Entrepreneurship Empowers At-Risk Teens

May 9, 2012


“When I first heard about the JDCNFTE entrepreneurship program I didn’t think it was for a girl like me—I never considered going into business,” says 16-year-old Rahhef, an Israeli Arab teen who lives in an impoverished Arab village in northern Israel. “But now that I’ve completed the program I’m in love with the world of business and I’m open to so many new possibilities.”

The youngest of five kids, Rahhef is among Israel’s 400,000 at-risk children and youth—1 out of 6 young people in the country—whose circumstances range from living below the poverty line and lacking simple nourishment to lacking access to basic resources to fulfill their full potential. Of these, 50,000 Israeli teens are considered at high risk: some are enrolled in schools but not attending class, others have dropped out and are working to support their families and themselves; still others are juvenile offenders living in closed facilities.

Two years ago Rahhef fit the bill: she had left school and was desperately trying to run away from her troubled family life. Like many hard-to-reach teens, she didn’t know anything other than delinquency, and felt powerless to change what pointed to a future on the fringes of society.

“I didn’t believe I was capable of anything,” she said. “Things were not good.”

That’s when a graduate of JDC’s NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) program that uses business education to help disconnected youth develop tools for their future suggested Rahhef get help. Though uninspired by school, she was intrigued by the prospect of finding a job, earning money, and learning how to achieve financial independence.

Over the course of a year, Rahhef got the guidance and inspiration she needed to break out of the cycle of neglect. She learned the key concepts and skills needed to launch a business, starting with preparing and presenting a business plan through a curriculum adapted from the USNFTE program model. She realized the importance of education for her future security, resumed regular school attendance, and got the social support she needed.

Together with her team, Rahhef developed the idea for a device installed on home water faucets that sends a text message warning to mobile phones in the case of a pipe leak or burst, helping the customer avoid water waste or damage to their home.

“In our country water is a big problem,” said Rahhef. “People need a product that will help them save water and save on their water bill, too, which is critical because economic times are hard.”

Rahhef and her team won first place in the national competition in Israel and last month the group flew to New York to participate in the international event, joining representatives from over 40 countries.

“Participating in the NFTE program has changed me as a young woman. I’ve learned how to present in front of adults, how to have a plan—not just a business plan but a plan for my life,” said Rahhef. “NFTE showed me nothing is impossible if you work hard enough. I have confidence now; I believe in my ability to succeed in life. I am the first entrepreneur in my family and I hope I can continue to take courses and open my own business when I’m a bit older.”

In Israel, NFTE’s goal is not for the teens to work or open the business but to go through the process, fulfilling the program’s requirements and completing their schooling. They learn to work as a team, develop business acumen, build decision-making and presentation skills, and cultivate a positive sense of self.

NFTE is part of JDC’s larger Turning Point employment and entrepreneurship initiative for youth at risk, which helps teens assess their talents, learn about the workplace and career choices, gain social networking skills, and plan their future. Through this process they build their self-confidence and begin to see themselves in a new light. They begin to think about what they want for the first time—and what’s needed to build towards a dream.

Rahhef’s teammate, 16-year-old Jalal, is now working toward his dream. “Because of NFTE, not only am I the first in my family to finish high school, but I am now their hope for a better future because I’m planning to go to college. In ten years I want to be running my own computer repair business and giving back to my community, to teenagers like me who didn’t have a chance until someone reached out and helped turn their lives around.”

*Additional Note: Turning Point operates in partnership with the Ministries of Education, Social Affairs and Social Services, and Industry, Trade and Labor; the National Insurance Institute; Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship; First International Bank of IsraelFIBI; Matan (Israel’s United Way); local authorities; Israeli philanthropic and non-profit organizations; and the Israeli business community.

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