By Simone Elder
Ahh! Warm weather has finally arrived. I’m no gardener, though I wish desperately that I were. Each year I get excited to plant peas, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers from the local FFA chapter’s plant sale to fill out my small plot in the community garden. This excitement to plant often coincides with the completion of the busy YEC season and I’m grateful for the chance to enjoy one of my hobbies. I’m always hopeful that summer will be slower and I’ll be diligent about watering, fertilizing, and weeding my garden plot to ensure its bounty, which I sometimes fail to do. I would imagine many of you are also grateful for the YEC season to conclude so you can invest your energy on other passions. But wait! Before you turn your attention to something else, have you finished caring for your YEC seedlings?
Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts about growing an entrepreneurial culture by hosting a Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge event. Now that we are on the other side of the YEC season, I’ve been thinking more and more about the YEC event not being the end goal. It’s a visible and energetic part of building the entrepreneurial ecosystem that may need additional pruning and watering to really make a difference.
As with my gardening struggles, we can’t forget to water and tend the seeds that we’ve planted during the YEC season. In order to successfully change the entrepreneurial culture, there has to be commitment and follow-up. The students that participated in this year’s local level events, of which there were 454 students across the state, are only just small seedlings in our entrepreneurial environment of which we need to be sure they don’t lose their spirit in the coming months and years. Let us think of the ways that we can continue to help the students grow strong roots and thrive in our communities.
Here are a just a few ideas that you can discuss at your next leadership team meeting. Be sure to think of ways that you can continue to nurture the students’ entrepreneurial ambitions, while utilizing resources and programs that are a strategic fit for your E-Community.
· Engage team members and local businesses to connect with students for meaningful mentorships or internships.
· Identify ways to work with other resources such as the schools, KSU extension agents, or the library to develop opportunities (like a camp!) for students to further develop their skills.
· Bring students together for learning sessions on business topics or to learn from local entrepreneurs.
· Establish a focus group or youth board to learn from students about how they want to invest in and improve the community.
· Ask students who participated for suggestions and ideas about how to get other students to participate in the local YEC event.
If there are ways that we can move from doing things to and for youth to doing things with them, we will strengthen their roots and help them see their place in the community in the future. Encouraging students to find ways to come back to our rural areas is not the same as telling them to never leave. Your local YEC event is not the final harvest in your entrepreneurship garden. The more we “fertilize” our young entrepreneurs, the stronger our local entrepreneurial ecosystems and communities become.