If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that I have a soft spot for “do-gooders,” those individuals who go above and beyond to give back to their community in thoughtful and creative ways.
This blog is about corporate philanthropy, with a lens on individual potential. Ten years ago, staff at Bank of America started thinking about how the bank could make a difference in communities in which the bank has branches. Specifically, how could bank personnel or affiliates help to train future leaders by exposing them to community issues and developing their leadership and problem solving skills? Here in Chicago, two programs were created to meet critical needs:
• Empower high school youth through sponsoring (community based) summer internships, the Student Leaders program and
• Support neighborhood development through sponsoring nonprofits, the Neighborhood Builders program.
Read more on Bank of America’s wide ranging programs at http://about.bankofamerica.com/en-us/index.html#fbid=SO0CVOn4Bpi.
Last week, I met with Senior Vice President, Julie Chavez (who is also very philanthropic in her own right) to learn more about Bank of America’s philosophy on philanthropy, and specifically, Student Leaders. According to Chavez, “Bank of America’s objective in starting this program was to “showcase the power of the individual, whether young or established in their careers [and their] power to interact with others.” Chavez calls it the “continuous cycle” of “assets” collaborating in the community.
Heads up, educators and community organizers, Bank of America utilized some best practices in administering Student Leaders:
Asset based instruction: bank staff looked at student strengths with the goal of matching students with executive directors at hands-on community organizations. They probed for a deep understanding of interested applicants by asking provocative questions: “what is [your] thinking on community issues, who inspired you, how have you volunteered, and how do you see yourself as a leader?"
In upcoming weeks, Bank of America is allowing me to interview participants in this program so you will get to hear their thoughts. Right now, participants have begun shadowing executive directors at the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago and Working in the Schools' (“WITS”) various locations. These interns will witness firsthand the challenges that community organizers face. Bank of America pays student salaries for these eight week internships and also foots the bill for a five day Student Leadership Summit in Washington DC. (“Summit”).
Mentoring on a local as well as national level: In addition to shadowing staff, interns have a chance to discuss philosophies, values, and ethics of leadership. In some cases, the intern/mentee relationship has gone beyond the summer months, as you will see in later posts. Expanding on the community based internships, the Summit builds on developing relationships nationwide. Student leaders are given the opportunity to meet their counterparts from other cities. They also spend a day on Capitol Hill, a day touring, and much time on leadership training, with discussion and interaction on pressing community issues. Last year, one of the central themes students discussed was hunger. When recalling a past summit, Chavez became visibly excited as she described the student participants: “Their energy was unbelievable. Their level of engagement was so inspiring.” The students were so interested in learning about the community endeavors that their peers were involved with during their summer program.
This leads me to the last and most central point. Bank of America is giving these junior and senior high school students an opportunity to forge connections, whether individually, locally or nationally—for the future. Our children are going to inherit the challenges in our communities. It’s time to give them leadership opportunities and a stake in community problem solving —just like Bank of America is doing.
I hope you will read upcoming posts about the Student Leaders as they navigate their way in the Chicago area and venture to D.C. Please send me your thoughts, your questions, and any other ideas you have and I will pose them to Bank of America staff and students.
Let the summer training begin!