Video by Emily Hwang, Ecuador ’13, The New School
The education system alone cannot prepare our young people to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.
The impact of tomorrow’s leaders depends on the quality of today’s education. And yet the standard educational path – focused on memorization, testing and college admissions – often stifles the most important learning. As the stakes get higher and the competition fiercer, ambitious students are scrambling for goals they don’t have time to question. In short, school is interfering with kids’ real education.
High school graduates are entering college underprepared, families are questioning their return on investment, and colleges are facing growing concerns about relevance. Today, anxiety and depression among college freshmen are at an all time high and America has the highest college dropout rate in the developed world. And for those who make it through, many emerge unable to meet the demands of today’s professional world and global economy.
Global Citizen Year exists to change this trajectory.
We can do better for our students by designing, delivering and normalizing a new educational path. A path that uses real world experience to unlock passion, potential and purpose. We believe that the best way to improve college outcomes is to change the inputs.
Each year we select a talented and diverse corps of Fellows and support them through a transformational bridge year after high school in communities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Through world-class training and structured immersion we equip Fellows with global skills, empathy, and grit — the foundations for success in college, careers, and life. We envision a world where this bridge year becomes a common expectation and opportunity — transforming education and unleashing the potential of a new generation of global citizens.
Why do we use the term bridge year instead of the more traditional term gap year?
The gap year has traditionally been viewed as a luxury reserved for privileged kids or remediation for those who are somehow “off-track.” In contrast, the notion of a bridge year conveys an intentional transition from one life stage to the next. Crossing a bridge is a better metaphor than falling into a gap; and, with the right design, the bridge becomes a launching pad for a lifetime of leadership.
Global Citizen Year is structured as a 501(c)3 non-profit because our bottom line is social impact.
Ensuring access and opportunities for young leaders from all financial backgrounds is part of our DNA. Our business model is similar to that of a private high school or college; we charge tuition to those who can afford to pay, and provide generous need-based financial aid to those who would not otherwise have the financial means. The strengths of this model enable us to:
It started with a question.
Where is the opportunity for young people to learn about themselves and the wider world before college?
This absence struck Global Citizen Year Founder & CEO, Abigail Falik, when she herself graduated from high school and struggled to find an opportunity – outside military or religious service – for real world work and immersion before college. This question – and the missed opportunity – stuck with Abby and wouldn’t let her go.
After nearly a decade working as a social entrepreneur in the US and communities around the world, Abby enrolled at Harvard Business School to develop the skills, strategy and networks to bring her long-held vision of a pre-college “bridge year” to life. In 2008, Abby entered the Harvard Business School Pitch for Change competition with a bold vision: she proposed that one day, a global bridge year before college would become the norm, not the exception. Abby won first place in the competition that day – catalyzing Global Citizen Year’s transition from a big idea into a reality.
Under Abby’s leadership, Global Citizen Year quickly built momentum — raising seed capital from lead investors including the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, The Mind Trust, and Harvard Business School, and receiving early features in prominent national forums including The New York Times, the Aspen Ideas Festival, Pop!Tech, and the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2009, Global Citizen Year launched a pilot program with 11 diverse, passionate Fellows from across the country. Today, we have nearly 350 program alumni, a talented global team, advisory council and board of directors, and a growing base of prominent funders and partners.
As our momentum continues to build, it’s clear that Global Citizen Year is an idea whose time has come. We’re dreaming big, and we know this is just the beginning.