One Week Countdown! Vote For Your Favorite Ashoka Youth Venture!

What better way to kick off the New Year than a quick click to put fresh faces of change to work on the world’s big issues?

Ashoka’s Youth Venture, a global network of over 2,000 youth-led teams, picked 30 teen finalists (ages 13-18) to put their plans in motion and make change in the world.

Now it’s YOUR turn to vote ‘em up and whittle ‘em down to 15 winning teams of $10K EACH. Tough job. But someone’s gotta do it. I hope it’s YOU!

Pick two of these teen projects that matter the most to you, NOW through January 9th based on creativity, community impact, and sustainability. And if you’re really passionate, you can vote once each day until next Friday!

Worthiness warning, they’re all cool, so this is REALLY hard. (and no, I won’t tell you my choices)

I’ve written about the crowd-sourcing successes of IdeaBlob, HopeLab’s Ruckus Nation, Ashoka Youth Ventures’ ‘Dream It. Do It’ paired with RWJF for healthier teens in Teen Second Life’s virtual world and now I’m REALLY excited about the new We Media and Ashoka’s Changemakers challenge at month’s end for new ideas inspiring a better world through media and technology. (um, yes, I’m applying!)

…But this current deadline in final one week countdown to vote for Ashoka’s Youth Venture Team is a tad different…

Why? Well, as always, there’s a cost benefit analysis to weigh corporate profiteering and cause-marketing, for a win-win component…as I mentioned in the recent interview with PAYJr’s Founder, David Jones.

In this case, the Best Buy @15 Challenge fuses corporate clout with media magic…

Mind you, it can either be construed as a viable platform to fling media gizmos at kids by brandwashing and halo effect…Or be seen as a natural, organic extension between agents of change and the incentives that resonate with them…

Either/or both? You tell me. I veer to the latter…

Much like the hipster Virgin Mobile Youth Homeless Awareness widget fueled their cause-marketing campaign in social media, the pooled clout of Best Buy @15 with Ashoka Youth Ventures has the savvy leveraging of credible partner orgs with gear giveaways, contests, incentives and freebie factors that mesmerizes like a dangling cellphone charm.

Don’t get me wrong…I believe wholly that industry and nonprofits can (and must!) align in a viable model for sustainability…it’s a matter of whether it passes the “social responsibility sniff test” for enabling REAL action versus lipservice and logo-lending, n’est ce pas?

Here’s why I think this one works overall:

1.) Funding Factor: This is NOT a paltry prize; $150,000 ($10K EACH for teen teams) can really vault these kids into using philanthropic power early on, similar to IdeaBlob’s monthly passion projects I wrote about here.

Further, through the @15 fund Best Buy places the power in the hands of teens to DONATE $500 to their school or favorite nonprofit AND according to their site, (complete with Magic Johnson video/endorsement) there’s funding available through this partnership beyond the 15 big ticket causes for an additional 300 youth-led Venture Teams in the United States.

(Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s how I’m reading it!)

2.) Partner Cred: I don’t know about you, but I immediately click to see the logos of who else is involved when I’m doin’ my sniff tests.

This effort could be a micro-snapshot of what I’d welcome for Shaping Youth’s own alliances. LOOK at all these relevant educator hubs and advocacy orgs, peppered with techno-cool advancements and 21st century entrepreneurial skill sets via @15. Enticing.

3.) Project Relevance: Is it fluff-n-stuff or easy to act upon?

I love the one click concept of youth empowerment to get the ball rolling, knowing full well the support system needs to be in place to rollout the bigger picture.

A complete list of the finalists can be found at, but suffice it to say, I’m looking at just a handful right now (and have reviewed all 30!) and finalists include familiar faces…

Like? Sejal Hathi’s Girls Helping Girls global microfunding (mentioned here in my OWCF post) and Random Kid’s overcoming poverty through global water project which I wrote about here, Zander’s Turtle Talks, in Hawaii, etc. to lesser known very homegrown, local, pragmatic teen ventures…Like? Mentoring, tutoring, eco-gardens/schoolyard habitat, disaster relief/preparedness, swim safety, and more…

4.) Pay It Forward: Is the concept repeatable? Scalable? Sustainable? Easy to duplicate? Open source? I use this as a benchmark for our own work at Shaping Youth, always asking myself, ‘but how can it reach MORE’ what’s the media distribution channel?…How can we make an impact and get sponsorship without compromising our message and mission maintaining our “beholden to none” mantra? —

Key stuff, folks…these kids and orgs have thought it through:

“The more other youth learn about the current @15 finalists, the more likely they are to start their own social ventures and become changemakers in their own communities,” said Gretchen Zucker, Executive Director of Youth Venture.

“By working with popular social networks such as MySpace, our Venturers are promoting both their own community-benefiting organizations and serving as role models for other young people.”

According to their recent release,

“Youth Venture worked with Street Attack, a Boston-based alternative and digital marketing agency, to increase the visibility of the competition and provide a variety of ways to vote online and through text messaging.”

“Viral Mesh is the mobile partner, creating a text-based voting function and WAP portal. WAP users are able to verify their favorite team’s unique text code, check the vote tally and use the send-to-a-friend feature.”

“Meanwhile, the finalists have been conducting their own marketing campaigns by handing out flyers and cards, as well as using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to connect with their friends. Voting remains close.”

“I am truly inspired by the ‘Best Buy @15’ finalists — they’ve all demonstrated such an entrepreneurial passion and commitment to their projects,” said Liba Rubenstein, manager of Public Affairs for MySpace and co-founder of MySpace IMPACT.

“We’re thrilled that our platform is home to members like Youth Venture and these finalists who are using their online presence to create positive change in their communities and to inspire others to do the same.”

Looks like a well-oiled marketing/media machine to me. Seems like they’re doing it well, even though it IS corporate ad creep. I recognize many names and faces, including Ypulse among the sponsors coming aboard…

After all, just because voters can “register to win a free iPod shuffle” it doesn’t necessarily conflict with the greater good values being instilled universally, especially if it’s less about ‘selling stuff’ and more about making a difference…

Sure there’s a halo, and why not, with that kind of platform to connect with young teens, and the financial clout and resources they’ve put forth to support them?

Granted, some may say Best Buy is less interested in giving voice to teen perspectives and more in sticking their hands in their wallets, and if the model were inverted (what you GET versus what you GIVE) then I’d agree and be suspect, too…

But to me, Best Buy @15 Challenge and Ashoka Youth Ventures gets a hallpass.

Seems they’re able to both “feed a need” and “have fun, do good.”

What do YOU think? Let me know if I’m off base here…

Meanwhile, don’t miss this round-up of other corporate causes doing good things on Just (“Where good work lives”)

And…Don’t forget to vote for the Ashoka Youth Ventures Best Buy@15!

One week left and counting! 😉

Quick Picks: At A Glance Slideshare of Ashoka Finalists: Vote Now!

32pp. fast focus on Ashoka Youth Venture’s key questions:

  • Mission
  • How
  • Impact
  • @15 Goals

Sigh…How to choose?

Great way to start the New Year with hope and promise, eh?

Go to it, youth! Dream it. Do it.

Here’s Ashoka Youth Venture’s YouTube video to get a feel for their work:


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