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'WeThrive' gives youth at risk a chance to be themselves and build a business

  1. The Economy

'WeThrive' gives youth at risk a chance to be themselves and build a business

Stand Together Foundation Catalyst WeThrive empowers youth to be themselves and build a business.

A man and a teen approach a booth set up by two young entrepreneurs

Stand Together Foundation Catalyst WeThrive closes opportunity gaps and improves economic justice by giving youth ages 12 to 24 from underserved communities access to training for entrepreneurs that will give them the power to create change and enhance economic opportunity in their own communities.

WeThrive believes in the potential of every young person it serves. The organization empowers youth at risk to dream big and helps them reach their fullest potential by offering a strong curriculum and access to a community of mentors. In addition to gaining skills related to financial literacy, problem solving, leadership, and building social capital, students receive seed money to launch a start-up. Ninety-five percent of WeThrive students build real businesses and earn real revenue, all while learning the entrepreneurial skills that will set them up for success to master the path they choose.

The impact of race and poverty on youth at risk

Unequal opportunity persists, in part, because at a young age too many would-be entrepreneurs are dismissed due to their race, the neighborhood they live in, or school they attend. Youth at risk are less likely to explore, disrupt, and lead because of the categories into which society sorts them. WeThrive creates socioeconomic pathways for young people deprived of economic opportunity — and it does so while encouraging them to be their authentic selves.

WeThrive designed a youth entrepreneurship education and training program to equip today's students with the opportunities, resources, education, and self-confidence necessary to thrive in tomorrow's economy. As a supplement to learning that happens in school, the community, and online, the WeThrive app lets students engage with a tailored curriculum on their phones. The proprietary app takes high-level business concepts and breaks them down into digestible, gamified modules on the devices students already use.

Founder and Executive Director Daquan J. Oliver believes WeThrive's bottom-up program offering training for entrepreneurs can help people like him. As the son of a single mother in an under-resourced neighborhood, Daquan has said he "grew distrustful of a system that I witnessed break the hope and confidence of many of my peers." He established WeThrive to facilitate youth entrepreneurship in a way that would help young people like himself break free from the categories society set for them. 

Approximately 99% of WeThrive students are youth of color and 80% come from neighborhoods classified as low-income. 

WeThrive Chief of Learning Success Danielle Espiritu told the audience at Stand Together Foundation's March 2022 Catalyst Summit that she also was an underestimated youth. As a person of Filipino heritage, people expected her to fit into a "small, quiet Asian girl box."

At home, however, Danielle's mother encouraged her curiosity. She taught Danielle not to simply accept what she had been told, and instead to be "someone who looks for discovery moments and opportunities for exploration; someone who wants to know the truth."

Danielle said WeThrive believes the freedom to be oneself and ask questions is essential to entrepreneurship.

Real life opportunities for youth entrepreneurship

Along with its app,  WeThrive provides students with the practice opportunities that help them find their voice, discover their unique abilities, and pursue their passions.

Many WeThrive students have never been exposed to a corporate setting and view these arenas as unwelcoming. That changes with the WeThrive experience, Danielle explained. Students gain access to a large and growing network of professionals from different fields, for example. These mentors listen to students' business ideas and share feedback about how to refine and expand their business plans.

"Imagine, as a kid, being told to be exactly who you are," she said. "Someone listening to you, valuing your ideas and opinions, and giving you the tools you need to embody what success means to you."

After launching a company, participants transition to WeThrive's Portfolio Program where they receive ongoing training for entrepreneurs and continued support to scale their business. WeThrive also provides leadership opportunities through sponsorships, grants, speaking engagements, internships, and employment.

With the help of Stand Together Foundation's Catalyst Program, a selective six-month management and leadership development experience that accelerates the work of America's highest-performing nonprofits, WeThrive will be able to reach more students.   

A successful model for training for entrepreneurs

Not only have 95% of students started a business, these young startups already have amassed more than $20,000 in revenue.

"WeThrive entrepreneurs solve real problems, create real companies, and make real revenue while at the same time confronting the economic violence they're forced to endure every day," Danielle explained at Stand Together Foundation's March 2022 Catalyst Summit.

These companies have the potential to impact the students' own communities. Student-developed innovations include products, services, and programs related to everything from mental health and food insecurity to providing quality, natural skin care products at a price affordable to everyone.

The WeThrive youth entrepreneurship program helps participants develop analytical skills and learn how to use feedback, boost confidence and self-sufficiency, and build support systems in their communities. (Eighty-six percent of participants already have acquired professional networks, for example.)

Students also learn they do not need to be anyone other than themselves to succeed, Danielle said.

"WeThrive is about more than just starting your own company. It's about unleashing the courage within young people to show up as their most authentic selves in the spaces" society routinely has kept closed to them, Danielle concluded.

Learn more about Stand Together's economic progress efforts.

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