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A Consequence of Character

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A new study on youth leadership from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University confirms quantitatively what researchers have learned qualitatively from kids at camp. "Life lessons" learned during adolescence -- such as those related to individual responsibility and the importance of personal initiative -- inform character development and inspire social entrepreneurship.

From there, the sky's the limit when it comes to creating positive change.

For example, the survey, conducted for CARE by SurveyTelligence Inc., revealed that starting a non-business group or organization in youth is significantly associated with business entrepreneurship. Young social entrepreneurs were more people and values-oriented whereas business entrepreneurs focused more on accomplishing tasks. However, both shared the ability to muster resources and motivation to get the job done and were actively engaged in their families and communities.

"This work reveals an interesting path to entrepreneurship," said Susquehanna Associate Professor of Psychology Michael Smith, Psy.D., one of the study's lead investigators and academic research coordinator at CARE. "Typically we look at social entrepreneurship as an outcome of successful business entrepreneurship, yet this study shows they share key similarities that do not necessarily imply that one comes before the other."

The character traits identified in those who had engaged in social entrepreneurship include motivation, initiative, sociability, adaptability and optimism. These young people also tended to be outgoing, flexible and assertive.

Such non-cognitive characteristics have been identified as important benchmarks for prospective employers and are at the heart of educational efforts at summer camps across the country.

And the proof is in the pudding.

Study participants who attended a summer camp were significantly more likely to state an interest in social entrepreneurship than those who had not attended. Why? They cited the influence of counselors, especially in 1) Mentoring them to develop social and leadership skills, 2) Assisting them in obtaining social and material resources to start new projects, and 3) Guiding them in understanding such projects and identifying other mentors. Young people who had started their own businesses or were highly interested in doing so were especially influenced by camp counselors who taught them how to gather resources needed to achieve goals.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association and a CARE Advisory Board member, explains, "Camps are rich in mentors, providing children and teens with nurturing adults who help them to learn more about themselves and cultivate individual interests and talents. When those relationships motivate service, it's truly a 'win-win' situation."

This data supports earlier research from the national SADD organization (Students Against Destructive Decisions), a CARE partner, which revealed that teens with mentors reported that they are significantly more likely than those without mentors to challenge themselves by taking positive risks, such as volunteering to perform community service. That study also noted young people who participated in camp were significantly more likely to report being highly mentored, taking positive risks and possessing a healthier sense of self.

Leann Mischel, Ph.D., an entrepreneurship-track professor at Susquehanna University's Sigmund Weis School of Business, herself a camp director and also one of the study's lead investigators, points to the efficacy of teaching initiative-taking in young people. She noted that, "Camp experiences in a person's youth, whether overnight or day, are positively correlated to entrepreneurial activity later in life."

But it's not only camp counselors fueling the fires of entrepreneurship. Indeed, parents also play an influential role in encouraging and modeling entrepreneurial behavior (Iannarelli, Mischel, & Aniello. July, 2009).

Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., at the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College and co-author of the Entrepreneurial Dimensions Profile (EDP), an assessment tool based on research into the traits, motivations and skills of entrepreneurs, agrees with the notion that an "entrepreneurial mindset" can be developed. "The results of this research are noteworthy for teens and their parents," says Hall, listing additional traits of entrepreneurs measured by the EDP, such as persistence, future focus and idea generation, which she says young people can use to help shape the social and economic landscape worldwide.

Regardless of who's doing the teaching, young people benefit from:

• Having assigned responsibilities;
• Engaging in dialogue about values and faith;
• Hearing about successful social entrepreneurs;
• Developing close relationships with the adults in their lives;
• Receiving encouragement about their ability to succeed.

At home, at camp, at school and beyond, influential mentors motivate young people to be a force for positive change, here and around the world ... truly an important consequence of character.