Optimism is a scarce resource in this economic environment. Americans have all but given up on the idea that working hard and playing by the rules is the ticket to a better future. While the politicians duke it out, shouting hollow slogans about jobs and the economy, unemployment remains stuck above 9 percent, and 19 million Americans are living in poverty. The gap between rich and poor has not been this wide since the Great Depression.
But if you look closely at the landscape, you will notice that new businesses are still sprouting. The American entrepreneurial spirit endures. Entrepreneurs invent solutions, overcome obstacles, and create value. At The Hitachi Foundation, we spotlight young entrepreneurs whose business innovations take on the challenge of poverty in the United States. Our recently announced 2011Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs offer an antidote to skepticism. These seven individuals formed the five enterprises featured in this short video. They all started their businesses before they turned 30, and all are determined to make a difference as they make a living. We celebrate and nurture them through our award, now in its second year. Beyond recognition, awardees receive funds, mentoring, and technical assistance.
The Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs’ businesses provide capital for inner-city residents to form businesses, offer mentoring programs for youth in struggling school districts, sell a fair-trade product, provide SAT prep to low-income students, and hire ex-offenders to paint homes in blighted inner-city neighborhoods. They are proving that entrepreneurs can pursue profit and provide economic opportunity to low-wealth individuals, and succeed at both. Along with our 2010 inaugural recipients of the award, they are telling the story of entrepreneurship-still potent and a reason for optimism.
Barbara Dyer is president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.