Ypulse Interview: Adam Aberman, Ashoka's Youth Venture

Today’s Ypulse Interview is with Adam Aberman, Director of Global Digital Strategy for Ashoka’s Youth Venture. For more insight towards Youth Venture and their successful corporate partnerships, catch Adam’s session on the “Anatomy of a Successful Pro-Social Campaign” at the Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup in June (just 2 short weeks away!)

best buy at15Ypulse:What is Ashoka’s philosophy about youth activism?

Adam Aberman: Primarily, it’s based on giving youth ownership. Just like anything, the more ownership people have, the more they stay engaged and the more they make it their own. The way Ashoka Youth Venture works is the youth come up with their own ideas. Some of them come up with fairly formed ideas and we give them some more structure and funding. Others have a lot less structure and we help them work work through that.

In the U.S, we just wrapped up our first year of the Dream It Do it Challenges , which were held over two different semesters in New York, D.C., Seattle and Providence. We worked with roughly 50 kids in each city, mostly on the lower income end, dedicating every Saturday to a project and learning what it means to be a young social entrepreneur, how they fit into a community of young social entrepreneurs, and how they are part of a movement that we’re trying to catalyze both in the U.S. and abroad. We’re getting them to think about their own community whether its their block, their neighborhood or even their online community and what their needs are and how to meld those needs with what their passions are, whether it be music or sports or whatever. We try to support the youth by putting those two things together to develop a plan and instill community change. It’s really a transformative experience where they go from an unempowered place to a position where they feel like they have the capability and the ability to affect social change in their community.

YP: Why should marketers and media professionals care about youth activism?

AA: Young people are much more interested in the liberally progressive movement than previous generations. That’s part of it. I know that increasingly universities and companies are trying to attract young people by advertising that they have these social change elements. They provide volunteer opportunities and some universities even have a social entrepreneurship curriculum or even a degree.

More specifically I have a couple stats that show this is what young people are thinking about…Young people have access to information that they didn’t have access to previously.  They have a more sophisticated notion of how the world works compared to the average teen 10 or even 5 years ago.

A couple of those stats:

- 73% of young Americans think their efforts can have a positive impact on their communities (Do Something/Princeton Survey)

- 55% of American teenagers volunteered in 2006 – nearly double the rate of adults (Corporation for National and Community Service)

- Kids rank the environment, volunteering and eating healthy as the top three activities they consider “cool” (Teenage Marketing and Lifestyle Study)

Young people think they can have an impact and they’re trying to have an impact. Kids care about issues now more than they ever did and marketers better touch on that. It’s true that kids can see through marketing that’s just for marketing’s sake, but if a company is marketing in a way that shows the company is making a deep social impact, that marketing effort will be effective.

YP: Do you have any quick tips for young pro-social entrepreneurs? What are steps they can take to get started?

AA: From my background as a social entrepreneur, I think as a rule you have to follow your instincts. I think that’s important for anyone, but it’s especially important for entrepreneurs who are working in new spaces. Especially entrepreneurs who aren’t dong it to make a buck, but rather to make an impact.

As far as what steps they could take to get started. There are resources out there. There are general resources.  Our site GenV.net, as well as DoSomething.org, have good resources.  And I should say that Youth Venture works with 12-20 year olds in the US and 12-24 year olds abroad. Young social entrepreneurs should also take a look at what other young social entrepreneurs are doing …. we have profiles of young social entrepreneurs [on GenV.net] from which youth can learn and through which they can connect with those young social entrepreneurs.

YP: What do you think the big takeaways will be from your session on building strong partnerships between non-profits and brands [Editor’s note: Adam will be focusing Youth Venture and Best Buy’s @15 initiative]

AA: That strong partnerships between non-profits and brands are possible. A lot of times these are defined by writing a check. And, yes, Best Buy did write a check. But Best Buy was also involved in the conceptual development and defining the parameters of the campaign. It resulted in a much better initiative because Best Buy was our thought partner. Additionally, I think especially when you have a non-profit working with a corporate partner it’s important to lay out clear, realistic objectives, which is what we did and why we generated 150,000 online and SMS votes for youth social entrepreneurs in less than 6 weeks.

YP: Could you describe another recent pro-social campaign that Youth Venture launched with a corporate partner you think really worked? Which one and why?”

AA: Ashoka’s Youth Venture has been in a highly successful four-year partnership with Staples via Staples Foundation for Learning (SFFL), a private foundation created by the office superstore giant.  Staples’ commitment to supporting Ashoka’s vision of Everyone A Changemaker has been unmatched and instrumental in expanding Youth Venture’s program internationally, fostering the spirit of young leaders in seven countries.  One-third of the more than 3,000 Venture Teams launched worldwide – launched as a result of SFFL’s support. There have even been Venture Teams launched by Staples associates!

The marketing cornerstone of our global collaboration is the Staples / Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition. In its’ third year, there are right now 10 finalist Venture Teams from eight countries competing. This year’s prizes include an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston in late June to participate in and be recognized at Youth Venture’s National Summit – where the overall winning team will be announced and presented with the Staples/Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Excellence Award and a grand prize worth $5,000.  The four remaining winning teams will receive Achievement Awards and prizes of $500.  Following the ceremony, all five teams will have the unique opportunity to consult with and draw from the expertise of high-level Staples executives at their global headquarters. Winners will also have the opportunity to meet with an Ashoka Fellow - one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.  Ashoka Fellows are known for their unrivaled commitment to bold ideas and innovative solutions.

More on Adam

speaker_abermanAshoka’s Youth Venture is building a global movement of young changemakers by helping teams of young people start new organizations in 14 countries and five continents. Prior to joining Ashoka’s Youth Venture, Adam was the founder and executive director of icouldbe.org, the Internet-based career mentoring program that has served more than 20,000 teens and e-volunteers in the U.S. and Tanzania. He also is the founder and principal of The Learning Collective, a consulting organization that strengthens the practices of youth-serving organizations. Prior to establishing icouldbe.org, he was a regional coordinator for the New York City Department of Education. Adam began his career in education as a Spanish bilingual public school teacher in Los Angeles.

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