This August, eight Madison-area teenagers will experience a potentially life-altering trip abroad. As graduates and participants of CEO’s of Tomorrow, a Madison-based entrepreneurship program, eight area students who range from grades 10-12 will be traveling overseas to Botswana for a nearly 10-day excursion that will bring them face to face with peers from another country.
From Aug. 10-19, as part of CEO’s of Tomorrow’s new program entitled “These Teens Mean Business Global Excursion Program,” the students will go to Gaborone in Botswana to partner with students there on business projects to promote social good.
Roxie Hentz, CEO and founder of CEO’s of Tomorrow, says that the impetus of the idea was a trip she brought her own 10th-grade daughter on back in 2011. Hentz had been the recipient of a Fulbright and taught in Durbin, South Africa for a time.
“I realized how transformative that trip was for her and for me, and since then I’ve done a lot of traveling,” Hentz told Madison365. “So that was the impetus for adding a global program to CEO’s of Tomorrow. I believe our kids are wrapped in brilliance and we should continue to raise the bar and when we raise it, they’ll reach it. I wanted kids to be able to have a further reach with their business ideas and take what they learned and teach it to someone else. Lastly, I know how transformational traveling abroad is. A passport is a ticket to the world. All of our kids are kids of color and, with the exception of one, this is their first passport and many of them have never traveled on a plane.”
The students participating in the trip were selected out of many who expressed interest. The requirement was that each student had to be a graduate of one of Ceo’s of Tomorrow’s incubators and it was preferable that they had been heavily involved in a lot of the programming CEOs of Tomorrow has done.
Since opening in 2016, CEO’s of Tomorrow has held incubators in which teenagers create their own businesses. They then launch those businesses and turn them into successful entrepreneurship opportunities. Hentz says that many of the kids participated in multiple incubators and that seniority was certainly a priority when determining the eight kids who would be allowed on the trip.
“For the parents to trust us to take their kids so far away, we take that seriously,” Hentz says. “Especially kids who have never been on a plane. To qualify to go, you had to have been in one of our programs. And that’s because, for one we don’t wanna take kids we don’t know, and equally as important they have to have a background in business and entrepreneurship in order to teach. Some of the kids have been in five different programs with us. So we started with the kids who’d been in the most programs and worked our way down.”
Being a Fulbright Award winner put Hentz in contact with a colleague in the United States Department of State. At first, Hentz floated the idea to that person about taking the kids to Durbin. But Hentz’s colleague in the U.S. State Department suggested that they go to a country that’s a little bit easier.
Botswana has never been colonized and does not have the same history of violence and oppression as many other countries in that region of Africa which made it an easy choice. With assistance from the State Department, Hentz was able to identify some partners in Botswana.
One of those partners is Bokamoso Junior Secondary School and the other is Stepping Stone International, a home for orphaned youth. While in Gaborone, the kids who are part of CEOs of Tomorrow will be helping teach kids from Bokamoso School the art of entrepreneurship and how to build a business that is socially conscious.
Since finalizing the details of the trip in March, when Hentz herself traveled to Gaborone to meet with faculty from Stepping Stone and Bokamoso School (pictured above), both groups of children have been making videos to share with one another in an effort to get to know each other before they meet next month.
The issues that children are facing in Gaborone are exponentially more dire than the issues facing the teens who are part of Hentz’s program. The kids in Gaborone have close to no technology, are facing nearly insurmountable economic challenges and have been living in extreme trauma.
During the trip, kids from CEO’s of Tomorrow will be matched one-to-one with eight kids from Bokomoso.
Additionally, the UW-Madison African Studies Associate Director Aleia McCord has partnered with the students from CEO’s of Tomorrow to create a “discovery box” which will contain meaningful objects and items used to teach students about the people and culture of Africa.
UW-Madison has been collecting these discovery boxes from other countries in an effort to help people understand daily life in those countries. Since no discovery box yet exists for Botswana, UW has asked CEO’s of Tomorrow to use this as an opportunity to curate a box for Botswana and show the life of a teen there.
“None of the kids from Botswana have had any training,” Hentz told Madison365. “So I chose a school and nonprofit organization that works specifically with orphaned and abused youth. Their kids had to apply for this and interview with their staff to do this with us and then their staff picked eight, so then we’ll have a one to one match. Their kids shared their names and grades and why they were inspired to participate in videos they sent so the kids could get to know each other.”
Most of the kids in CEO’s of Tomorrow come from low-income backgrounds. The cost of sending each student to Botswana is about $3,000 per student. CEO’s of Tomorrow has paid at least half of that for each student in addition to having donations from Madison West high school student Eli Pollack, who organized a donation of more than $10,000, allowing each teen on the trip to have access to a partial scholarship.
But Hentz says that donations are still needed. Two of the eight students slated to go still have yet to be fully funded. And, while of course, they will go no matter what, Hentz says that anyone who can help fund those last two kids’ life-changing trip would be very appreciated.