A ray of hope, emanating from an unexpected sourcecorporate Americais shedding some light on the plight of inner city teenagers. Across the country, nonprofit agencies that serve urban youth are partnering with corporations, using entrepreneurship to break the cycle of despair. In South Central Los Angeles, the student-owners at Crenshaw High Schools "Food From The Hood" grow organic vegetables in a garden behind the football field, and sell their Straight Out the Garden salad dressing to supermarkets in 23 states.
In Ithaca, New York, "Food From The Hood East" makes, markets, and distributes three flavors of "Straight Out Of The Orchard" applesauce.
From its headquarters on Wall Street and its outposts in 64 cities, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship has sent 10,000 inner city kids through its mini-MBA program and has helped launch thousands of small, youth-owned businesses.
In San Francisco, Ithaca, New York City, and Paris, France, at-risk youth get job training and paychecks working at Ben & Jerrys "partnershops" owned and operated by non-profit agencies.
One such agency is San Franciscos Juma Ventures, whose motto is "Enterprise + Responsibility for Youth." Each year, Jumawhich, in several Eastern and African languages, means "coming together as a people for good work and responsibility"recruits and trains 80 marginalized teenagers to operate its four businesses: two Ben & Jerrys Scoop Shops, the Ben & Jerrys concession at 3Com Park, and a catering business, "Ice Cream On Wheels."
Juma Ventures immediate purpose is to prepare otherwise unemployable youth for the job market. Its long-term goal, though, is to change the world, one scoop at a time. Hence, Jumas Mission Statement: "We believe that business plays a central role in the structure of society and can be a positive force for social change...our mission is to operate our business on a sound financial basis while seeking to create a new paradigm that simultaneously promotes both people and profits."
Thats an ambitious task. Juma founder and CEO Diane Flannery says, "At the beginning of every season I think, This year will be easier. By now I must have deal with every issue there is to deal withwithin myself, between the kids and me, among the kids. And every season I realize Im starting from scratch again."
What makes teen entrepreneurship program remarkable is that unlike many youth initiatives, they actually work. NFTE research shows that programs like Juma Ventures lower rates of arrest, violent behavior, and addiction among their participants, while increasing rates of volunteer work and community service. Instead of degrading themselves and their neighborhoods, the young people involved provide goods and services to the communities in which their businesses operate and, in some cases, to national markets.
"I see the kids as jewels in a wasteland," says Juma staffer Toody Maher. "All that hope and promise has nowhere to go unless someone offers them something. We do that. And that feels good."
For inner city kids whose success models are crack dealers, rappers, and NBA superstars, entrepreneurship, it turns out, is an appealing proposition.