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3 Things I Learned About Emerging Business Leaders Through Junior Achievement Worldwide

July 22, 2014

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What occasion is big enough to bring together Prince Daniel of Sweden; Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA; and FedEx? The answer: the Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Worldwide Swedish National Finals, a competition among high school entrepreneurs with big startup dreams. The event took place in May at the Stockholmsmässan center in Stockholm.

If you’re not familiar with Junior Achievement competitions, imagine a cross between a high school young-entrepreneur’s expo and a World Cup soccer match. While JA-YE is a global phenomenon, it doesn’t get much bigger than in Sweden, where students sing and blow noisemakers, the press swarms, and flashbulbs pop. FedEx has been a proud sponsor of Junior Achievement for over 18 years.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Swedish Finals, which coincided with a JA-YE Teacher Conference offering sessions led by European thought leaders.

I left Stockholm convinced of three things about the world’s next generation of entrepreneurs:

1.     They will have different expectations of the workplace than their predecessors had. This is perhaps no surprise to anyone who has spent time around a teenager! Tomas Furth, a futurist from Kairos Future, enlightened us all on the unique mindset of tomorrow’s business leaders.

Furth calls the generation raised during the 1990s “the MeWe Generation.” They are skeptical by nature, place a premium on friendships, and value collective solution-finding. Work is no different from shopping: Nearly everything is a platform for self-actualization, and technology is woven seamlessly into their every waking moment.

2.     They measurably benefit from “experiential learning” through entrepreneurial education. High school students who participate in entrepreneurial education have more productive professional careers than those who don’t. This is the conclusion of research presented to us by Professor Karl Wennberg of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Creation at the Stockholm School of Economics.

Results revealed that as a group, JA Sweden Alumni contribute significantly to social welfare by creating thousands of new businesses, generating tens of thousands of new jobs, and billions of Swedish Krona in revenues. Wennberg also says businesses started by JA-YE Sweden alumni perform measurably better than comparable businesses whose founders lack JA-YE experience.

3.     They have the ability to build us a bright future, if we empower them. The highlight of the Stockholm event was undoubtedly the students themselves. I was blown away by not only the quality of their business concepts, but their presentations themselves.

Students working in teams to create startups had to learn to compare local and international suppliers; evaluate financing; and measure sustainability and access (the ability for their concept to generate jobs and raise standards of living in their markets).

As Swedish high school teacher Maria Fridefors told me, “Through JA-YE, students gain a better understanding of how we all depend on each other, as well as the enormous opportunities that the globalized economy creates for those who can be resourceful.”

The students’ enthusiastic presentations — given in meticulous English — were truly inspiring. Anyone lamenting the drive of the next generation would be delighted by what these Junior Achievement students are doing.

So what’s the “secret in the sauce” at Junior Achievement? Who better to ask than a teacher? I posed the question to Fridefors, and she told me, “Teaching entrepreneurialism does not only mean teaching the students about how to use different tools, like how to do a market research, develop a product, or raise startup capital. It’s also about teaching the students how to follow new paths in their thinking and in their acting; make them see that they actually can affect their future and create a better tomorrow for themselves and for others.

“Some people have this drive very early in life, but many others need guidance and support to discover their own capacity. Teaching entrepreneurialism means being that person who makes the students realize and use their full potential.”

Lastly, I’m excited to announce that the Junior Achievement Company of the Year Conference is happening in Tallinn, Estonia this week and I look forward to providing more details to come!


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