In our prosperous community, many families are at risk. Vulnerable families face a range of challenges: lack of job skills and unemployment for adults create families that struggle with chronic hunger, poor health and the risk of homelessness. This year we have launched Idea Generation/Next: College Edition (IGN-CE), a pitch competition designed to encourage and promote new ideas from college students committed to addressing social issues facing our communities. It’s part of United Way’s social innovation initiative to activate students across disciplines to think about ways to improve the lives of families and children in low-income households in the counties we serve: Wake, Durham, Johnston, and Orange.
On February 24th the young innovators will make their final pitches after having worked with mentors to refine their ideas and business models. As we consider how far they’ve come in such a short period of time, we want to share how their journey began.
At the kickoff event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there were familiar things one would expect from an entrepreneurship environment–jargon on venture capital, business models and talk of sustainability–but the unexpected twist was the added dose of inspiration both from the keynote speaker and the innovators themselves.
Reverend Sterling E. Freeman addressed the college-aged innovators and his charge resonated profoundly with the audience who had just finished marching in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Combining the conviction of a preacher with the gravitas of an academic, he reminded us that like social entrepreneurs, our responsibility is not to have more materialistic success, but to make a difference in the lives of people in our communities. Correlating social entrepreneurship with African cosmology, the phrase “I am because we are” reflects that idea that a moral market equates to healthy communities. It is essential that innovators “take the idea of entrepreneurship and saturate it with moral compass,” – and that’s exactly what students embodied throughout the program.
Speaking to a sizeable crowd at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, twenty-two students from North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, Saint Augustine’s University, Shaw University, Wake Technical Community College, and William Peace University advocated for a diverse number of ways to address the poverty paradox in the Triangle region.
“We should teach art, mental health, business skills and self-care,” said LaCrisha Holcomb, a student from NCCU who believes providing access to fundamental health and emotional intelligence information can change the trajectory of an individual’s life. Other students pitched ideas that included everything from financial literacy to addressing food insecurity by providing cereal to underserved communities.
The audience was very interactive, responding audibly with passion to ideas that resonated with them. Through a text-to-vote poll, NCCU student Tyler Walker won the “People’s Choice Award” for his idea to enhance the education-to-occupation pipeline as a means of alleviating poverty – sending the crowd into cheer and applause.
The event left attendees feeling inspired and hopeful that the future of our communities is in good hands with generations already taking the reigns. Come support these young innovators at their final pitch on February 24th.