Shining a Spotlight on the Power of Young Social Entrepreneurs

By Caraleigh Holverson (IL ’08)

caraleighWhen we think about Harry Truman’s legacy, an enterprising
entrepreneur may not be the first image that comes to mind.  In fact, Harry knew first-hand about the
challenges that come with taking a leap of entrepreneurial faith; before his public service career,
he actually started up both mining and men’s clothing businesses that didn’t
quite take off.  While we’re all
fortunate he didn’t have more success selling dress shirts and ties, I’ve no
doubt that Truman’s experience of having taken those entrepreneurial risks contributed
valuable lasting lessons for his later leadership.

I would submit that the lessons of social entrepreneurship
– a term not yet in vogue in the early 1900s – are not such a far cry from the
lessons Truman no doubt learned from attempted business endeavors.  The analogy of a business entrepreneur is
quite apt to understanding the innovative dynamism that undergirds social

“Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social
entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities
others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating
solutions to change society for the better. While a business entrepreneur might
create entirely new industries, a social entrepreneur comes up with new
solutions to social problems and then implements them on a large scale.”  
(Source: Ashoka)

The concept is of course nothing new to the dozens
of Truman Scholars who have struck out as social entrepreneurs of their own,
like Indra Sen (NC ’07), who founded Inspire Dreams, Inc, and many

I’m no enterprising social entrepreneur myself
(…yet!), but I am proud to say that I currently work to support the efforts of
young social entrepreneurs at Ashoka’s Youth Venture.  Youth Venture is the sister organization of
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, the global organization of the world’s
leading social entrepreneurs.  Over
decades of Ashoka’s work, a pattern was discovered:  The world’s most successful social
entrepreneurs had a transformative experience of leading change at an early
age.  Accordingly, Youth Venture’s
mission is to support young people (ages 12-24) in launching and leading their
own social ventures – and to help them realize tangibly their own capacity to
create change. Our vision is to help build a world in which everyone is a
changemaker and where the power of youth is universally acknowledged.

As many Trumans know, the experience of launching
your own venture is uniquely empowering.  Something important happens when you are able
to identify a problem, come up with an idea to fix it, mobilize your community
around it, and get support from the outside to see it through. For our youth,
these entrepreneurial and leadership skills carry forward – like so many Scholars,
they will lead again and again to make their schools, businesses, and
communities better places. 

Creating a society where youth-led changemaking is
recognized and valued requires all of us to shine a spotlight on the power of
youth – and to share their stories. 
Storytelling is an immensely powerful (and universal) way of sharing not
just our identities, experiences, and values, but a way of inspiring others to
see themselves and their world in different way.


On November 13 in Washington, DC, Youth Venture will
host an event to share these powerful stories of youth-driven change.  TEDxYSE:
Unleashing Young Social Entrepreneurs
will be an all-day event that brings
together young social entrepreneurs and individuals interested in social
innovation.  Our goal is to spark
inspiration and action that creates positive social change.

Truman Scholars and friends in the DC area, you’re
invited to get involved and join us to:

  • Hear the amazing TED-model stories of eight
    of the most inspiring young social
    from around the world
  • Listen to speeches from actor James Cromwell and other
    professionals, including the founder of GlobalGiving, Dennis Whittle, and
    the founder of Making Cents International, Fiona Macaulay
  • Learn about social entrepreneurship and using entrepreneurial
    principles to create social change 
  • Meet and network with others interested in social entrepreneurship
    and innovation
  • Enjoy music by talented performers, including internationally
    acclaimed Jourdan Urbach
  • To learn, be inspired, have fun! (And enjoy the free food!)

For more information on anything (including the complexities behind
hosting an independently organized TEDx event!), I’m always happy to talk. To learn more – or register for the
event! – visit our website at For all in our
Truman community that aren’t able to join us in DC that day, stay tuned for
inspiring talks to be posted online afterwards!

All of us are driven by our core commitment to public service and our
fundamental desire to see positive changes in our world.  I know each Scholar out there has his or her
own inspiring story of how they’re working to create change, and I look forward
to hearing more stories of how each you are a powerful changemakers.

Caraleigh Holverson (IL ’08) works at Ashoka’s Youth Venture
as a fellowship and community builder.

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