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Launching a Generation of Global Leaders

Global Citizen Year is re-inventing the post-high school "gap year" as the launch pad for America’s next generation of global leaders.

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Global Citizen Year is changing our educational paradigm and creating a new rite of passage – training the most promising young Americans, regardless of socioeconomic background, as “Fellows” in communities across Latin America, Africa and Asia during a transformative year before college. Through a mix of cultural immersion, experiential learning, and world-class training, Fellows develop global skills, self-mastery and grit -- the foundations for success in higher education, and leadership in our global economy. 

The next three years represent Global Citizen Year's Acceleration Phase, during which we will launch 1,000 Fellows into lives of impact -- shaping the values and priorities of our next generation leaders who, in turn, will shape American leadership in the world. Our fellowship seeds the foundational skills and mindsets that ultimately drive alumni to find solutions that bridge peace, planet, and prosperity. From the Senegal Fellow who lives with a Muslim family and gains a new appreciation for religious difference to the Ecuador Fellow who works at an ecotourism park that sustains the environment while providing a regional economic boost to the India Fellow who tutors students in a high-poverty school to provide the next generation greater economic opportunity, this is a year that defines and shapes their futures.

An infusion of growth capital at this stage allows us to significantly grow our core fellowship, unlocking demand and removing programmatic barriers to scale. In the coming years, we will change public perceptions of the value of a meaningful bridge year and create partnerships with colleges to encourage more high school graduates to prioritize worldly experience.

Explain your idea

The threats facing humanity – pandemics, poverty, climate change – require global solutions; yet, America is failing to prepare young people with the insight and conviction to engage with (not retreat from) these challenges. Today’s “power skills” -- empathy, curiosity, communication -- cannot be taught in classrooms, and employers agree: just 11% believe college graduates are equipped for our global economy. The world needs new American leaders who will advance human progress on a global scale. Our shared future depends on building bridges across cultures, which directly contributes to peace-building as well as cultivating the empathy and understanding that is imperative to address deeply entrenched global economic inequalities. Each year, Global Citizen Year recruits and trains a diverse corps of country’s brightest young leaders, and supports them through a school-year long immersion in communities that represent the “global majority” (current placements include: Brazil, Ecuador, Senegal, and India). Our fellows live with local families and apprentice with projects in health, education and the environment. The depth and length of their immersion is transformative: by living alongside the problems they’re solving, our fellows experience first-hand the difference between “feel good” and “real good” in creating social change. By staying longer and going deeper, they learn to speak to people in their own language and to see the world through new eyes. Importantly, our fellows reflect our country’s racial, geographic and socio-economic diversity. Fellows have hailed from more than 40 states, 51% identify as people of color, 47% are eligible for Pell Grants in college, and 80% have received need-based financial aid for their Global Citizen Year. Our first five years of operation were a "demonstration phase": building a best-in-class program and proving there is an emerging market of customers -- parents who pay tuition, colleges who remit fees-for-service, and donors who sponsor students who have never had access to an experience like ours. Since 2010, we have grown our core fellowship from an 11-student pilot to our current cohort of 115, and applications for next year's group are up 70%. Our nearly 500 alumni are thriving in college and early careers: five have been awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and our first college graduates have been selected for the Fulbright Scholarship, the Peace Corps, and Teach For America. The next three years represent our Acceleration Phase: we aim to launch 1,000 young leaders into lives of impact by growing our core fellowship and partnering with schools, policymakers, and our own alumni to catalyze a national shift in our education system. Ultimately, we envision a world in which a global bridge year becomes a common expectation and opportunity for high-potential youth from all backgrounds.

Who Benefits?

Students: 91% of fellows return proficient in a new language, and the cohort significantly outperforms college study abroad students on the Global Perspectives Inventory. Our evaluations show significant gains in fellows’ leadership skills and college readiness. Colleges: 91% of our low-income alumni are on track to graduate from college with an average GPA of 3.6 (nationally 9% of students who grow up in poverty graduate by 24). Alumni bring maturity and perspective that impact an entire campus community. Society: Our early alumni are emerging as leaders and influencers in medicine, technology and global development. They possess a strong commitment to civic and community organizations. Local partners: Fellows apprentice with local schools, health clinics, and conservation organizations, culminating in a final community project, and three alumni have won Davis Peace Prizes for ongoing service in their Global Citizen Year host communities.

How is your idea unique?

New Pathway: Currently, there is no large-scale and accessible avenue – outside the military - for American high school graduates to have an immersive, global experience to frame their higher education. We focus on the critical window before college – when a young person has the maturity to leave home, but is still forming their values and identity. When done by design, and not default, this is anything but a “gap” year – it’s a launch pad to global leadership. Leadership: Unlike short-term travel programs, Global Citizen Year has a robust leadership curriculum that maps to an academic year. Our staff are experts in youth development, and college have begun accrediting the learning that happens during this year. Financial Model: Our hybrid business model requires less philanthropy as we grow. Earned income covers nearly 70% of our program costs and with economies of scale, we can break even on program costs and revenues in five years.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

Global Citizen Year is a diverse community of 500 alumni, 40 staff across five countries (HQ in Oakland, CA), a passionate board of directors and advisory council, and hundreds of supporters and partners around the world. We have raised seed capital from a growing roster of funders and partners, and awarded need-based financial aid to 80% of our fellows to ensure each cohort reflects our nation's diversity. Our work has been featured in prominent forums from NPR to the Aspen Ideas Festival, and by thought leaders including Katie Couric and Nicholas Kristof. We are a community that prioritizes the "real good" over the "feel good" in social change, and as we enter our "acceleration phase" we are actively looking for collaborators to help make our vision a reality. Our key strategic priorities include: 1. Building the Market: Partnering with high schools, colleges, college access organizations, and parents to change perceptions of the value of a meaningful bridge year, and generating media attention on the benefits of this kind of launch into college. 2. Preparing our Program for Scale: Strengthening our training and program evaluation, conducting market research and focus groups to better understand how our program could best meet our end users' (high school seniors) needs, and building scalable local partnerships in our country sites. 3. Strengthening our Financial Engine: Securing an annual scholarship fund and growth capital that allows us to invest in the first two priorities. An infusion of philanthropic capital transforms incremental growth into break-through impact. As we accelerate our impact, we are fortunate to be led by an award-winning social entrepreneur. Global Citizen Year's Founder and CEO, Abby Falik, has been driven since childhood by her conviction that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. A recognized expert on social innovation and the changing landscape of education, Abby has been honored as an Ashoka Fellow, a Harvard Social Enterprise Fellow, and a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur. In 2016, Abby was named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” and one of America’s “Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers” by The Business of Giving. She received a B.A. in international relations and an M.A. in international comparative education from Stanford University, and her MBA from Harvard Business School.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


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Photo of Chris Federer

This is great! Are mentors supporting online or in the field?

Photo of David

Hi Chris, thanks for commenting! There are "Team Leaders" in the field who provide direct coaching and mentoring in 1:1 and group settings. Fellows also interact online with family, friends, and mentors, who follow their experiences on their personal blogs. It would be interesting to explore more virtual mentoring opportunities in the future!

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