Alexa Rhodes, 16, has always had a passion for giving back to her community. “From the time I was little, I knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know how to or which group to help,” said the Philadelphia high school student. “I always knew I wanted to create a non-profit but didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t until I noticed the number of people living on the streets in major cities that I realized how global the issue of homelessness was.” Rhodes, who attends Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been a member of the school’s Service Council–a club that’s entire objective is to help those in need–since her freshman year. Partaking in monthly feeding-the-homeless dinners gave her the realization that she wanted to get more involved in helping this community in particular.

She entered the Global Youth Entrepreneurship Competition in September of this year to bring her dreams of helping the homeless to life. Rhodes was among 120 students from 26 high schools across five countries (U.S., China, Canada, UK, and Japan) to participate.

The mission of the Global Youth Entrepreneurship Competition is to empower aspiring young students with the mindset of entrepreneurship, the skills for problem-solving, the grit for overcoming difficulties, and the goal for lifelong learning through an authentic learning approach.

Each contestant was offered two options for designing a project. They could choose one that was aligned to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or they were able to pick one from GYE’s real-world projects pool based on the contestants’ experience and interest after registration. If a student did not sign up with a team with which to compete, he/she was given the opportunity to work with peers from an entirely different culture or country, which brings additional value for joining the competition. Entrants were all vying for the $5,000 scholarship grand prize.

“Many of today’s students receive an academic-driven education which lacks social and emotional development as well as practical skills for future challenges in college and in the work-place,” said Sylvia He, GYE founder and CEO. “I started this competition as an approach to engage young people in real world challenges and coach them in an authentic way, so they understand more about themselves and their goals.”

Rhodes worked with Team Venture Accelerator for several weeks to develop and pitch her final project, entitled H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpack, based on U.N. Goal 10-Reduced Inequalities. “My solution to the problem of homelessness is a backpack kit,” she said. “Included in each backpack are necessities and other valuable items which homeless people are lacking.”

Throughout the competition, each candidate was provided access to academic workshops, individualized coaching sessions, and an immersing 5-C global learning experience. “The team building experience was more than just researching,” said Rhodes. “Learning to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and overcoming the challenges that we faced over the course of a long, extensive project was really valuable in helping me grow as a person.” 

Following an intensive final competition held virtually November 14-15, Rhodes was declared the grand prize winner. “We base the winning projects on two things: the project itself and how they pitch the project,” He said. “Most importantly, we want to see how the students understand the U.N. 17 Sustainable Development Goals in terms of real-world challenges for all humans, and how they prepare themselves in contributing to these goals.”

According to He, the GYEC committee members were inspired and touched by what Team Venture Accelerator have been doing to help local homeless people. “Though just a simple backpack, we were able to see this team’s effort, dedication, and commitment to make the community a better place,” she said. “We can also see their understanding of real-world challenges as well as their willingness to take civic responsibilities. They delivered a vivid and convincing pitch with detailed and thoughtful research and work.”

It is Rhodes wish that one day, “every homeless person is able to have a life of comfort and stability.”

He hopes that the GYE competition will become an annual event, but there’s so much more. Says He, “First, we will keep offering our participants access to the platform and continue mentoring them to work on their projects through the end of the year. Second, we will have a summer Youth Entrepreneurship Certificate Program in Silicon Valley/Shanghai for three weeks in 2021, and we will get global students together to bring their ideas to life and satisfy their passion for learning. Third, the 2021 GYE Competition Regional Preliminary round is in preparation, and this time we will invite more students from more countries to join us.”