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Youth Business Alliance
In August 2015 Joshua Lau joined Youth Business Alliance (YBA)—a startup nonprofit focused on bringing twenty-first century business and life skills to disadvantaged students in Los Angeles-area high schools—as its Program Director and sole staff member. His first months on the job were exciting but also overwhelming as he juggled his job responsibilities at the fourteen schools served by YBA. YBA’s three-pronged approach includes a year-long curriculum based on student presentations and business competitions, weekly presentations from guest speakers, and regular field trips to corporate offices and headquarters. The comprehensive program exposes students to exciting career options often times left unexplored by the traditional academic curriculum.
Joshua began applying to grant opportunities for YBA wherever he could find them, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s 2016 ChangeMaker Challenge. The seven successful applicants would each receive a $5,000 grant to implement their innovative visions to improve the Los Angeles community. In addition, the Executive Director or lead staff member of each organization would participate in a four-month, cohort-based training and coaching program facilitated by ESC executive consultants Susan Afriat and Jim Esterle.
When Joshua learned that YBA had been selected for the ChangeMaker Challenge, he was focused primarily on the $5,000 in new funding. He was “initially hesitant” about the ESC-led training and coaching program, admitting he only attended because it was a requirement of the grant. But as the workshops progressed Joshua’s attitude completely changed. Jim and Susan guided the participants through nonprofit best practices in organizational management, board development, strategic planning and fund development. With YBA still in its infancy, Joshua understood this was a golden opportunity to develop practical tools and skills in these critical areas for the organization.
The cohort also provided Joshua a safe space to learn from the nonprofit leaders at the other participating organizations: “It was comforting to listen to their challenges and ideas. It left me not feeling so alone in my role.” Joshua quickly realized that his responsibilities mirrored those of his peers in the program who were Executive Directors. With the support of Jim, Susan and the cohort, Joshua successfully negotiated with his board for a title change and was officially recognized as the Executive Director of YBA midway through the program. The results were immediately positive for YBA as more funders and sponsors began to respond to his funding requests thanks to his elevated leadership role and title.
With a newfound perspective on his organization’s needs, Joshua also began to actively develop YBA’s Board of Directors to establish a strong fund development strategy. Between the training sessions, he regularly brainstormed ideas about fundraising and board engagement with Jim on the phone. As a new leader still learning about his role, Joshua was grateful that Jim was always “just a phone call away.” With Jim’s guidance, Joshua grew YBA’s board from three to twenty enthusiastic members who were passionate about introducing disadvantaged young people to twenty-first century career possibilities through YBA.
With a supercharged board and fundraising strategy, Joshua began to move forward with his ChangeMaker Challenge goal to expand into another school. During the course of the program, YBA raised $60,000 from a more diversified pool of supporters and exceeded their goal by launching in four new schools in the 2016-17 school year. The program has evolved to include an expanding roster of over 1,000 guest speakers and a growing list of companies for students to visit, including Sony Pictures, Google and Riot. The ultimate impact: more career opportunities for disadvantaged students—and already 30 more schools are on the waitlist to bring the YBA program to their campuses.
Today, Joshua serves on the advisory board for the 2017 ChangeMaker Challenge cohort. He was humbled by the opportunity to review the grant applications and shape the goals for the incoming cohort. Joshua advises the new cohort to take advantage of the full ChangeMaker Challenge experience: “Do good networking, and build organic relationships. The best part of the program is getting help from the coaches and your peers.” He remains inspired by the personal connections he made, and is ready to bring YBA to many more schools across Los Angeles.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles's 2017 ChangeMaker Challenge cohort has been selected and will commence their training and coaching experience with ESC coaches Jim Esterle and Susan Afriat in February 2017. Check back in Fall 2017 to apply to the 2018 cohort: www.changemakerchallenge.org.