It is amazing the inspiration we can get from Youth ChangeMakers. As leaders, we often take one of two approaches to how we treat our teams. How many leaders are micro-managers who parse out work on a task by task basis? Leaders who do this tend to reduce growth, engagement and creativity. It also introduces dependency on and fear of you as the leader. Other leaders give ownership of the project at hand and serve as coaches and cheerleaders. They are there to pick up the teams when they stumble. The benefit of the second version of leadership is the teams are stretched outside their comfort zone, grow and learn, and almost always deliver.
This past weekend, my business partner, Adam Ward (Vice President of Sales and Marketing) and I, along with our friends the Architect and Kevin McCluskey from High Rock Accounting and Erica Scott, founder of Civilian Connections, had the opportunity to mentor the CO+HOOTS Foundation’s Youth ChangeMaker Summit (YCMS). This is a three-day immersive event that teaches high school students how to change the world through venture creation. Having been a mentor at this event for over five years, I can say this was the best YCMS yet.
Who Attends the Youth ChangeMaker Summit?
Students arrived Friday night from all over Arizona. These inspirational ChangeMakers representing a wide diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic demographics. From the start,there was no sense of bias or superiority from any of the ChangeMakers. Friday night they formed teams around pitched ventures, and as strangers they came together as teams. Saturday, they built their business plans and performed market testing for product validation. Sunday, they developed and presented pitches for their business. At stake was a $1,000 scholarship for each member of the winning team and presentations at Phoenix Startup Week for the top 3 teams.
At the start of the event, there was a concern among some of the organizing volunteers that there weren’t enough mentors to “monitor” all the ChangeMakers, as some micromanagers monitor their team. It was unwarranted. These ChangeMakers focused on their ventures, challenging their teammates to develop the strongest product in one day. Early in the day, something unexpected happened; the team started supporting and helping each other. They did this without the “adult supervision” commonly thought needed for high school students. And the outcomes were amazing.
What Did the ChangeMakers Develop?
A team named Hatch Catch came up with a way to reduce plastic in oceans as a nonprofit. The incredible, six member team plans to create nets made from recycled plastic to be placed over sewer intakes. These nets would catch plastic and other large trash in ocean-side cities to capture what would otherwise be going into the ocean. They have a plan to pay people to maintain and clear the nets. In addition, they will recycle the collected plastics to create more nets. Most interesting to me is that when asked why they are nonprofit, the response was, “We don’t feel it’s right to make a profit for taking care of the planet we all share.”
On Call is attempting to develop an app to reduce the cost of college while getting college students invaluable work experience. They would do this by connecting college students with services colleges and universities pay staff to perform. With the money saved by not replacing staff, the college would buy the app and the students would use it. These brilliant ChangeMakers were able to present proof of concept through a college that is already using something similar on its campus (with a graduation rate that is double the national average).
T.E.C.H. is attempting a great challenge. They would like to build AI to help with customer service for technology providers. To make their plan even loftier, they wanted to create two versions. The first one that is predictive and the second one is reactive. While not everyone in the audience understood what they were talking about, it was clear these amazing ChangeMakers did.
The amazing ChangeMakers on the Odyssey team plan to develop an app to help people dine and be entertained within their budget. While their target market is high school and college students, they made it clear that this an app that anyone can use. They understood that a strong secondary market is parents of athletes, who are always looking to eat after practice and games.
The Motor Bros team is looking to provide affordable transportation to people who do not have drivers’ licenses, access to a car, or who live in areas with a lot of traffic congestion. Their solution is to add a 2-cycle engine to a bicycle. These extraordinary ChangeMakers not only presented a working prototype, they were prepared to answer all the questions about the legal requirements of a motorized bicycle.
Animal Safe Haven
Animal Safe Haven was a favorite team of animal lovers. These kind-hearted ChangeMakers would like to build a free-range sanctuary for abandoned dogs. They would provide housing and care for the dogs. They would provide doggy visit days for dog lovers who cannot own a canine of their own. Of course, the dogs may always be adopted. These ChangeMakers had planned the location for the sanctuary and were prepared for all the judges’ logistical questions.
Clean Pristine is a team of extraordinary ChangeMakers who have an inexpensive and innovative answer for rideshare drivers (as well as parents of young children) who want to keep their cars clean, particularly on the inside. They would provide an organized case of eco-friendly cleaning products that fits under the passenger seat, including a customized brush for cup holders and small vacuum.
Finally, the Personal Pal team. These empathetic ChangeMakers created a business to help people with autism. They recognized there are a lot of items on the market to help comfort autistic people, but they provided a strong differentiation. They are looking to provide a custom stuffed animal that can be weighted, heated and has a voice recorder. In fact, the product these ChangeMakers are offering is very customizable. You can choose the texture and weight of the stuffed animal that will have skin contact. The Personal Pal team did such great work, every ChangeMaker on the team received a $1,000 scholarship the school of their choice.
These ChangeMakers Are Remarkable
Remember, it was thought by some mentors we did not have enough people to mentor and monitor these eight teams of forty-seven ChangeMakers. They started as strangers and created these amazing ventures. To demonstrate how impressive the creative problem solving of these ChangeMakers is, Personal Pal, Motor Bros, and Clean Pristine have been invited to pitch at Phoenix Startup Week.
I failed to mention that YCMS is a 100% youth-organized and youth-run event. The ChangeMaker organizers are past and current participants of the Youth ChangeMaker Summit who are now both in high school (and are still allowed to participate) and in college (who are thankful for the experience and are looking to give back). The adult mentors are there to act as guides and offer questions based on their professions and experience. It is up to the ChangeMakers to answer the difficult questions and come up with solutions.
I ask you, if these ChangeMakers can come together over the course of two days, what is your team truly capable of? If these ChangeMakers can develop solutions to change the world without being coddled or directed, imagine what your team could accomplish if you, as the leader, loosened the reins? Make no doubt about it, they are going to change the world. It was humbling and heartwarming to see teams cheering for and supporting each other during the final competition with all knowing what they were risking (the $1000 scholarships).
If we can learn how to emulate this from a short time spent with these ChangeMakers, what can you learn from your team? I believe in each and every one of these ChangeMakers. I believe our future is secure in their hands. How can you duplicate this inspirational ChangeMaker model of getting work done and use it in your business? I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to mentor, be inspired by, and learn from them to improve my leadership skills.