Asheesh Advani is the Northeastern U.S. regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
Poverty, with its accompanying homelessness and hunger, is a known root of violence, conflict and war. Without prosperity, peace is not sustainable.
JA Worldwide – known by many as Junior Achievement – has been creating prosperity for more than a century by teaching entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness to young people. Started in the United States in 1919, the organization has steadily expanded internationally and is now operating in more than 100 countries, instilling in young people the desire to innovate and fostering the belief they can create economic opportunities for themselves and for others.
“Pick any country, whether it’s in the Middle East, Africa or even parts of Europe now with the migrant crisis and conflict, and you’ll see young people who are not prepared for the job market experiencing disengagement and disillusionment that comes from not being able to have a fulfilling job. You can avoid that by building self-efficacy and creating economic opportunity,” explains an eternally hopeful Asheesh Advani, CEO of JA Worldwide and YPO member.
Changing the world
By showing young people they are capable of creating jobs for themselves and economic livelihoods for other people, through entrepreneurship, you can change the world, according to Advani.
If you reach young people at the time of their life when they’re deciding who they are and who they can become, it’s actually incredibly impactful. I knew JA did that, from my own experience. ”
— Asheesh Advani, CEO of JA Worldwide and YPO member share
“If you foster that self-belief when you’re in your teens or 20s, your whole perspective changes,” Advani adds.
It’s not hyperbole. Under Advani’s leadership since 2015, JA Worldwide was nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
“Entrepreneurs are the drivers of economic opportunity and prosperity, which reduce the likelihood of war and violence and conflict,” Advani says. “We know there’s a connection between entrepreneurship and peace, but to be able to bring attention to this connection with a Nobel Peace Prize nomination is fantastic for the world and timely as the future of capitalism is under debate.”
He sees it in practice, pointing to international student events such as JA’s Global Youth Forum in Mexico and cross-border programs with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, China’s foreign policy strategy and infrastructure plan. JA China brought together students from the initiative’s participating countries.
“We see our organization as one that can facilitate peaceful relations between young people and nations by virtue of bringing young entrepreneurs together,” Advani says. “I can tell you story after story of going to events with kids from around the world, and they want to learn about each other’s cultures. They think of the potential of collaboration, not conflict.”
Hundreds of YPO members are actively involved with JA chapters around the world, which operate under brands such as Junior Achievement, INJAZ and Young Enterprise. They serve as board members, mentors for youth, judges for entrepreneurship competitions, and corporate partners. According to Advani, “YPO’s global footprint is similar to JA’s global footprint and there is a similarity of values between the organizations that attracts many JA students to become YPOers, and many YPOers to join JA boards.”
Making a truly global impact
Advani joined JA Worldwide, one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, after a successful career as an entrepreneur, having built and sold two companies, both focused on reducing the cost of capital for entrepreneurs and investors. He was pondering whether to start another company or leverage his business acumen to, as he puts it, “do more for the world.”
As a JA alumnus, Advani saw the opportunity to lead the organization as a chance to help youth benefit from positive role models. “If you reach young people at the time of their life when they’re deciding who they are and who they can become, it’s incredibly impactful,” he says. “I knew JA did that from my own experience.”
For more than 100 years, JA has prepared young people for the workforce and for life – connecting mentors, role models, and corporate volunteers to kids with in-school and after-school programs as well as using digital channels, including social media and online educational platforms, which became vital during the pandemic.
We see our organization as one that can facilitate peaceful relations between young people and nations by virtue of bringing young entrepreneurs together. I can tell you story after story of going to events with kids from around the world, and they want to learn about each other’s cultures. They think of the potential of collaboration, not conflict. ”
— Asheesh Advani, Northeast U.S. regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award share
Advani leads a worldwide federated network of local teams in 340 locations in 115 countries, one of the most diverse organizations on the planet. Collectively, the JA Worldwide network has a total staff of approximately 3,000 with another 200,000+ volunteers to benefit over 10 million kids per year. NGO Advisor consistently ranks the organization as one of the top nongovernmental organizations in the world – 7th in 2019, 2020 and 2021 – for its measurable impact on educational programming in schools. It is one of the few NGOs allowed to teach entrepreneurship in schools in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Palestine and Israel, and Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states after years of Soviet influence.
“We have grown substantially in underserved and new markets – the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America, where philanthropy is less developed. We’ve built a culture at JA to build global, regional, and local philanthropy in all these regions and countries, because we realized we can succeed not just with foreign aid dollars but because of philanthropy and leadership that is responsive to local educational needs.”
Advani asked himself: “How can I help more young people around the world benefit from what I went through?”
He and his team at JA Worldwide launched a strategic plan that they dubbed “Raising Aspirations.”
He explains, “Raising aspirations is about building optimism and a sense of possibility of what you can achieve. We teach young people to raise their aspirations. “But we wanted to do that for our own organization too.”
He and his team’s focus – and he stresses JA’s success is due to his team, not any one individual – was multi-pronged, launching several initiatives to drive innovation, modernization, and sustainable impact across the JA global network of teams:
- JA Labs: drives innovation and experimentation such as partnerships with UNICEF and tech companies.
- Gather: an online community for JA alumni from around the world, which now has more members than the online alumni communities of top universities such as Harvard and Yale.
- JA University: training for JA alumni and JA staff that is as much about changing mindsets as it is about developing new skillsets.
- JA Fellows: enables high-potential leaders to collaborate across borders and support JA Worldwide’s strategy to raise ambitions.
- JA Global Youth Forum: a youth empowerment event that brings students together from dozens of countries.
- Global Business Hall of Fame: an expanded version of the original Business Hall of Fame (run by JA) that is more diverse, more gender-balanced, and more global – ideal for helping kids around the world to have business role models.
- JADE: an analytics platform to collect and interpret data on JA’s impact on youth.
- JA Youth Advisors: a collaboration with MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication to enable young people from around the world, especially from underserved markets, to help inform JA Worldwide’s strategic priorities.
Believing in the future of leadership
Advani’s involvement with JA’s youth and alumni gives him hope for the future.
“If you want to change the world, just get youth voices around the table for any decision,” he says. “Immediately, you’re going move faster. You can’t move slowly in front of 20-year-olds who ask, ‘why can’t we do this?’”
He also expects to see more organizations adopt a purpose-driven network structure similar to JA’s or other forms of decentralized governance structures that are now common in online communities and among social network groups.
“What makes JA special is having this network of teams being dynamic and responding to all the local needs, yet having a shared mission and vision, shared intellectual property and distributed governance,” he explains. “The organizational form of the future for many global organizations, not just for JA Worldwide, are networks, alliances and coalitions — not top-down hierarchies. Effective leadership will be about leadership by influence, not leadership by authority.”
It’s how the world is going to face some of its biggest challenges, Advani says. And it’s how JA is developing the world’s next generation of leaders and changemakers, with intention.