Against a backdrop of magenta balloons, lights, and t-shirts, the 30 winning teams of the 2019 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge descended on T-Mobile's headquarters in Bellevue, WA. from February 19 to 21 for the Changemaker Challenge Lab.
As a leader, and maybe the only person in your community doing this type of work, you can feel isolated.
Over three days, 60 community-minded youth, aged 13 to 23—each seeking to make the world a better place through unique projects—were mentored by T-Mobile and Ashoka leadership on how to grow their projects.
Anthony Price, founder of Be The Change Venture, a 501(c)(3), says it was a rare and uplifting opportunity to meet other students with a passion for helping youth.
“As a leader, and maybe the only person in your community doing this type of work, you can feel isolated,” explains Price. So it's inspiring to be around other young people who are passionate about addressing community issues and hear their feedback on how we can grow together. It's recharged and motivated me."
Be the Change Venture teammates Jesse Ferguson (left) and Anthony Price (right) arrive on Day 1 of T-Mobile’s Changemaker Challenge Lab.
To address the economic, employment, and opportunity disparities faced by his friends and fellow students as inner-city youth, Jesse Ferguson launched Be the Change Venture in Nebraska in 2019 to provide opportunities to more youth, particularly in rural areas.
They work with schools, local governments, and other youth development programs to offer a series of five week-long educational workshops. These are focused on the five foundations of building relationships. Students learn how to develop an effective introduction, communication skills, how to share their stories, effective follow-up methods, and how to use professional tools to build their brand. Then they're supported through online coaching and community events where they connect with professionals in their community.
Ferguson recounted how intense his schedule was as the Executive Director when opening the Nebraska chapter, “I would give four presentations of the same workshop to different periods. In each of the periods, there were six classes, so that'd be 24 classes a day...it was around 500 students a day I was working with.” The project has shown over 1,000 young people how to bridge the gap between potential and opportunity, helping inner-city and rural youth aged 14 to 18 develop practical skills to connect with local employers.
Before the Changemaker Lab had even wrapped up, Price could already feel the impact of being surrounded by like-minded youth and leaders. “This event has definitely played a big role in helping us collaborate with other young people, extend our impact, and fulfill our mission,” he said.
In fact, during the Lab, the team connected with Kassandra Degara, cofounder of She Can Tech, a group aiming to increase the meaningful participation of women in STEM through workshops mentorship and networking opportunities. Within a few hours of meeting, they decided to collaborate on building and launching a Be The Change Venture app.
With the app, Price says, Be The Change Venture can make it easier for young people to access all of their workshops digitally no matter where they are or what their schedule looks like.
“We want to extend our demographic area by working with students who aren't in school or who are already working. With an app, they can take a quick 30-minute break to learn how to establish a conversation with someone or send a follow-up email or reach out to someone for help.”
Anthony Price (standing, left) and Jesse Ferguson (standing, right) participate in a mentorship session pitching their program to T-Mobile leaders.
But the benefits of being at the Lab didn't end there. Over three days, Price says they had a chance to discuss and find support for every aspect of running Be The Change Venture.
Each team had an opportunity to pitch their projects to T-Mobile leaders for feedback and advice. Price says from one meeting they garnered tons of ideas for expansion and growth.
Presentations from other teams taught them how to ensure their messaging is solid and consistent so they can represent themselves in the best way possible.
Price says one session in particular even helped change his approach to fundraising. As he explains, the message was loud and clear: "never be afraid to ask for what you need, especially when it comes to funding." For Price, finding funding has been a thorny issue with plenty of obstacles. In part, he says that stems from being a timid child with a speech impediment, but listening to others share their fears and how they overcame them bolstered his confidence.
"From that one session, I feel more confident to ask. We're seeking to raise $50,000 to support an additional 1,000 young people. So I'm going to jump in to ask those donors and those people that would invest in our organization to join us in this movement and create a more prepared future generation."
Price and Ferguson have also started thinking differently about the idea of change and how youth can generate change. And they want to support other young people who see the need for change but worry they're too young to do anything.
Both realize they're in a position to set an example and help other young leaders feel empowered and less afraid to initiate the positive changes they want to see in their communities.
Further Reading for Changemakers
"I'm a testament of what Be The Change Venture can be by founding the organization and overcoming my obstacles as a young person," explains Price. By serving young people who doubt themselves and don't feel confident, he hopes to bring them up and mobilize them to be even greater. At the end of the three days, it was the message from the very first session they attended that still rings loudest for Price, and that's "passion over perfection."
"Why am I continuing to do this work while being a full-time college student and also working another job? It's my passion for young people. Thinking about those young people who, like me, have these dreams and goals but don't know if someone was going to believe in them or help them succeed. My passion is to show young people they can be successful in the future, then provide the tools and support they need to do it."