After reading yet another article today about possible misdealings in the banking industry--Did Inside Info Drive WaMu into Morgan's Arms?--I have to smile. Earlier this week I had the great pleasure of speaking with Jimmy Bailey, a former South Carolina state legislator that now directs YEScarolina, a program to grow entrepreneurship amongst South Carolina's youth. I asked him whether his group deals with business ethics. He said he tells the kids, You might be able to get away with something once or twice, but eventually it will catch up to you.
YEScarolina works with teachers, predominantly, to certify them in teaching entrepreneurship. (Their textbook does include a chapter on business ethics.) The state legislature passed the Education and Economic Development Act that, among other things, set up entrepreneurship as an elective for high school students. Mr. Bailey recommends teachers of all backgrounds and subjects take the course, as it is free for South Carolina educators, and the lessons of business can enhance any subject. "Ask a kid in a classroom what 3 times 10 is, and they might be able to answer you. Tell them [something] costs $3, and you want ten of them, and they'll tell you right away it's $30." He pointed out that if you tell a child you're going to teach them how to make money, they'll be interested. The organization through which YEScarolina got started, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship out of New York, has found that teaching these skills to low-income and inner-city children has been particularly successful. In South Carolina, through the teachers that YEScarolina has trained, 15,000 students have written business plans already.
I called Mr. Bailey because I admire the program and wanted to find out more about what they do. They have summer camps for the kids and summer training sessions for teachers, and the state funded all of this through their commitment to making South Carolina more competitive. My heart bubbled over with excitement and love for those who want to make a difference, and I mentioned to Mr. Bailey that I would love to bring the program to Tennessee. We spoke a little more about the next possible steps, and he promised he would help me every step of the way. With a governor who is highly invested in education within a state that is working to increase entrepreneurship, Tennessee would likely embrace a program like this if the funding can be uncovered. I have many goals for teaching teens about business and governance, and this would be one tangible way for me to meet one of those goals. I feel it in my bones, and I intend to accomplish it. Perhaps one day all students will know a little about starting a business, will understand their employers a little better if they don't start a business of their own, and will work to create better business models that extend opportunity here and around the world.