Showcasing Social Entrepreneurship
NFTE President Steve Mariotti: "I believe synergy results from creating wealth in communities."
How do you integrate people who have been left out of the free-enterprise system into the ownership fabric of our global community? To Steve Mariotti, BBA '75, MBA '77, the answer lies in entrepreneurship.
Mariotti, the founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which helps low-income youths get the business skills needed to start new enterprises, is convinced that entrepreneurship holds great promise for promoting global prosperity, cross-cultural understanding and democratic values.
Mariotti spoke at the '06 Showcase: Real People, Real Issues, Real Solutions. The daylong event, presented Oct. 6 by the Domestic Corps Internship Program at the Ross School of Business, focused on entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sector and featured panel discussions led by the chief executives of leading nonprofit organizations that recently participated in the program. The Showcase also recognized the achievements of graduate and undergraduate business students who completed internship assignments in culturally diverse, economically distressed locations across the United States.
"I believe synergy results from creating wealth in communities," said Mariotti. "I think there is a greater connection between people based on their interest in markets and small business than on religion or ethnic background."
Since its founding in 1987, NFTE has become a global movement, extending its reach to 13 countries and educating 180,000 aspiring entrepreneurs. Mariotti said this social-enterprise model could be "stronger and healthier" if entrepreneurial education can be successfully replicated in Arab and Muslim countries.
"Global markets are really an important source of energy to create democracy worldwide," he continued. "I don't think you can have (isolated) corners of the world that are democracies and markets. Long-term, that's not going to work. It's extremely important that we have an intellectual base and promote the idea of individual liberty and the power of people to own businesses everywhere."
Mariotti recounted his own entrepreneurial odyssey, beginning as a Ford Motor Co. treasury analyst, then as the owner of an import-export business in New York and finally as a teacher of high-risk children in "the worst school in New York State," Bedford-Stuyvesant high school in Brooklyn. After conventional teaching methods failed and he literally lost control of his class, Mariotti discovered that even the worst offenders sat up and took notice when he told them about his experiences in importing shoes. He embraced the notion that teaching kids how to perform basic business functions and encouraging them to launch their own enterprises could lead to better, more productive lives.
Mariotti left his teaching job to establish NFTE with the vision that every child in the world would learn how to start a small business. The organization began to introduce its entrepreneurial-education curriculum to high schools nationwide. Today, it is working with young people in China, India, El Salvador, South Africa, Israel and throughout Europe. Over the next 35 to 40 years, Mariotti predicted, NFTE will become a great social movement with operations in every country and major city in the world. Mariotti also credited the organization's partnership with the Ross School and the Domestic Corps for helping to advance its work.
Student interns, Alison Leff, MBA '07, and Alzeira Pereira, BBA '07, who worked in NFTE's New York office over the summer, described the scope of their projects and how they benefited from their nonprofit experiences. "I think MBA programs across the country have a huge obligation to supply our communities with leaders who know nonprofits," Leff said. "In the coming 10 years, we're going to need over 600,000 new nonprofit leaders." She said her internship and the opportunity to work with Mariotti gave her a "leg up" in her quest to become a nonprofit leader.
Pereira said her efforts to build a pilot model for NFTE's expansion strategy gave her valuable skills and experience that will come into play as she pursues a full-time position as an investment-banking analyst at JP Morgan Chase next year. "Students in the business school sometimes think that if they pursue a Domestic Corps or nonprofit internship, they are eliminating or deterring their chances to get a full-time position in the corporate world," she said. "This is not true. My internship has given me the opportunity to leverage a hands-on consulting experience, which I will be able to use as an investment-banking analyst."
Mariotti offered several tips on starting a social enterprise. First, he said, it is vital to come up with a unique, measurable idea that directly impacts a social problem—"something you can say in a sentence and people are stunned by it." Having a business background in the for-profit sector also is helpful. Before launching an enterprise, however, he recommended social entrepreneurs invest in accounting and legal expertise. "Get your funding first," Mariotti urged. "There is a tendency for the founder to piece-meal financing, which is what I did." In retrospect, he said he would have raised capital first and then devoted his full attention to developing well-researched pilot programs. The real secret to growing a successful organization with a global impact, Mariotti concluded, is simplicity. "If it's not simple, you can't adapt it to different cultures or explain it."
Written by Claudia Capos
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Mary Jo Frank