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How Can Businesses Help Young People Thrive? Drexel’s School of Education Partners with America’s Promise Alliance to Find Out

Bruce Levine

December 17, 2013

What if businesses could respond in real-time to schools’ needs for supplies, or offered extensive shadowing or internship programs to introduce students to career opportunities?

To encourage greater impacts from collaboration between the business sector and local K-12 educational institutions, Drexel University’s School of Education partnered with America’s Promise Alliance to host the first-ever “Business-Community Innovation Lab” in Drexel’s Washington, D.C. office last month.

The event brought together private and public sector leaders from across the country to find new, more effective ways for businesses to re-imagine their role in improving the lives and educational outcomes of students.

“We were delighted to invite Drexel’s School of Education to be involved in this endeavor, as the University shares our commitment to making communities stronger and delivering a high quality education to America’s young people,” said Paul Thallner, Fuse Corps Fellow at America’s Promise Alliance.

“Through this partnership, we are excited to explore new ways of bringing the voices of the business community and other stakeholders to the table to create new, innovative solutions that will have an enduring impact on communities and the lives of young people around the country.”

Founded by Colin Powell in 1997, America’s Promise Alliance has become the nation’s largest partnership dedicated to improving the lives of young people. America’s Promise believes that businesses can help create life-changing solutions for young people that lead to increased graduation rates as well as more supportive and engaged communities.

On Nov. 6, America’s Promise tested this theory at the Business-Community Innovation Lab. More than 25 entrepreneurs, public officials and business and community leaders from around the country gathered for a full-day, solution-generating lab curated by SMALLIFY, a Silicon Valley-based innovation firm. SMALLIFY’s “rapid innovation lab” format is focused on solving an innovation or leadership challenge through “small bets,” or actionable initial solutions that can be solved in shorter timeframes. Bruce Levine, assistant clinical professor of education and director of Drexel’s Education Policy program, was both an invitee and co-host of the event.

Private and public sector leaders from across the country came together at the first-ever Business-Community Innovation Lab“Through my work over the years in the education, workforce development and economic development sectors, I had come to see the critical need for identifying better ways of building relationships between them and the chance to do this with APA presents the potential for engaging their partners in pilot projects,” said Levine.

By looking to improve on an old support model where community-based organizations decide what they need and then ask the business sector for help and resources, the lab participants “flipped the script” and looked for new ways in which the business community can engage in helping to support local youth, educational institutions and their communities.

Through a series of exercises and prototyping, the participants came up with creative solutions to answer the question, “How can we activate business to transform communities so that young people can thrive?” Participants then pitched their prototypes to a panel of experts for on-the-spot feedback. One of the most promising ideas to arise from the meeting was that of creating regional online platforms that would provide a dedicated communication channel for businesses and education.

The winning prototypes will move on to field testing from a network of more than 500 organizations and leaders whose job it is to engage business in solving youth, educational and community development challenges. Participants will have the opportunity to stay involved as the prototypes become integrated as projects.

“Drexel’s School of Education has a history of outreach when it comes to improving the educational experience of students and teachers,” said William Lynch, PhD, dean of the School of Education. “The partnership with America’s Promise Alliance will address the challenge of developing meaningful business engagements on a community level.”

Invited participants included representatives from America Succeeds, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Change the Equation, the City of Richmond, Columbia Business School, DeHavill and Associates, Deloitte, Eastman Company, Girls Inc, IO, J. Blanco & Associates, Jobs for the Future, Maryland State Department of Education, Montgomery County Public Schools, National Governors Association, New Richmond Ventures, PENCIL, Shulman Rogers, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, UBELONG, United Way Worldwide and Universal Companies.

About America’s Promise Alliance

America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest partnership alliance comprised of corporations, nonprofit organizations, foundations, policymakers, advocacy and faith groups committed to ensuring that children receive the fundamental resources - "the Five Promises" – they need to lead successful, healthy and productive lives and build a stronger society. The Alliance believes a child’s success is grounded in experiencing the Five Promises - caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others - at home, in school and in the community. For more information, visit