Usher’s New Look: Building Young Leaders

This piece was cross-posted on Huffington Post

Young people today are growing up in a complicated and challenging world, and will face the meta-challenges of the 21st century: climate change, economic restructuring, job creation, and resolving conflict at home and around the globe. We need to ensure that we are investing in the most diverse set of young people possible to create an infrastructure of smart, flexible and strategic world leaders.

At the same time, youth in the US face challenges of their own. Low graduations rates, a weak and struggling economy, and a difficult social and media climate.

We all talk about helping kids navigate these issues and that kids are our future but not many people take young people seriously and actually work with them in a concrete, engaging and respectful way. Well, I just returned from speaking at an amazing global leadership conference that did just that. It was put on by Usher’s New Look Foundation. Yes, that Usher.

Usher started New Look in 1999, and the foundation has developed a model for engaging young people and giving them a strong sense of how they can affect the world they live in. New Look takes this seriously and certifies young men and women in four leadership areas – talent, education, career and service — through a partnership with Emory University’s Executive MBA program.

Over the course of the conference, I heard Usher, the staff and board of the foundation talk about the need to address problems before they start, and help kids make informed choices. I also talked to a lot of the young women and men attending, who impressed me with their enthusiasm, curiosity, and their focus.

But there are lots of programs, and I hear a lot of talk about the need for measuring return on investment in the non-profit sector. New Look can do that as well, and has been able to demonstrate amazing results:

98% of New Look youth graduate high school and go on to college
93% of New Look youth recognize they have the power to encourage others to create change in the community
93% of New Look youth can identify a personal talent or passion
88% feel they are equipped to engage in formal business events
90% of New Look youth attribute their positive decision-making to New Look

I spoke on the opening panel on global women’s leadership (along with Ambassador and Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall, Coca Cola’s Ingrid Saunders Jones, ING’s Rhonda Mims, philanthropist Laura Turner Seydel and Veronica Biggins, former White House Director of Presidential Personnel.) We talked a lot about our personal stories and overcoming barriers and adversity.

Despite the difference between the age of those on the panel and the audience, we got great questions and enthusiasm about how these young women and men can build a better future for the communities and frankly for the world. It was truly inspiring. Oh, yes, and by the way, we all got code names — mine was ‘backbone.” Actually, I think that is what they all have.

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