By Lamin Turay
In order to be an effective entrepreneur, many skills need to present. You need to have tenacity, determination, patience, and a willingness to continue learning everyday. At Maveriqs Academy we highlight organizations that help young and aspiring entrepreneurs to hone these skills. One such organization is Youth Campaigns. Led by Executive Director Shawn McClondon, Youth Campaigns is a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that provides underserved youth with an opportunity to learn about digital marketing, and what it takes to be a valuable asset in today's modern workplace. I had the pleasure of connecting with Shawn recently to discuss the program, and where he sees it headed, as well as their latest campaign to raise funds and awareness in order to serve more youth as the organization continues to grow.
What does your organization Youth Campaigns do, and what problem do you solve?
Youth Campaigns is a non-profit organization that creates access, awareness, and job opportunities for underserved youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the San Diego metro area. The problem that we solve is servicing the huge divide, and lack of diversity in the digital marketing industry. We provide training that can eventually lead to the provision of jobs and additional opportunities for minorities who wish to become a part of the industry.
What is unique about Youth Campaigns that sets it apart from other youth training organizations?
First off, we’re unique because we’re one of the only digital marketing youth training programs in existence. It goes beyond just the training too. Our program provides hands-on work experience. Every youth that we bring in from day one, is actually working on projects with real world clients, and gaining valuable hands-on experience that is going to help them start a career in digital marketing.
What was the “Aha!” moment that drove toward starting a program like Youth Campaigns?
A couple years ago I was consulting for a number of digital marketing agencies here in San Diego. I would travel from agency to agency and implement varying strategies based on different campaigns. One of the last agencies that I worked with had over 200 employees. Upon entering the agency I received a tour of the office and met members of the team. The day of that tour I realized that, of the 200 employees at the agency, there were almost no people of color in the entire company. From that point going forward I decided that I wanted to leverage my skills as a digital marketer to train underserved youth so that they can have opportunities in this industry.
After deciding that you wanted to develop your own program, what were some of the first steps you took to get started?
The first thing I did was a lot of research. I tried to find programs that were similar. I wanted to see what was out there, and what was working. That way I wouldn’t be starting from square one. However, I quickly realized that there was nothing out there like what I was attempting to create. There were no programs that provided this target youth group with digital marketing training or certification.
I ended up having to concept most of the program myself. I created my own curriculum. I reached out to the Jackie Robinson YMCA in San Diego, and worked with them to perfect the training program. Really from the beginning it’s been me doing the homework, figuring out how each piece fits into place, and implementing what I have learned.
What are some of the lessons that the participants in this program will learn?
One of the stand-out things that I learned early on while researching the program is that the number one reason most people do not get hired into digital marketing positions is their lack of experience. Most individuals coming out of high school or college don’t have a lot of experience in the field. From a practical standpoint we teach our participants a number of things; email marketing, web development, social media, and content marketing. In addition to these hard skills, we also teach them a specific philosophy. We teach them how to analyze and solve problems utilizing different tools, methods, and data. In the end it’s a combination of philosophy, strategy, and on-the-job skills.
How has running a program like Youth Campaigns changed your life?
When you run a program like Youth Campaigns, or just work on a non-profit in general, you learn more from the participants than they do from you. That’s one of the great aspects of it all. I feel like I’ve learned to be a better digital marketer by working with the youth participants in our program. They’re so talented and so creative.
I think a lot of people don’t understand that young people are heavily immersed in digital marketing nowadays. The ideas and the creativity that they bring never cease to amaze me. I've learned just as much from them as they have from me, if not more. I’ve learned how to deal with different personalities, and become a better person. I grow in a positive way every time I get a chance to work with our youths.
As an entrepreneur you should know that execution is worship. If you're someone who's known to execute, that's priceless. It's what I try to do everyday."
What are some of the challenges that come with running a non-profit, and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges for us has been that not many people understand the importance of digital marketing. We talk to a lot of older individuals who don’t necessarily understand what we do, and when we show them, they don’t necessarily see it as a viable skill. However, digital marketing has become crucial to the success of any business. Getting people to understand and be aware of the importance of what we’re doing in the digital marketing realm and business realms has been the biggest obstacle.
In order to combat the lack of understanding I act as an ambassador for digital marketing. I believe that’s the best way to combat that issue. We talk about it, we demonstrate the work that we’ve done, and we continue to push awareness through the content and campaigns that we have developed through Youth Campaigns.
I should participate in Youth Campaigns if…?
You should participate in Youth Campaigns if you’re a creative person. The one thing that digital marketing has is a low barrier to entry. Anyone can do it. All you need is a little creativity.
You should also participate if you’re seeking an alternative to traditional paths or learning. For some young people college is not the only path. With digital marketing you can literally start, and begin marketing a business right now! There’s nothing that holds you back, other than your understanding and awareness of the tools that are out there for you.
Where do you turn to self-educate, and keep Youth Campaigns at the forefront when it comes to digital marketing trends?
A lot of staying relevant comes from direct communication with the participants in the program. They’re usually a lot closer to the latest trends than I am. We have great discussions about the tools that they’re using, and that they’re engaging with.
Other than the direct participant communication I do have other outlets. I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds to make sure I’m constantly getting information about cutting edge concepts. Social Media Today is one of my favorites - Mashable as well.
If I can impress anything on others about the program, it’s that these young people know what’s happening in this space, especially with social media. A great deal of my learning comes from them.
What would you describe as the ultimate success story of a Youth Campaigns participant.
Outside of specifically finding a career in digital marketing, we had a participant in one of our earlier programs whose goal was to become a scientist. That was her big goal. She came to me and said, “Hey Shawn! Social media is great, but what else can I do with this that will help me to eventually become a scientist?” I told her to set up a LinkedIn profile and reach out to scientists through search on that platform. I encouraged her to create a network of mentors that could help her find a job as a scientist.
A couple weeks after instructing that participant to set up her network, she came back to the program and told me she had done it. In those short weeks she had connected with seven scientists who wanted to mentor her, and she was even offered a job at the Scripps Institute. They wanted her to come in and observe what they did day to day, and also to help support their social media efforts.
That’s a great success story for our program. It shows how social media can be utilized for many different things. People who understand social media, and possess it as a skill, can use it in many different ways.
Why does the world need a program like Youth Campaigns?
When talking about underserved communities, one of the things that I’ve always felt is that as a whole, people in these areas just don’t have a voice. Digital marketing can give you that voice. It’s tools that can allow you to create a platform where you can communicate, not just locally or nationally, but with people around the world. You can talk about the things going on in your life or in your community. If you’re creative enough you can start to develop and deliver solutions.
That’s what this program can do. That’s why Youth Campaigns was created. To allow young people who feel like they may not have a “voice” to express themselves through creativity, digital marketing, and through modern communication in general.
As an entrepreneur who consults and also runs a nonprofit, what skills have you developed that allow you to take on so much?
The number one thing for me is execution. I believe in the philosophy of failing fast. My thing is to wake up everyday and execute something. To do something that will move myself and the program forward. This level of thinking has served me really well with the nonprofit. We’ve been able to separate ourselves because we’re constantly executing our tasks and campaigns. That’s what people really admire about Youth Campaigns, and what resonates the most. We get things done.
As an entrepreneur, you should know that execution is worship. If you’re someone who’s known to execute, that’s priceless. It’s what I try to do everyday.
What is the best piece of advice that you’d like to offer to a young person or aspiring entrepreneur who’s looking to get started with digital marketing?
Don’t limit yourself. As I explained in a previous question, digital marketing is a communication tool. People need to understand how powerful it can be. The power of things like social media and digital marketing allow you to do just about anything. When you’re first getting started you should realize that your potential is near limitless. You have unlimited power to communicate whatever you’d like. You need to understand that, be aware of it, and go into your project thinking outside of the box. Don’t get caught up thinking about what you cannot do.
Where can we find and follow Youth Campaigns?
We can be reached at the following outlets:
Company Website: http://youthcampaigns.org/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/Youth_Campaigns
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/youthcampaignsorg
We would like to thank Shawn McClondon for taking the time out to introduce us to Youth Campaigns. This is a truly incredible organziation that is fostering the digital marketers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. If you would like to suppport Youth Campaigns, they are currently running an IndieGOGO campaign to raise funds that can be used to grow the program and train more underserved young indviduals. A succesful fund raising round will allow Youth Campaigns to support 20 youths for six months in learning content marketing, web design, email marketing, social media, analytics, event planning and so much more. These are all skills any entrepreneur knows are vital to running a modern business. We urge our readers to support Youth Campaigns in fostering the innovate thinkers of tomorrow. Please click the button below to learn more!