and Your Business Can Be Your Life." To drive home the point that the students are responsible for themselves, she issues business cards identifying each youth as the CEO of ME Inc. "If they can understand that theme, we can create more opportunity-wise youth," she says. "That means taking advantage of opportunities and, sometimes, creating them."
When James M. Nash II, a 15-year-old Nicolet High School sophomore and aspiring electrical engineer, enrolled in CTE, he already had his own lawn care business. But his business was "on and off," and he was earning only $30 per week. "I joined the program so I could improve my business," he says.
In a segment on marketing, Nash developed a more persuasive flier, and his business, Me, Myself and I, is now booming. He has one regular client for grass cutting, and gets on average five calls per week to wash windows and dean basements and garages. His weekly income has jumped to $70, but the biggest boost has been to his self-confidence. "When I first started, my mother would go with me to appraise jobs," says James, who had been shy about speaking up for himself. "Now I can do that by myself."
But not all kids are as easily persuaded or inspired. Patricia Gaines, program director for the YWCA in Omaha, Neb., discovered that fact last summer during her agency's third annual youth entrepreneurship program. Many of the 30 low-income students who signed up for the training harbored negative stereotypes about themselves. "When the program started, they didn't know what entrepreneur meant," says Gaines. "They thought they couldn't succeed and that they had nothing to offer."
Some of them also had important practical concerns to deal with--family crises and harassment from gang members, for example. Those problems revealed themselves in bad attitudes and a lack of respect for instructors and other students. Things got so out of hand one day that the staff canceled classes and sent everybody home.
One problem-hunger-ultimately gave rise to the program's most successful business. When the students arrived for the afternoon sessions, many hadn't had anything to eat all morning. The staff declined to buy snacks for them, but provided $50 start-up capital so the children could open a store. "The program we use teaches children that their skills and talents can be used to their benefit, says Gaines, who adopted EDTEC's New Entrepreneurs curriculum in 1991. "It teaches them to understand the risks and rewards of owning a business."
Staffed by a half-dozen students, the MAC (an acronym for manager, assistant manager and cashier) sold potato chips, candy, donuts, soft drinks and other snack foods throughout the eight-week program. Raemonde Hardeman, 15, managed the store. "It made me feel like I had a little authority," he claims, "but I got scared when we came up short or bought something that people didn't like." Once when the books didn't balance, Raemonde was required to cover--out of his own pocket--the $5 shortfall. "It taught me about responsibility and how hard it is to run a business," says the enterprising 9th-grader, who plans to attend college and pursue a career in professional sports or medicine.
By the end of the session, the store had cleared $200, which was distributed back to the students. For the program's final project, the MAC and five other businesses developed over the summer, participated in a business fair where students sold T-shirts, canvas bags, beauty and first-aid kits, instant photographs and refreshments they purchased or produced.
"Every year we say we'll never do this again," declares Gaines. "But we keep doing it because we love these kids and we want to see them succeed. We may not see the results this year, or next year. But in a couple of years, we'll have created a new group of entrepreneurs."
MOVEMENT FACES CHALLENGES
Creating the next generation of black business owners may be the goal of this movement, but program directors and others in the field understand that there are limits: Every kid won't end up being an entrepreneur. "The point is not to say that as a result of entrepreneurial training so many kids are going to have their own businesses," says Emmanuel Modu, a senior treasury analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York and author of The Lemonade Stand. A Guide to Encouraging the Entrepreneur in Your Child "It's a good idea, but it can't solve all our economic problems. What it can do is open up children's minds to the possibility of owning their own businesses."
One of the movement's weaknesses is that it does not yet target all black children. Most programs focus on at-risk youths. Where does that leave the majority of black youngsters who don't use drugs, aren't in gangs, do well in school and wouldn't dream of picking up an Uzi? Experts admit that programs to encourage business ownership among vocationally trained and college-bound students are conspicuously absent.
"We are the only group that consistently does three things to our detriment," says Dennis Kimbro, director of the Clark Atlanta University Center for Entrepreneurship and author of Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice. "We kill our males, we give our money to somebody else, and we don't encourage our sharpest and most capable to go into business." Next year, Kimbro will offer through the business school a Youth Entrepreneurship Summer Program for 40 of the nation's "best and brightest" black high school juniors and seniors.
Meanwhile, existing programs face the challenge of surviving financially. Patricia Gaines receives approximately $17,000 from Job Training of Greater Omaha through the Greater Omaha Private Industry Council for the YWCA summer program. She wants to offer her youth entrepreneurial program year-round if she can find additional funding. ReDonna Rodgers operates CTE on $80,000 pledged by foundations, corporations and individuals. She says her budget is about $20,000 less than ideal for a program of its scope. SWAYBO, which receives no outside funding, has survived thanks mostly to the largess of Menifee and his wife, Rose. The couple has contributed thousands of dollars of their own to the program as part of their commitment, to give something back to the community. Menifee estimates it will cost $120,000 per year to implement SWAYBO in other communities.
Kathleen Sullivan of AVS & Associates can give firsthand testimony to the funding dilemma. From 1982 to 1992, she was executive director of Youth Entrepreneurial Services (YES) International in Oakland. While the incubator program was highly successful--training more than 600 youths and establishing 350 businesses over a nine-year period--it is now defunct. The California legislature, which voted a $750,000, four-year grant to help launch the program, never funded it again. YES garnered enough private support to operate for two years after the state money ran out, but the project eventually folded when no long-term financial support could be found.
YES died, but interest in the concept didn't. Sullivan went on to start AVS. Meanwhile, several agencies have shown interest in her Mentored Economics Invigoration Program, which includes mentoring and technical support for young people who want to own and operate businesses in targeted Bay area communities. Clients include East Oakland Youth Development Center, Bayview-Hunter's Point Foundation and the Haight-Ashbury, Alcohol Treatment Center. Sullivan encourages the agencies to secure ample finding. "Otherwise they are like a start-up business that doesn't have enough capital," she says. "They operate for a few years and then they have to stop."
PROGRAMS SEE A PROMISING FUTURE
Experts suggest that it would be easier to fund programs if entrepreneurship education for children was part of a national agenda. They say public schools are, perhaps, the best place to start, but admit that adding business ownership courses to core curriculum is a long-range solution. More schools systems, at least, are offering extracurricular business activities. Both Junior Achievement, a national economic education program for middle- and high-school students, and Future Business Leaders of America, an association of high school and college students enrolled in leadership development programs, include entrepreneurship training components. Last spring, with funds from the Department of Commerce, Cities in Schools Inc. launched a program that will provide mini-grants (up to $2,500) to 12 public schools to start or expand entrepreneurship programs.
Directors of successful programs and other education efforts are working to market their blueprints to other communities. NFTE, currently operating in eight states, is developing new programs in two cities and has targeted five more for possible expansion over the next two years. SWAYBO plans to open 13 chapters in Georgia in 1994. Modu's Center for Teen Entrepreneurs has adopted Newark as a pilot site for a program that can be used by other organizations.
Some black business and professional groups also are jumping on the bandwagon. The National Black MBA Association (see "Meeting The Changing Needs of Black MBAs," October 1993) recently added entrepreneurship to the array of career options its members will suggest to the high school students they mentor.
Meanwhile, scores of African-American business owners have been lending their individual support to the movement. They serve as speakers, arrange tours of their places of business and take time out to mentor children in entrepreneurship programs. Given their natural tendency to copy role models, the best way to continue to expose children to the possibilities of entrepreneurship may be through firsthand contact with black entrepreneurs. Says Kimbro, "We need to hold up our paragons in the area of black enterprise and get the idea across to our children that it doesn't kill your soul to be a capitalist."
HOW TO ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN IN BUSINESS: ENROLL THEM IN A PROGRAM
For help in finding programs, contact your local NAACP. Urban League or National Business League. Also, check with social service organization like the YMCA/YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs. Colleges and universities often offer programs for children through their continuing education divisions. Many schools districts, professional accociations and some churches also are beginning to sponsor programs. Experts say good programs for children should feature.
* Instructors who have owned and operated a business and/or business owners from the local community who work as mentors with students.
* A solid curriculum that explains business concepts in a way children can understand and relate to;
* Funding that includes money to finance start-ups so that children can gain hands-on experience owning and operating a business;
* An active, knowledgeable, committed program administrator and board of directors.
START YOUR OWN PROGRAM
Other concerned parents and business people probably will help you organize the effort. For advice and information about curriculum, training and business publications for children, contact:
* National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). 64 Fulton Street, Suite 700, New York, NY 10038; 212-233-1777.
* Education, Training and Enterprise Center (EDTEC), 309 Market Street, Suite 201, Camden, NJ 08102; 609-342-8277.
* AVS & Associates, 610 16th Street, Suite 302, Oakland, CA 94612; 510-251-2872.
* SWAYBO Inc., 3687 Dover Blvd. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30331; 404-691-4111.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WHAT YOU KNOW
If joining or starting a program just isn't feasible, consider what you can teach your children yourself:
* Help them read and understand articles in BLACK ENTERPRISE. The Wall Street Journal, and Fortune.
* Introduce them to black business owners and explain why you patronize their establishments;
* On shopping trips, discuss retail prices vs. wholesale prices and how business owners make a profit;
* GEt up to speed yourself. Order a copy of Emmanuel Modu's The Lemonade Stand: A Guide to Encouraging the Entrepreneur in Your Child 1-800-438-TEEN.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article on ways to encourage children|
|Author:||Harris, Adrienne S.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1994|
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