Entrepreneurs are powering the economy, introducing innovation, and creating jobs. But as an entrepreneur you are also uniquely placed to help bring back the "American Dream."
Innumerable studies show that income inequality is rising, with less opportunity for the poor to access quality education and careers. As a result, social mobility has stagnated. On the lowest rungs of the ladder, hope is dying.
The obvious solution is to improve education, creating more equal opportunity, a value America was founded on. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank, estimates that the investment it would take to move American students' test scores up five places in international rankings would eventually add 1.7 percent to our GDP and yield around $900 billion in tax revenue--meaning the investment would pay off handsomely.
But entrepreneurs know that more can be done than improving test scores. In fact, some of the most successful social and educational programs in the U.S. involve teaching entrepreneurship itself. Take NFTE, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. NFTE has worked with more than 600,000 young people from low-income communities in programs across the U.S. and around the world. Classroom teachers get trained in entrepreneurship education, and then actual entrepreneurs take over as mentors. Kids get to tap into their creativity, learn the basics on how to launch a business, and discover there is still hope for Americans with nothing but a dream. Regional and national competitions make it fun and can bring exciting rewards, such as a visit to the White House for the finalists. Many alumni of the program continue to build businesses, and many are inspired to continue building their skills by attending college. Their lives have been truly changed for the better, and in a small way, the economy as a whole has benefited.
"Young people who are exposed to entrepreneurship education learn the real-world value of education," says Suzanne Taylor, senior director for marketing and events at NFTE. "They stay in school longer, graduate more frequently, and, after school, make more money than their fellow students."
Entrepreneurs can be truly inspiring mentors. Programs like NFTE rely on them, but don't be shy if there isn't one in your immediate neighborhood already pestering you to sign up. You can take on interns, speak at career day at the local school, or start your own volunteer program.
Of course, it isn't only entrepreneurs who are attacking the problem and trying to rebuild equal opportunity in America. An organization called STEMconnector is actively building an initiative and call to action to help create a pipeline of skills valuable to industry. In just over a year, it was able to sign on 202,000 new mentors, as well as commitments from 1,600 companies or organizations in 30 states, says Julie Kantor, chief partnership officer at STEMconnector. But the organization needs more women and men to step forward and help encourage girls to specialize in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and to help strengthen links between education and the working world. Kantor says that out of approximately 368,000 high school females surveyed who were interested in pursuing STEM careers, only 4 percent said they had been encouraged by a mentor. Though women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, only 24 percent of the STEM work force is female, she said. So STEMconnector launched an initiative to take on this challenge, called Million Women Mentors, which has 58 partners reaching over 30 million girls and young women.
As any entrepreneur knows, a life pursuing one's own dream can be much more purposeful than simply holding a job. Entrepreneurs should work as educators, alongside the school system, to bring hope to lower-income youth and bring back the American Dream.