Courtesy of Halogen Foundation Singapore
Life is challenging for youths these days. With growing competition in so many dimensions, they need to rise beyond school smarts to have a fighting chance of success in their latter years.
This is where programmes like BizAcademy comes in.
Brainchild of salesforce.com, a global leader in cloud computing, sales automation and CRM software, Salesforce BizAcademy is an apprenticeship programme which arms under-resourced youths from low-income communities with the tools of entrepreneurship.
In partnership with educational charity Halogen Foundation in Singapore, salesforce.com recently gave 12 selected youths a unique opportunity to learn from business luminaries and expand their networks. These 18 to 21-year-olds earned their stripes by learning about management and leadership skills while working on a real social enterprise problem for social enterprise Bettr Barista.
Taking place last month (17-21 June 2013), the Salesforce BizAcademy program lit the entrepreneurial fires in the young participants. From not knowing much about the world of business, they dived in deeply into management, leadership and business while hob-nobbing with luminaries such as Pam Chng (founder of Bettr Barista Coffee Academy), Simon Davies (Area Vice President, Enterprise Sales, Salesforce.com) and Martin Tan (Founder, Halogen Foundation).
Intelligent, hungry and enthusiastic, these youths injected lots of youthful enthusiasm and energy into their entrepreneurial endeavours. Eventually, they presented social marketing plans to a panel of esteemed judges in response to the Bettr Barista’s marketing challenge.
To find out more about this worthy CSR initiative by salesforce.com and Halogen Foundation, I interviewed Esther Nai, Foundation Program Executive of salesforce.com.
1) When and where did BizAcademy first started?
BizAcademy started in 2005, in San Francisco. It seeks to provide under-resourced and low-income youth communities around the world an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and business. Since then, it has taken different forms in the global offices of salesforce.com, depending on how the needs of the various youth communities could be addressed.
In Singapore, the apprenticeship program was officially launched in June 2012, with the second cohort recently graduating in June 2013. Globally, more than 350 BizAcademy graduates have participated at salesforce.com offices around the world. Over 300 salesforce.com employees have either presented, coached and otherwise volunteered in the program. Some have gone on to hire BizAcademy Alumni for internships at saleforce.com, helping them gain real world skills to get started in their careers.
2) What prompted Halogen and Salesforce to start this initiative here in Singapore?
BizAcademy is the Flagship Youth Development programe of the Salesforce.com Foundation. It stemmed from our CEO Mark Benioff’s passion for helping young people. The program is also part of our model of ‘Integrated Philanthropy’ which offers all employees 6 days a year to volunteer, donate our innovative salesforce.com technology to nonprofits, and provide ongoing community grants. BizAcademy now has a global reach of over 350 alumni from the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, Japan, India and Singapore.
When we first met Halogen Foundation a few years back, we immediately recognised the synergies as we shared a passion for technology, positive social change and youth empowerment. We’re delighted with the results of this partnership and the support offered by Halogen. Together, we hope to cultivate the confidence, career development and potential of these young Singaporeans.
3) How are the youths selected? Was there a pre-qualification programme?
Together with Halogen Foundation, we sent out applications to local tertiary institutions (mainly polytechnics) and set up interviews to select these candidates. Priority was placed on selecting young people receiving financial assistance who demonstrate a compelling need for a program like this in their lives.
Having said that, there is no ‘perfect’ student profile. Each year we look to build a great team made up of young people who can benefit from this unique opportunity and are willing to help others learn and succeed.
4)What are the three greatest insights from this program and why?
First, mentorship is critical for developing potential in our youths and the next generation. In other words, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Second, a strong relationship must exist between the business and the nonprofit for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to succeed. In this case, we have complete respect and trust in our partner Halogen Foundation.
Finally, beyond providing youths with a new network, relevant corporate skills and exposure, we also need to couple that with leadership development. This holistic combination allows us to raise young people that are competent, of good character and compassionate for the community. At the same time, we develop the talent and empathy of our own employees in a truly win-win manner.
5) Any significant milestones or moments that you’d like to share about this? For example, a gratifying encounter or heartfelt experiences from participants.
It was heartening for me to witness the remarkable transformation of the students within 5 days and to receive feedback on how much they have benefited from the program.
One of the participants, Floyd, wrote in his journal:
“What I took away most from this was that it isn’t easy to run a business, much less a social enterprise. There were many challenges and limitations as well, which definitely made the problem a little harder. However, this just reaffirmed the fact that when you really believe in something and want it, no one can stop you. You’ll just keep looking for solutions to whatever problems that pop up, you’ll never stop looking for ways to improve.”
Another participant Yi Xuan commented as follows:
“What does a cup of coffee mean to anyone of us? I can’t help but to wonder, how have a cup of coffee impacted my life in any way. Does it have a role to play in forming who I am today? A session with the founder of Bettr Barista, Pamela Chng, on Day One of BizAcademy have inspired me and make me appreciate a cup of coffee even more. No, not just the coffee, but the passion and kindness it is filled with. Pretty interesting, isn’t it? A cup of coffee actually can help change lives of people, the youth at risks and the marginalised women.”
(For more journal entries from the participants, check out the links below:
6) What are the lessons learned from this program? Anything that you guys will change to sharpen it?
Some of the things that have worked for us include:
– having the students work together on a real social enterprise challenge;
– equipping students with the ability to combine corporate + leadership skills; and
– involving corporate mentors and judges in the process.
For the road ahead, we would like to sharpen the program by tightening its content relative to the challenges posed.
We want to place more students in this program in 2014 while expanding internship and employment opportunities within our partner and customer ecosystem. We’re also keen to share our insights with other businesses and to help them start their own BizAcademy programs.
Courtesy of Halogen Foundation Singapore