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Five Keep-it-Real Lessons From the Frontlines of Mentoring

Mentorship truly is a wonderful real life example of the motto, "You don't have to change the whole world, start with one person."


I'm GOOD's first Fellow, and I'm on a yearlong mission to discover the best practices in entrepreneurship education, and figure out how they are (or aren't) empowering middle and high school-aged girls. Follow and engage with me on my journey of learning and doing.

January is National Mentorship month, and the statistics on mentoring speak for themselves. Youth who are mentored are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol, and a full 52 percent less likely to skip school. I recently spent six months mentoring six sophomores in East Oakland with BUILD, a nonprofit that provides hands-on entrepreneurship training and college preparation to high school students. As you might guess, along the way I learned some real life lessons on how to be a good mentor.

"Just be real" was the main advice from Jessica, a senior BUILD student on how to be an excellent mentor. Jessica shared that advice during the initial mentor training, which had students describe why mentors are such a key part the BUILD experience. When asked what her mentor did right, Jessica emphasized how her mentor was really there for her—not just to support her business idea and team, but to individually coach her through personal challenges.

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The Year I Stopped Looking For a Script and Learned How to Improvise

Learning to improvise can be tough when the road to success seems like one big script.


I have always wanted to play jazz. I found the rhythms difficult to master, and the unscripted improvisations made me uncomfortable. As a flute player, I kept firmly to classically scripted scores through my collegiate years. The most improvised thing that I did was switch to playing the sousaphone in college marching band. While it was challenging and different, I still played off of a scripted and memorized sheet of music. During one brief, brilliant moment living in Morocco, I played with a big band jazz pickup group—a virtual United Nations of musicians from all over the world. But even then, I must be honest, I hid my meek flute sound, afraid of being heard making mistakes.

I recently conducted a retrospective on my career to give a presentation for colleagues new to public service. When I looked back from college, through graduate school, to a career in public service and international relations, I have constantly looked for that compelling scripted score to follow.

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Can Venture Capitalists Help Reimagine Democracy?

Yep, venture capitalism is the latest inspiration for re-imagining the way we think of American investments in democracy abroad.


Quick—predict the next nation in the world that will adopt a democratic form of government.

Let's see. Burma (or maybe Myanmar) is a good bet, thanks to the persistent efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi. Bhutan has experienced change into a democracy at a remarkable pace. And there's Libya—in 2012, they experienced the largest jump in The Economist's Democracy Index, though it is still classified as an authoritarian regime.

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Why We Must 'Lean in' to Workplace Pay Inequity

If we want women 50 years from now to have the pay and opportunities that are rightfully theirs, we must stand up, and stand together.

Have you ever been underpaid because of your gender or race? It's been 50 years since the passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. Job content—not job titles—determines whether jobs are substantially equal. However, statistics show that females are paid only about two-thirds what males receive for the same work and African Americans are consistently paid less than whites for the same work overall on a national scale.

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What Happens When You Give Youth (and Yourself) the Space to Dream?

Part of learning entrepreneurial skills is learning to dream big about college, career, and life.

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Imagine walking across an empty room. It's easy—no ingenuity required. Now add rampaging honey badgers, flash floods, and Dick Cheney with a shotgun to that empty room. Suddenly, you’ll need serious ingenuity to get across safely. Our world is filled with challenges—but instead of honey badgers, we face even stronger forces. Spiraling healthcare costs. Failing education. Spreading epidemics. Global climate change. Population growth. Deforestation. Water shortages. Peak oil. Pollution. War. Hunger. Poverty.
We face challenges that can seem beyond our ability to solve—problems that converge, intertwine, and shift constantly. We’re surrounded by vast complexity that we don’t fully understand, and our actions have consequences not only for our species, but for the myriad of living things that share this planet with us. Some people say we've released forces beyond our control. Some think we’ll need a miracle to overcome them.
Luckily, we have resilience on our side. The ability to cope with stress and adversity keeps fear and doubt in check, preventing them from squashing our best hope for success: human ingenuity. Think of it this way: Human ingenuity got us into this mess. Human ingenuity can get us out of it.
Bob Richards, aka “the Vaulting Vicar,” gave us this formula for hope:
Ingenuity + courage + work = miracles.
The problem is, there's just not enough ingenuity going on these days. Too many of us think we don’t have what it takes. Somewhere along the way, ingenuity became the provenance of experts. Specialists took over creating new ideas and miraculous inventions. And the rest of us started shuffling our feet, looking embarrassed, and proclaiming that we were not creative when called upon. We started to avoid talking or even thinking about our own inventive capacity. The result? The majority of us dismiss our own ingenuity so thoroughly that it starts to eat away at the edges of our resilience. We turn from the ingenuity we were born with. We shrug our shoulders and dimly hope the experts can solve it all.
When that happens, we lose out on something so much bigger than childlike wonder. We lose all the fearless thinking that could have come from those ingenious human minds, hard at work pumping out new possibilities. All of the wild ideas we might have had—good, bad, and brilliant—come to nothing.
We humans face, not an environmental or social crisis, but a crisis of ingenuity. There’s a gap between our need for breakthrough solutions and our supply. This is the ingenuity gap that keeps us from rising to the challenges we face—and we’d better do something about it, soon, for the good of every living thing on this planet.

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