As my graduation from Georgetown University drew near, I began contemplating what I wanted my next steps to be. What did I want to do with my life? How would I use my years on this planet to make an impact?
I wouldn’t call it an existential crisis, more like the convergence of 14 years of Catholic education and an empathy that allowed me to share in the frustration of those living a life where every door to opportunity is shut in their face and locked with a deadbolt.
I decided to join the Peace Corps and before I knew it I was on a plane, flying to Guinea to spend 27 months as a community economic development adviser. I didn’t know in these months I would find a second home and a passion for economic development that would forever change me.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that more than peace, love and security, what people want is a decent job. It allows you to show your love for your family by providing them with nutritious food and investing in their education. It allows you to share the fruits of your labor with your community, creating an environment of peace and security.
I am committed to helping youth fulfill this basic need through education and social entrepreneurship. It is why I created the Dare to Innovate project.
In Guinea, young adult unemployment rates are 70 percent. Even if you manage despite the odds to graduate from college, you are more likely than not to be unemployed. It is demoralizing for youth who have fought their whole lives to improve themselves so that they can improve their communities, to finally graduate and find nothing but rejection.
They fall prey to politicians exploiting them to create civil unrest. They fall prey to drugs. But most importantly, they fall prey to fatalism and the country’s biggest asset is allowed to waste away, spending its years sitting under a tree drinking tea, wondering why nothing good ever happens.
There are major structural changes than need to happen in Guinea before the market creates jobs. It will take decades, if not generations. So Dare to Innovate teaches youth to create their own opportunities. We train them to be entrepreneurs and give them access to the resources that they need to succeed. Furthermore, we teach them to be social entrepreneurs, positive examples for their peers for how you can do good and do well.
A social entrepreneur is an innovator who leverages commercial-sector practices to create both a financial and social impact in their community. They run a spectrum from income generating local non-profit groups that are able to sustain their activities without having to seek outside funds to large businesses that consider equally their impact on people, profit and the environment in day-to-day managerial decisions and long-term strategy. Social entrepreneurs are agents of change and beacons of hope for communities living in poverty and oppression. They are the key to a future where everyone has access to opportunity.
In its inaugural year, Dare to Innovate supported the training of 700 entrepreneurs, trained 21 social entrepreneurs, and created seven social businesses. These businesses and their social entrepreneurs are already generating income, creating jobs and having large positive impacts in their areas of intervention.
For example, Fatoumata Binta Diallo started an early childhood education center that empowers children to think critically and act creatively. Her daycare keeps these children safe and engaged while their mothers earn a living for their families by selling goods in the market. She has 100 students and employs two other young women.
Youssouf Barry, despite a handicap that restricts his mobility, is the owner and operator of an organic banana plantation. He espouses the virtues of environmental stewardship with a passion one rarely sees in youth, anywhere.
The list goes on. I could not be prouder of our entrepreneurs nor more motivated to do everything in my power to make sure our program can be sustained and train new entrepreneurs year after year.
Social entrepreneurship is a powerful tool and one that the Catholic Church can embrace to create the changes we wish to see in the world. It celebrates the life and dignity of all people by giving them a hand up instead of a hand out, calls them to participate in their communities, gives responsibility to youth, creates options for those who lack them, cares for the world that God created for us and brings us all together to support the common good.
In a world where youth, American or otherwise, tend toward apathy, social entrepreneurship can be an exciting way to rekindle our passion for social justice.
For more information on the Dare to Innovate movement, including profiles of our young entrepreneurs, visit OsezInnover.com
Meghan McCormick is a native of Villanova. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.S. in business administration then spent two years living in Kindia, Guinea as a community economic development volunteer in the Peace Corps. She currently resides in Boston where she works in management consulting.