11/18/2013 10:21 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Defining Social Entrepreneurism for 35 years (Even Before It Was a Buzzword!)

Tom Kinisky, President at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, a YouthBuild Partner

Just last month I had the distinct pleasure of helping YouthBuild celebrate its 35th anniversary. Celebrating an anniversary milestone is always nice, but for me it was less about the span of time, and instead speaks to the more than 100,000 students who have passed through the YouthBuild organization. The 35-year anniversary is about the lessons learned, the knowledge gained, careers begun and the human impact that the organization has made.

YouthBuild has been rooted in social entrepreneurism since before the term was made recently popular. And it was YouthBuild's anniversary celebration that made me realize how the organization defines that term -- in my mind if you looked up the term social entrepreneurism on Wikipedia you should find YouthBuild. Because, from personal involvement in YouthBuild, I believe the anniversary was most notably about the powerful bond forged between a group of men and women who have shared a unique experience and through that experience the bond extends beyond borders, cultures and life experiences.

Together, these people have picked up hammers and textbooks to take control of their lives. They have formed a community whose success is not measured simply in dollars earned, but in families raised, neighborhoods rebuilt and most importantly, in lives transformed. The very name itself, YouthBuild, celebrates what the youth of the world can build -- and quietly over the last 35 years, these social entrepreneurs have built quite a bit.

But I don't work for YouthBuild -- I work alongside them through my company, Saint-Gobain, a global manufacturer of building materials. Our company was founded in France in 1665 to manufacture glass for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. In the 348 years since then, a full 14 generations of people have lived, learned, worked and raised their children as a part of the Saint-Gobain family. And, we believe our legacy and our responsibility to make the world a better place is important. So at the celebration, I was proud that we have been supporting YouthBuild, as I see them truly making a difference.

Tom Kinisky speaking at YouthBuild's 35th anniversary event

In December 2010, when Saint-Gobain began its partnership with YouthBuild, it was a substantial commitment with a new partner, a partner that shared our vision of helping our youth through education, skills building and leadership development. We saw an opportunity to make a sustainable impact by transforming expectations of the individuals and helping meet those expectations.

Today, nearly three years later, I can proudly and confidently say that we entered into this relationship knowing that it was largely about knowledge transfer. It was about teaching people valuable skills and showing individuals what hard work and tenacity could accomplish. The amazing success between YouthBuild and Saint-Gobain has led to three homes completed (two of which have been LEED Platinum certified), more than 500 Saint-Gobain employees participating in four cities across the United States, eight of our business lines' products installed into those homes and many, many hours of training and education with students and Saint-Gobain experts and executives standing side-by-side.

In looking back at the past three years in relation to YouthBuild's 35th anniversary, I uncovered something that I never expected: we got the teacher/student relationship completely wrong! Saint-Gobain went into the partnership thinking we were the teachers, but we weren't. For every technical skill in insulation we taught the students, they taught us lessons in tenacity and heart. For every nail hammered, floor laid or sheet of drywall hung, our employees saw in the students' eyes just how much fun it is to learn a trade.

If the lessons of a few hundred Saint-Gobain employees working alongside dozens of students are anything like the experiences of the thousands of other YouthBuild partners and participants, then I can safely confirm that YouthBuild defines social entrepreneurism. Unlike some organizations that simply seek to solve a problem, YouthBuild does something so much more. It sets in motion relationships, partnerships and bonds that ultimately form the foundations of people's lives. This foundation gives students a base upon which to build a legacy -- hopefully a 350-year or 14-generation legacy -- that would really be something!

To learn more about Saint-Gobain, connect on Facebook and Twitter or visit us at Greenbuild 2013 in Philadelphia at Booth #1411 and #1511.

Please support YouthBuild USA at our CrowdRise page today.