02/11/2013 02:14 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

A Social Justice Approach to Entrepreneurship Education

Written by Melina Bixler-Fraga Director of Entrepreneurship Education

"My background is in social justice work," I announce proudly to a potential business partner at a networking event. I can tell he's perplexed, as many have been before him, wondering how I ended up directing a program where the buzz terms are " start-up capital," "profit margin" and "ROI" instead of working for an NGO in Africa. For me the connection is clear. Providing entrepreneurship education for marginalized youth in my community is social justice work.

Firstly, at an individual level, entrepreneurship education builds self-efficacy. As any die-hard entrepreneur knows, in order to be successful you have to believe you can do something when everyone else says you can't. You have to get comfortable hearing "no" and learn to let rejection energize you. "I love hearing "no's" says Ty Hubbard of The Space Creators in a presentation to our Aspiring Entrepreneurs class last semester. "With each "no" I hear I know that I am one step closer to a "yes." Teaching our youth how to value rejection for what we can learn from it and to master the art of failing fast so that they can succeed faster solidifies a sense of personal power so deep that few hardships or struggles will uproot them. Failure is an inevitable chapter in the story of an entrepreneurial journey but it doesn't have to be the overarching theme. Our young entrepreneurs at YouthBiz learn to acknowledge what doesn't work, embrace the failure, learn from it, then get up, dust off, and try again.

At a community level entrepreneurism is a vehicle for social and economic prosperity. Yes, I do want our young entrepreneurs to learn how to identify their skills and passions and monetize them in a way that ensures their economic success, but I emphasize the importance that they never lose sight of their community (both locally and globally) whilst pursuing their business ventures. Entrepreneurism has the capacity to be a key player in solving many issues globally and we want our young people to understand their power as agents of change. Whether it's donating some of your profits to an important cause, developing a new product to revolutionize the war on hunger, or sourcing your raw materials in a just, humane and environmentally conscious way, as entrepreneurs we must make our business decisions based on principles of equality and solidarity. In this global economy where money talks social enterprise and or socially responsible business can -- and should -- be leading the discussion. It is my hope that in this conversation our young entrepreneurs will have much to say.

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