Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Sean Rush, the relatively new president and CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide, an organization that focuses on teaching kids workforce skills, the basics of entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.
A few months ago, Rush sat in a classroom of fourth graders and watched JA's curriculum in action. Here's what he saw: "They divided the class of 30 students into six groups of five each and they gave each kid three or four different pieces of candy. Then the teacher asked them to optimize the candy distribution within the groups, so they had to negotiate among themselves. And they kept track of the distribution on a projected computer screen. Then they began to optimize across groups, with each group representing a country, and those results went up on the screen as well." What followed was a discussion about international trade and open markets. "Where does China get its bananas? From Latin America. It pays for the bananas with cash. Where does China get the cash? China manufactures goods that are sold in the U.S., for which China gets cash to buy bananas from Latin America."
That's right, China. Rush was sitting in the back of a classroom in Beijing with a translator, and what struck him most was that "I could have been in Grand Rapids, or Johannesburg or Moscow and seen the same curriculum played out. I was blown away by the commonality. These kids absolutely got it. They began to understand at a very basic level where things come from, and it had nothing to do with politics or ideology." JA now serves 4 million kids in the U.S. and 4.5 million in 118 other countries, including 600,000 Russian students. And all JA curriculum is taught by 400,000 business volunteers, some of whom stay connected to students as mentors or advisors.
Creating a new generation of entrepreneurial, financially literate, globally minded kids who understand the delicate balance of economic interdependence of nations probably won't cure all of the world's ills. But it seems to me that it's an awfully good place to start.
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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