There’s are many reasons why Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” is my favorite song on Karaoke. One of them being the inspiring messages it spreads, including “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way”. Songwriters, Linda Creed and Michael Masser knew what they were talking about!
In economic development, government officials focus on improving economics, political, and social well-being. My team at Waterfront Ventures, an economic development organization, utilizes startups, technology, and innovation to provide workforce opportunities for youth in Camden, New Jersey. How can tech startups and innovations support a city you ask? Happy to tell you.
Camden is too familiar with controversial topics. The city has been associated with corrupt politics, questionable tax incentives deals, and a reputation of the Most Dangerous AND Poorest City in America. The city’s outdated perception and media’s poverty porn obsession, not only overshadows the richness Camden has to offer, it has heavily affected residents’ perspective of themselves and their community.
In addition to attracting startups and businesses to Camden, we produce positive content, facilitate collaborations, and provide opportunities and resources to our city’s youth. Camden’s young people are as resilient as they are curious. They hustle to rise above their shortcomings and ensure their race, social economic status, and address strengthens their character, instead of prohibiting it. It is our responsibility as residents and community leaders to provide opportunities and foster these bright minds, not only for our future but for theirs.
From community events, office tours, and coding workshops, where we hosted students as young as 6th grade, I’m privileged to connect with their beautiful faces, eager hearts and share about their troubles. Through the sadness, when talking about how people look down upon them based on their zip code, their faces light up when hearing about their role in Camden’s development and part in the city’s future. With each startup or business we talk to, we see a chance to change a young kid’s life.
People underestimate the power an internship or job has on a young mind, hungry for a chance to prove themselves. A workplace is where inspiration sparks and mentorships develop. Real life experience allows clarity and insurance for a growing future. The endurance, elasticity and growth from a solid opportunity build a foundation, which these students will then build a skyscraper on. That is why startups like Penji, providing unlimited graphic designs and committing to hiring 100 students, matter.
Building a successful business or organization in a city like Camden is not innovative. Campbell’s, Hopeworks ‘n Camden, and Latin American Economic Development Association (LAEDA) have been doing it for decades. It is the community engagement, connectedness, and social impact that makes you truly great. Making a difference in the lives of others, not just your customers or executive team, but everyone in your company and those around you allows you to grow even beyond your expectations.
Business should have a purpose beyond profit. As a business owner, I understand how we need to invest in our young people and exactly what we receive in return. The benefits we receive is a generation better, smarter, and more innovative than us. A generation of creators, builders, and problem solvers to advance Camden.
Inspired by my business partner, Dan Rhoton, Mark Sarvary, and the young people in Camden