I remember the 2007 International Achievement Summit like it was yesterday. One evening in the bar of the Hay Adams hotel, I turned around and, embarrassingly, bumped into a lady who was chatting with a friend. I apologized and introduced myself. After a moment of small talk, I learned that I had nearly knocked over the former Secretary of Agriculture and then-Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman. It was a moment that sparked a friendship, prefaces to books, idea exchanges, speaking events and even board memberships in the years following.
Ann and I became friends at the Academy of Achievement because the event fostered an environment where we were able to share ideas, engage with one another, and think big together. In the six years since I attended the Summit — an event I still speak about fondly — I have built a non-profit organization, which I later bought out in favor of a for-profit social enterprise model. I have led nearly 500 people on global immersion programs, supported the creation of over 100 new micro-enterprises, been featured as an Inc. “30 under 30” entrepreneur, and have been recognized in the New York Times as a provocative social entrepreneur for my decision to create a for-profit, called ThinkImpact, from a non-profit. It’s been a busy half-decade.
The most exciting memories are the ones where my leadership was tested and my interest in politics, leadership and entrepreneurship met. The Academy was a remarkable opportunity for me to learn from others who are leaders in their respective fields. From hearing David Rubenstein of Carlyle Group challenge the entire delegation of young leaders with three simple words “Do not coast,” to hearing about Andre Agassi’s ambitious plans for education, I left inspired, and hungrier than ever to make an impact in the world.
The company I have built over the last several years is dedicated to providing immersive learning experiences around the globe to encourage young people not to coast. Our vehicle is education — not only for the students who travel with us to Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa and now Panama, but also for the people who live in the small rural villages where we work.
We have spent tremendous time and resources to understand how people learn through experiences and how we can create programs that benefit equally the students and the communities they work with. What has emerged is an offering that guides young people through understanding the assets and resources that exist in a community, no matter how far away from the electrical grid. Our scholars work in teams with aspiring local entrepreneurs who are ready to create a sustainable livelihood, testing ideas for products and services and bringing them to the marketplace. The results have been tantamount to uncovering a bold new approach to learning and growing.
The company has not stopped there. We have now developed a technology platform that brings this process to life for people anywhere. You should not have to attend a top university to gain access to the experiential framework that can create a livelihood that feeds a family, or build an enterprise that enhances life across a country or region. With technology, there are no limitations, and through Unleesh, our newest tool, anything is possible.
Entrepreneurship has taken me on a journey across continents and regions, and has provided me with a microphone for sharing ideas and building a better future for people throughout the world. The Academy of Achievement helped me get started. I am pleased to report that our work has only just begun.