Joanne O.

As a 2014 Bank of America Student Leader and Focus:HOPE Community Development intern, I embarked on a transcendent journey that afforded me the opportunity to practice my political efficacy, develop my personal leadership skills, and make a positive, lasting impact on my community through a multitude of community service projects. Throughout the course of the 8-week internship, I was exposed to the inner workings and operations of one of Michigan’s largest non-profit organizations. Not only was I deeply immersed in a culture of service learning, I was simultaneously exposed to the business of charity. I was taught about the many trials and tribulations of running a successful operation, I learned about the facets encapsulated in successful nonprofit and business structures, I gained many entrepreneurial skills, and most importantly, I became hooked on the satisfaction of giving back to a community that has given me so much. Day in and day out, I watched myself discover a new deep-rooted passion for both entrepreneurship and service. 

My experiences at Focus:HOPE have had tremendous influence over my decision to double major in Economics and Urban Studies at Northwestern University in the Fall. My ultimate goal is to earn my Masters in Business Administration and enter the world of social entrepreneurship. By definition, social entrepreneurs are innovative, ambitious individuals tasked with identifying and rectifying a community’s most pressing problems. I plan to bridge the gap between the corporate and nonprofit sectors by establishing a profitable business that also works in bettering underserved communities across Michigan.

As a product of the public, Montessori, and private school systems, my biggest frustrations as a student stemmed from the lack of educational equity throughout Michigan schools. The various discrepancies have resulted in an unequal playing field, and by extension, have put thousands of students at a disadvantage purely based on their environment. I plan to create a business model focusing on reselling used school materials from universities and thriving school districts in efforts to provide up-to-date textbooks, school supplies, and technological tools to struggling schools throughout the state. Another aspect of the operation would include employment and skills training in manufacturing school materials that my business would sell. Michigan’s staggering poverty and unemployment rates are direct products of a failing educational system, so it should come as no surprise that a better educated, well- informed generation will create tremendous opportunity for growth and development in Michigan. 

A certain best-selling author, U.S. army veteran, former Rhodes Scholar, and social entrepreneur once said, “The most important question you’ll ever get in life won’t be ‘So, what’s your major?’ The most important question you’ll ever receive in life is, ‘Who did you fight for?’ Think about who you’ll serve and what you’ll change.”' I was in the room when Wes Moore spoke those profound, earth shattering words. As I continue my journey, I know that his words coupled with my indomitable will will allow me to better Michigan, a place that has been instrumental in bettering me.