by Alice Lassman
2015 was a bit of a whirlwind. One moment, we’re sitting round a table in a classroom designing our Young Enterprise company product and the next we’re in Berlin presenting in front of 250 people from 40 countries. There were some things in between - like a 4am wake up for an interview on BBC Breakfast, a golden Mickey Mouse trophy (thank you Disney!), five rounds of the Company of the Year competition - and an awful lot of water bottles.
I wasn’t kidding about the water bottles
My team and I were truly privileged to compete in Berlin and see another side to Young Enterprise. What we didn’t know when competing in our first few rounds was that Young Enterprise is a part of a huge global organisation called Junior Achievement. Yes, while we were deciding to make water bottles, thousands of young people across the globe were also starting up their first businesses, designing branding and deciding on their company names. Young Enterprise alumni - past and present - are all part of that community.
My teammate Maya and I first heard of JA Alumni Europe when we were lucky enough to be awarded the JA Alumni award in Berlin. We were interviewed by a team of three lovely alumni, asking us questions about our leadership technique, our idols, how we overcame challenges. Our prize was a discounted pass to the JA Alumni conference, and I went to my first one in Tallinn a few years later in 2018.
Tallinn was without a doubt some of the best few days of my life. I met a group of some of the most inspiring, driven and kind people I’d ever met from all over Europe, from award-winning entrepreneurs to future government ministers. I quickly fell in love with what JA stood for: a community of passionate and utterly energetic individuals who all want to make some change in the world. The conference involved a few days of workshops, on entrepreneurship to corporate social responsibility to creativity. At night, we were kept equally busy with company visits, bonfires by the lake, pool parties, and a JA staple: a gala dinner (think big dresses and black tie).
The events JA put on are simply the tip of a very large iceberg. I knew I wanted to get involved in any way possible with future events, and engaging more alumni into this incredible global network, so set about quickly to attend the next JA event: the National Coordinators Meeting in Vienna, and then Copenhagen the following April. Working as part of a diverse team, with over 40 different languages and backgrounds, has bought not just amazing friends but a whole new community, a family. I’ve had a world of opportunities opened to me, from professional opportunities to personal, like visiting friends in Belgium, Germany and France. Most recently I was humbled to join the judging panel for the very award that introduced me to JA - the JA alumni award - in Lille, which allowed me to meet the new generation of international entrepreneurs and remind myself of the journey I’ve taken and how incredible the Young Enterprise programme was.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned more about each of the national alumni networks across Europe and the huge amount of work that’s being done to keep a growing number of former JA participants involved and engaged. As part of Junior Achievement, I knew that Young Enterprise could be doing the same, and set about trying to help launch Young Enterprise Alumni in the UK. A national network would not only bring together a 4.5 million participants together, but also connect the UK to a growing network globally.
In these trying times, developing and nourishing networks for the future could not be more important. Young Enterprise has not stopped offering opportunities to me, from our first award in 2015 to the phone call I had last night with my JA friend in Belgium. I want nothing more than for this to be open to everyone, to be able to see the possibilities beyond Young Enterprise’s programmes in the UK. The launch of Young Enterprise Alumni will mean just this. I could not possibly recommend staying in touch with Young Enterprise enough, for who knows where it just might lead you.