What’s the Big Idea? Nurturing the Next Class of Innovators

What’s the Big Idea? Nurturing the Next Class of Innovators

Two recent Junior Achievement challenges supported by FedEx reveal common interests around innovating for the environment.

If you’re a regular reader of Access, you already know we’re all about identifying the Young Innovators who are poised to change the world. But did you know a lot of those world changers aren’t even old enough to drive yet? Even so, they’re coming up with some really big ideas, many related to sustainability and the environment.

Case in point: the winners of the recent Asia Innovation Challenge, jointly organized by FedEx Express and Junior Achievement (JA) Japan. With the help of mentors who work for FedEx Japan, the top team of two students from Japan and two students from Singapore created a plan for a network to cultivate and sell organic vegetables in Vietnam, where toxic pesticides can pose dangers to both farm workers and consumers.

The challenge not only fosters the creation of a business idea, but it also helps students from different countries connect and collaborate. “In working with students from a different country on this joint project, I needed to deal with different values,” one of the students from the winning team reports. “It was a good experience for me to learn that it is important to accept these differences and understand them for better communication.”

In the U.S., the 2017 FedEx Junior Business Challenge is under way in collaboration with the PGA TOUR. At each of four PGA tournaments, teams of JA students pitch their concepts to a panel of judges that includes a tour player and business leaders. One pitch from each event moves on to the finals in September, where teams will compete to earn a $75,000 donation to their local JA chapter.

In the first round at the Shell Houston Open, the team from Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas, created a line of products made from upcycled materials: wooden drink coasters, candleholders and Mason jars adorned with chalkboard paint for writing messages. “We decided to challenge ourselves to see if we could create neat, aesthetic products out of recyclable material,” one team member says. “Although our products may have a small impact for the time being, we realized that what we created could eventually grow to be something much bigger.”

Over the last two decades, FedEx has invested in the next generation of innovators with donations of more than $13 million to Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide. A 2015 report by the European Commission found that students participating in entrepreneurship education programs like JA Worldwide are not only more likely to start their own businesses, but their companies also tend to be more innovative and more successful. Program alumni are also at lower risk of unemployment, have better jobs and make more money.

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