Students Making a Difference

One of the biggest challenges college students face today is translating what they learn in the classroom to the skills and experience they will need when they enter the workforce. According to the results of McGraw-Hill Education's 2015 student workforce survey, only one in five college students say they feel "very prepared" to join the workforce. A study by Young Entrepreneur Council noted that 89% of young people surveyed believe that entrepreneurship education is important for the job market, but 73% of respondents were not offered any classes on entrepreneurship in college. What if there was a way for students to team up with business leaders and use their collective knowledge, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit to create businesses that positively impact the lives of members of their own community? Meet Enactus, an international nonprofit that believes "investing in students who take entrepreneurial action for others creates a better world for us all."

I first encountered Enactus years back when I partnered with them to hire an international leader and they were still known as Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE). Years later, I had the good fortune to work with them again to help bring a U.S. President on board. To me, they were an organization that was impacting college students and communities in a profound way, and the educator and corporate professional in me felt strongly that participation in Enactus should be a graduation requirement for all undergraduates.

Enactus, whose programs span 36 countries, and 1,700 university programs with over 70,000 participating students annually, connects students, academic, and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based projects that empower people to transform opportunities into real, sustainable solutions for themselves and their communities. Guided by academic advisors and business experts, university-based Enactus teams turn ideas into action as they work to increase the livelihoods of others.

Enactus Competitions

The belief that competition fuels creativity and results comprises the basis of Enactus' regional, national, and world competitions. At the regional level, over 200 university teams present and receive feedback from business executives, who serve as judges. Teams have 17-minutes to showcase their projects--generally a medley of 4 to 5 initiatives--and illustrate how they are making a difference in the world in terms of innovation and creating social enterprises. The experience is reminiscent of Shark Tank/Angel Investing presentations, and as a judge, you cannot help but marvel at the array of ventures.

At the conclusion of the regional competitions, roughly 140 teams are promoted to nationals. There are 35 national competitions that take place over 17 weeks. From each national competition, one team will be selected to represent their country at the prestigious Enactus World Cup in Toronto, Canada, this September.

Earlier this month, I participated as a judge at the Dallas Regional Enactus meeting, and by the time the day was over, it was clear to me that the Enactus model offers a great solution to bridging the college to career gap. In a time when entrepreneurial spirit, problem solving, creativity, effective communication skills, collaboration, and leadership are the keys to success as students enter the workforce, Enactus delivers, in addition to fostering relationships amongst students and business professionals. By way of its corporate partners, to include brands such as Walmart, KPMG, and Unilever, Enactus enables students to network with potential employers.

Team Talk

I had the opportunity to sit down with a number of students on Texas State University (TXST) team, many of whom are pursuing their MBA. Katelyn Bain, presentation team co-captain and member of the Executive Committee was clear that Enactus was the catalyst which led many of the team members to graduate school. Beyond their immersion in graduate school and Enactus projects, the students I spoke to were also engaged in internships. Ryan Zajack, who sits on the TXST Enactus Executive Committee, devotes 20 hours a week to his Enactus projects, and is grateful for the experience. "I have learned more during my time with Enactus than I did in class," he noted, and his teammates agreed.

Zach Gross, an Enanctus alumni from TXST, said that the bonds formed on the Enactus team run deep; he indicated that former teammates often end up working together down the road. Team members' shared work ethic and drive translates well to successful business ventures after college.

After witnessing the professionalism and high quality of the presentations, not to mention the impressive annual report brochures that each team hands out, it was clear that participating in Enactus competitions is not taken lightly. The Texas State team starts practicing in August for the regional competition that takes place in April, and by the day of the regional presentation, they estimated they clocked 100 hours preparing, which doesn't take into consideration the hours they spend out in the field leading the projects. Camaraderie, mentors, a myriad of connections, faculty relationships, and lifelong friends are what they gain.

Lakota Campbell, President of TXST Enactus team noted that the variety of projects the team works on--from helping college students to prepare for interviews and increasing their marketability, to educating people of all ages how to achieve financial freedom, to helping a professor with cancer to improve her health and sustain a living--enables them to understand situations from the inside out and empowers them to take on the role of problem solvers from both an empathetic and entrepreneurial stance.

Gina Goss, presentation team co-captain and member of the Executive Committee noted that their faculty advisor and Sam Walton Fellow in Free Enterprise, Vicki West, pushes the teams' limits. Per the team, Ms. West believes in personal improvement and being "hard on task, easy on people."

Haley Prowell, an alumni of Quachita Baptist University, is a great example of the impact Enactus has not only on those they help in communities, but on students, too. Four years ago she was involved with what was then SIFE and was recruited by Walmart for a marketing position shortly after graduation. "Walmart leaders saw me in action as a team presenter over the years," said Ms. Prowell. She noted that her involvement with Enactus "set her on a career path that changed her life." She was grateful to her Enactus experience in helping her to hone her professional skills and secure her dream job.