Engaging Youth Entrepreneurs for Change
About EYE for Change: The organization took root as a conference set up by students at Baltimore’s Morgan State University, at which school-age youth participants were encouraged to consider self-employment as a career path – with the caveat that they give back to the community that they lived in or came from.
“Professors always pushed us to get good grades so we could work for someone else,” Cross says. “That wasn’t good for me. We thought, ‘Maybe we can teach these kids entrepreneurship so they don’t all spend 20 to 40 years making someone else rich.’ ”
Cross expanded the idea. In addition to the annual conference, she put together entrepreneurship clubs at local middle schools and high schools. One incentive for those clubs to stay active is an entrepreneurship competition, in which seed money is awarded to a youth team with the best start-up business proposal.
Her Job: Cross is the sole employee. Between projects, she establishes and maintains regular contact with youth at schools around the city, writing grants and developing partnerships with business and youth development programs that might help EYE for Change.
Best Part of the Job: “Getting kids thinking about giving back. In addition to teaching them to be profitable in a capitalist system, we drive home that it’s important that you support people who help you.”
Worst Part of the Job: “The grant writing, worst part. I love telling my story and I love writing, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. You’ve got to make sure you are saying everything in the correct way. It’s very tedious and time-consuming. I’m trying to get a grant writer on our board to help with that.”
Memorable Moment: EYE For Change recently held an event where young entrepreneurs spoke to youth at a high school, and then the youths engaged in more interactive components, such as a “Jeopardy”-style game show about business start-up. “The looks on their faces. … It just hit me how much this makes sense,” she says. “They don’t learn about entrepreneurship at school at all.”
Slow and Steady: “I’ve been told it’s best to become an expert locally, then expand. Now I just want to focus on Baltimore County, become a strong name here. Then, maybe we’ll branch out from here. There are still a lot of [school administrators] who don’t know us yet, but 90 percent of the kids at our conference this year were from Baltimore. Next year, my goal is that people here will know what we do.”