I always raise an eyebrow when I hear comments about the perception of the next generation, or Next Gens, as lazy or disengaged. It’s easy to lump people together when they think or act differently and to assume they just don’t belong, both of which I have heard on more than one occasion. These sentiments were challenged in the most inspiring way at the Florida Next Southwest Florida Impact Forum last Wednesday night at the Silverspot Theatre in Collier County.
The SWFL Impact Forum was the result of a partnership between the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the Florida Next Foundation, a nonpartisan, 501c3 nonprofit organization working to empower young people, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to drive the innovation needed to enhance Florida’s economy and quality of life.
Impact Forums are held all over the state and create a venue for Next Gens, to give a 90 second pitch to solve a community problem. (A daunting task for the most seasoned professional.) Once the ideas are pitched, the audience votes to choose the top three ideas. The three winning pitches were set up for crowdfunding on the spot and identified at least one metric that would demonstrate the success of their solution in addressing the problem they want to solve.
Over the next year, the winners will work with the Florida Next Foundation to bring their ideas to fruition. In six months, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation will hold a Compassionate Shark Tank with local philanthropists to give the winning Next Gens another opportunity to fund their innovative solutions.
The ideas ranged from mentors to address an epidemic of bullying and internships to stop the cycle of poverty in underserved communities to creative placemaking and redevelopment. SWFL’s biggest challenges, workforce and small business start-ups, those that are consistently the topic of conversation among local leaders, were addressed in a variety of thoughtful ways by Next Gens from throughout the SWFL.
The challenges young professionals face in finding diverse and high-paying jobs in SWFL are the very challenges these Impact Forum pitchers are ready to tackle. These social entrepreneurs identified innovative opportunities that are not just big ideas. Instead, they provided viable solutions that, with the right support, could lead to real positive outcomes.
Over the course of the evening, the theatre was filled with ideas demonstrating the heart, passion, and ingenuity of Southwest Florida’s Next Gens. It was a testament to the innovation that lives in this community and made everyone ponder the notion that maybe all we need to do is provide the forum for the Next Gens to have a real impact. Take a look at the winners, and maybe they will inspire you to start thinking too at www.causetofund.com.
Together, we can make our region an even better place to live, learn, work and play.