Abby Falik wanted to join the Peace Corps after graduating from high school to have a challenging, real-world experience outside the classroom. But, to her frustration, she was rejected.
“They told me I needed a college degree in order to participate. I remember wondering, “Why is that?”
Abby’s plan was put on hold, but never forgotten because she is a believer that when one door closes, another opens. With that conviction in mind, in the spring of 2008, Abby entered the Harvard Business School “Pitch for Change” competition with a bold vision: she proposed that a global “bridge year” before college be the norm for American students, not the exception. Her vision was to provide a transformative experience for young people, unleashing the potential of the next generation of world leaders, social innovators and global citizens.
“Students need time to pause, reflect and connect — not to technology, but to something deeper — before entering college or choosing a career.”
Abby’s idea won first place in the competition, and “Global Citizen Year” was born.
Like many people, Abby believes that America’s education system is failing to prepare young people to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. Today, America has the highest college dropout rate in the developed world. And, according to U.S. business executives, many of those who do graduate lack the values, attitudes and skills needed to lead in a global economy.
Global Citizen Year is committed to forging a new, more effective, more satisfying educational pathway for America’s emerging leaders.
Because of Abby’s can-do leadership and contagious passion, doors began opening. GCY quickly gained recognition and momentum, raising seed capital from lead investors including the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and The Mind Trust, and building a growing base of prominent funders and partners.
“Most of the doors that you need to “unlock,” says Abby, “are internal ones. Attitudes. Beliefs. Stories you tell yourself about why certain things can’t be done a certain way. Those are the toughest doors to unlock.”
Each year, Global Citizen Year recruits a diverse corps of high-potential high school graduates. Through intensive training and an 8-month immersion in communities across Asia, Africa and Latin America, these “Fellows” contribute to local efforts in education, technology, health and the environment while developing the global competence, entrepreneurial savvy and self-awareness they need to be innovative leaders in college, careers and life.
In the fall of 2009, Global Citizen Year launched its pilot program with 10 diverse, passionate “Fellows” from across the country. In just 5 years, the organization has grown to include 100 Fellows and 350 alumni at 100 colleges nationwide.
“It feels like it’s taken a long time to get here. I wish I could have gotten here sooner — but looking back, there really aren’t any short-cuts in building a team and organization that are set up to thrive.”
Years ago, one door was closed to Abby. But that didn’t stop her. Now she is opening doors for hundreds of students whom she hopes will walk through with more confidence and better prepared to lead America in the future.
“We’re dreaming big,” Abby says, “and we know this is just the beginning.”