Media Highlights

Moneythink and Opportunity Nation

by Ted Gonder   •  

Two weeks ago, crowds of changemakers gathered at the HUB Seattle in Washington state for the final pitch event of the Civic Accelerator, a joint initiative between Points of Light and Village Capital to highlight ventures that inspire, equip, and mobilize people to create positive change. As one of the entrepreneurs in the Civic Accelerator’s first cohort of ten, I had the opportunity to learn and collaborate with nine other teams working on companies across the US. The Accelerator took us “civic entrepreneurs” on a national roadshow over three months, from Atlanta, to Silicon Valley, and finally to Seattle, where the final showcase was to take place.

Rewind the clocks just over a year, and I was at the first Opportunity Nation summit in New York, NY. Hundreds of inspiring individuals from countless organizations, all convening in a bipartisan effort to expand economic opportunity and rejuvenate the American Dream. Still a student at the University of Chicago at the time, I’d been selected as an “Opportunity Scholar,” one of a few students committed to the Opportunity Nation mission.

In college, I’d had the great privilege of helping start an initiative called Moneythink, which places trained college students in inner-city schools to mentor urban youth on personal finance and entrepreneurship.  The work we’d started at the University of Chicago had gained interest among college students nationwide and before we knew it, the club we’d launched exploded into a national movement of savvy college volunteers in 28 campus communities helping teens at local schools to understand money and seize control of their futures. We were seeing our students start businesses, open savings accounts, and fill out financial aid forms for college. Some of it was particularly powerful: one student was able to use the budgeting skills he learned from his Moneythink mentors to help his mom keep the heat on in the cold Chicago winter.

In late 2011, after a couple of years of helping lead the organization through its pilot stages, I was nearing college graduation and facing the question of “what will I do after college?” I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial and challenging, and I knew I wanted to do something that provided opportunity to those in need. Perhaps I’d move to Silicon Valley and work with a friend’s startup, perhaps I’d move to a foreign country and try something similar. Or perhaps I’d continue building Moneythink into more than just a student organization – perhaps I’d recruit a team and raise the funds to turn Moneythink into an organized national movement with professional staff. This latter option was the scariest to me, but deep down, I knew it would be the most fulfilling.

The Opportunity Nation summit in late 2011 affirmed my hunch. Surrounded by opportunity-obsessed changemakers for three days in Harlem, I realized just how strong and unified the group of people committed to making this country better really is. I met Leaders and Scholars and Speakers and Mentors who all felt the same way about closing this nation’s opportunity gap: they were committed to closing it. Realizing that I wasn’t alone in my desire to make an impact on such a giant issue–lack of opportunity in America–and fully inspired that we could do it if we all put our heads together, I committed then and there–in November 2011–to launching Moneythink as a full-time professional operation.

In the time since, we’ve received support from President Obama at the White House, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and hundreds of individual donors–everyday philanthropists–who believe that the time is now to expand opportunity in this country for those who need it most. We have over 300 volunteers nationwide mentoring 1500 kids every single week, and now with a staff of four, we’re preparing to scale our operation. These are only a few of the progress markers that I was able to share with the audience a few weeks ago in Seattle, but I’m always proud to share that I’m part of the Opportunity Nation coalition. Ongoing support from communities such as Opportunity Nation provide the network, the know-how, and the nourishment necessary to operate an organization tackling large challenges; by bringing Moneythink in touch with others dedicated to the same overarching cause, Opportunity Nation creates huge value that otherwise wouldn’t  exist.

Ted Gonder

Opportunity Scholar, Opportunity Nation

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