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On Friday, October 16th the Rhode’s Fellows had the pleasure of Skyping in with Dorothy Stoneman, the founder and CEO of YouthBuild. YouthBuild is a social enterprise that tackles issues surrounding teens and young adults in underprivileged urban communities.  YouthBuild harnesses a multifaceted approach by providing them with an education while also helping them to develop construction skills, which they use for building low income housing, playgrounds, and other community assets while they are in the Youthbuild program.

Ms. Stoneman proved to be charismatic, enthusiastic, and grounded. She was happy to answer all of our questions, with topics ranging from what happens to YouthBuild graduates, to possible changes in YouthBuild’s mission, to the logistics of the program. We partook in a meaningful conversation about many things including the power of youth, empowerment, and the financial model of her organization.

Ms. Stoneman also offered us some much appreciated advice about how to think about starting an enterprise.  She founded Youthbuild in 1978 with a program called Youth Action in East Harlem. She asked teenagers there the simple question, “How would you improve your community if you had adult support?”. The responses led them to start a program rebuilding and improving abandoned infrastructure. It is important to note that these responses were not responses from Dorothy and her team, but the responses of the Harlem youth who saw problems in their own community. She advised us that when we begin to craft our own enterprises, that we should not just tell people what they need, but ask and listen to what is needed.

Having the opportunity to speak with Dorothy Stoneman was a gift.  We all walked away from that conversation with renewed vigor for what lies ahead of us, and deep appreciation for the people like Dorothy Stoneman who followed their passions and the needs of the community and laid the foundations for social entrepreneurship as a meaningful and powerful way of creating social and economic change.