Abby Falk, Global Citizen Year, Woman Entrepreneur

AbbyI forgot how I originally met Abby but we have continued to talk since our first conversation.  Abby has been thinking about building something like Global Citizen Year as far back as she can remember.  Global Citizen Year gives students who are going to college an opportunity to take the a bridge year first and do service and learn in Asia, Africa and Latin America with hopes that these individuals will develop the skills to become tomorrows leaders. 

Abby grew up in Berkely, CA believing that their life there was reflective of the rest of the world.  Her Mom was a psychotherapist turned artist focsed on music and painting.  Her Dad is a serial entrepreneur.  He trained as a lawyer and after two years of practicing he broke free and started out on his own path working for himself.  He had an office at home and always had a bunch of businesses he was juggling at different stages but he integrated that into his family life.  He was there having dinner every night with the family and certainly working out of the house made a big difference. 

As a kid her parents decided that travel was going to be an integral part of their lives.  It was a way for them to learn about themselves.  They traveled around the world from Latin America to to Southeast Asia.  Those experiences were so far from anything she knew.  They witnessed poverty and seeing that rattled her social justice nerve at a very young age. 

Abby wanted to take a gap year.  She called the Peace Corp to see if there was a program for her before going to college but they said she needed a degree first.  So instead so spent the summer working in Nicaragua where she got a real appreciation for the need of access to education.  She learns best through real world experiences and besides the ability to join the military at 18 she knew there was something missing. Instead like most young adults she went to college.

Abby went to Stanford where she majored in international relations.  She designed her own major. Her junior year she got that bridge year she was looking for.  She got a grant to start a community library where she worked in Brazil.  That immersion crystallized what she wanted to do.  Abby returned to Stanford with more purpose and had one year left to cram it all in.  She decided to stick around and take a masters program in international comparative education before departing.  She was about six months late to apply but showed up and pushed her way into the program.  That was 12 years ago and it was there that she wrote the blueprint for Global Citizen Year.  Looking back she is glad she had the wisdom not to launch her idea immediately but to let it simmer in her brain.

After graduation Abby said she was feeling frivolous and self indulgent so she called Back Roads, a travel company and landed a job.  The job ended up being very formative as it taught her how to be a leader at 22.  You show up in Italy with 25 kids who are looking to you to be responsible and lead them.  She figured out how to use that muscle that creates leadership and in turn inspires confidence in yourself.  She got there by faking it until you make it. 

A call came from an organization in NYC to come work at a non-profit organization that wanted to alleviate global poverty through the Internet.  Think of Kiva, Charity Water, etc.  Ten years ago nobody had yet to figure out how to use those tools.  It was a very entrepreneurial experience.  She developed her own program while she was there and raised money.  She learned how to run Global Citizen Year on someone elses dime.  She wanted to take the program that she built and scale it to work in every high school across the country.  After all she was an entrepreneur even from an early age when Abby took her fathers old neckties and attempted to sell them door to door in her neighborhood.  Her boss told Abby that she had to think differently and that was when she realized her ambitions were much bigger than the organization and so she left.

Quick to plan B, Abby thought she should go to business school.  She had two days to get her applications in to the few schools that the deadlines were not completely closed.  She ended up at Harvard Business School.  It was the last place she saw her self landing.  She wanted to focus on non-profits so putting herself into a place so far from her comfort zone ended up being the best decision.  It was the right place to incubate her idea.  The summer between first and second year she interned for a social entrepreneur.  She learned how to and how not to be a leader.  Through that she got the confidence to create her own path.

Abby won the social impact pitch at Harvard and realized she was on to something.  It was the commitment moment.  She began Global Citizen Year the day she graduated.  She moved back to the Bay area without any idea where to raise money, build on her idea and her team but she knew she had to give it a shot.  It was the summer of 2008.  After six months of being rejected she continued to persist until she finally got some funding.  That fueled the fire.

Global Citizen Year has doubled in size every year since it was born.  They started with 11 kids and the most recent group was 100.  They have 200 alumni after four years.  The plan is to scale to 1000 kids in five years.  The hope is that as kids now say that they want to go work for Teach for America or the Peace Corp for one year there will be kids that will say I want to be a Global Citizen for one year before college.  No doubt there is at least one if not two kids per high school that are perfect for this program.  They are currently doing programs in Latin America, Brazil, Ecuador and Senegal.  They plan on growing into China, India and the Middle East next. 

Abby believes that America is going to need leaders down the road that have had exposure to the rest of the world and have cross cultural communication and language skills to understand the global picture and economy.  Having those skills will help an individual understand how America is being perceived in the world and how we are part of the entire world picture.  Being a Global Citizen for a year teaches individuals to be more constructive and collaborative in their approach to college.  It gives them more intention to be entrepreneurial when it comes to their studies.  Global Citizen Year is educating the next leaders of the world. 

I am sure that Global Citizen Year will become a household name just as Teach for America has.  Abby is a brilliant force of nature. She is working with colleges and educators across the country to make that happen.  Just impressive.