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The Future Connection

Pooled micro-financing, mentorships, and customized learning intersect to uncover a manageable education landscape for every unique student.

Photo of Jesse Bania

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Like OpenIDEO, TFC ensures equality of access by virtue of having minimal barriers to entry. Virtually any student–beginning with those in high school preparing for their next educational step–with internet access can submit a Personal Canvas. This evolving digital briefcase illustrates the students interests, achievements, goals, and funding needed at any given point in time. Those who lend individually are also required to connect with a student and support their growth and evolution.

The Future Connection is a place where students, investors, and mentors come together to make lifelong learning more sustainable. Stagnant institutional education, the student loan crisis, generational divide, and the need for better social engagement form a fertile atmosphere for change through individual and community empowerment. In response, TFC aims to provide a sustainable funding mechanism in the sense that it is less usurious and transactional and more equitable, transparent, and constructive. This will not only foster a more open and sustainable learning path for every type of learner given their unique interests, it will also cultivate diverse and meaningful relationships that are vested in each other’s experiences and progress. Now that is a future through Higher Education worth aiming for!

There are three major functions of TFC: (1) integrated mentorship collaboration, (2) the Personal Canvas, and (3) the Future Fund mechanism. I will elucidate how the three work together with a story. 

Li, a high school senior, is graduating in the coming spring and has scouted out some colleges, both community and private, that she has interest in attending. Her interests, dance and creative art and movement, open up a multitude of ways with which she can attain both experience and credential. Yet she fears, as is common nowadays, that a private tuition would set her back financially and direct her down only one of the potential paths for gaining a diverse education and set of experiences by monopolizing her time. 

One day she is recommended by her counselor to check out The Future Connection. She learns that she can illustrate her various paths for growth and meeting her goals. She also begins to understand that she will be embraced by a community that will collectively invest in her (at a nominal interest rate of 2%) as long as she agrees to connect and work with a mentor that is also a part of this community (but hasn't explicitly funded her so as to avoid a conflict of interest). 

Li submits her Canvas and in August receives her first set of funds ($5,000) to pursue activities related to her goals based on her Canvas' twelve month horizon. Among those activities are two classes in contemporary art theory and movement therapy (the therapy component was suggested by her mentor as a budding field) at a reputable state university. She also uses her resources to take a variety of classes at a local dance studio cooperative and meets with her mentor regularly to discuss what she is learning from her experiences. Finally, she uses the rest of her funds to enroll in a Udemy course on the basics Self-Employment and Marketing, while adding to her next semester's wish list a course that would give her preliminary understanding of personal website development, at the recommendation of her mentor. Beginning to understand Li's interests, this mentor, a former executive at a local Children's Theater, has connected her with an organization in Honduras that is seeking creative movement therapy teachers. 

Thinking long term with her Canvas, Li sees three years of $4,000-6,000 necessary before feeling confident and skilled enough to take her experience and aspirations to Central America to work with young victims of violence and trafficking. While there she also plans to submit a fourth version of her Canvas to get funded for a Yoga as Therapy certificate, while seeking some grant money and marketing some dance classes locally to begin paying back her TFC loans. Looking forward, however, she realizes that her vision is flexible, as was her education, and with only about $20,000 in loans and a plethora of learning experiences and connections, she feels prepared to find purposeful opportunity wherever she ends up. 

The Future Fund Mechanism: This will operate through both lending and donations. "Future" loans will be drawn from an aggregate pool and will receive a return capped at 2%. Additionally, or alternatively, the individual (or entity) contributing to the fund can opt to donate. Aggregate donations will be tax deductible for the donor and applied proportionately to all outstanding loan principles at the end of the given tax year. Funding per learner will be approved by TFC and the borrower's mentor and doled out semi-annually. Payback begins six-twelve months after the student submits his or her final Canvas, or after five years, whichever transpires first. 

Update to Light Experiment: Students from selected high schools will participate in a hack-a-thon to develop the most unique approach to building a Personal Canvas. In true collaborative and community-based fashion, this takes inspiration from Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School in the 50s, which aimed to cultivate the What and How of learning and growth from within and between students, with the mentor, teacher or coordinator (me) merely facilitating the environment. 

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I would like to test this in non-digital format with both a local public and private high school senior class in Portland, Maine (my current residence). I have a growing relationship with a professional co-working space that is seeking to offer an extracurricular opportunity for project-based learning. Students will spend their time working on their own projects and post-high school plans, while tapping into the organization's network for resources, connections, and even capital.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

I would love to take advantage of OpenIDEO’s diverse community by receiving feedback from disinterested parties, former or current students, professionals, etc. not limited to legal feasibility, behavioral considerations, and user-generated design possibilities. That said, while I do have a network of individuals committed to me and my idea in various capacities, I would also be open to collaboration, or outright team-building, from within IDEO’s community!

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • Yes


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Hi Jesse, Alex from Path to Pitching, this is cool! You should check out Edmilson Rodrigues EduDream idea as there is some overlap. Would love to see you develop it through some prototyping! Would also like to learn more about your interest in the Path to Pitching, how interested are you in our accelerator partners? Would you be able to show validation of this through prototyping and user/stakeholder interviews? Our Milestones are a guide to what we are looking for in idea development:

Photo of Jesse Bania

Alex, thank you for the support! I second all of your desires and suggestions. I am already in talks with local partners in Portland, ME to establish a team and get our "light experiment" (prototyping and interviews) active come January. I can elaborate further with specific names as necessary and will be building out my team as it falls into place over the next week. That said, the interest in P2P is sincere, but could you please provide a link to details about the residency program and a list of accelerators so that I fully know what the foreground looks like? In the meantime, I am collaborating with some old idea partners back in NYC on Personal Canvas design and Pathway prompts. Drafts will be uploaded to my contribution by January 1, with interviews and prototyping to immediately follow.

(As a sidebar: some of the Fund financing, structure, and payback details haven't yet been disclosed, as I felt a narrative to the concept from the student's perspective would be more telling. They are, however, also being refined, and will be a ready component of any pitch to accelerators if not a coming refinement to the idea's profile.)

With respect to Edmilson's project, I do agree there is conceptual overlap, but I do feel the fundamental vision for impact is not necessarily aligned. Having worked in finance for years, I believe their equation is enveloped by money and limited by virtue of who is considered an 'investor', whereas this challenge is trying to reimagine cost (with financing as a factor) of continuing education for all types. With TFC, the goal is to empower students to define the value and path to their educational goals for themselves, our pooled fund, and their mentors, without individuals picking horses, so to speak (which I think is a better analogy than the "buy and sell" stock market these days). In fact, these days the options to attaining 'continuing education' are proliferating faster than any system can integrate, which is why I believe we need to empower students to reflect and define that for themselves as they progress.

I will stop here, though, and leave it open for any follow-up questions.

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Hi Jesse!

The accelerator partners are listed here:
You can check out their websites as well for more in depth information. 

Looking forward to seeing the prototyping!

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