On American Indian reservations in the United States, low capital investment, persistent unemployment, and outmigration contribute to stagnant labor markets. Despite geographic boundaries shared with more prosperous communities in the U.S., American Indian nations face a complex set of challenges that include chronic concentrated poverty, limited access to markets, and scant post-secondary education options. With few economic prospects and low returns on education, youth drop-out rates are staggering. School-based initiatives that target youth and incorporate entrepreneurship education and asset building strategies offer a potential solution by addressing poor economic conditions. Building for the Seventh Generation is a comprehensive community-based approach with a sustainable-development model that integrates financial and entrepreneurship education into the core curriculum of elementary and secondary schools. Classroom activities are reinforced through broader public education efforts that encourage government policies and practices in support of local entrepreneurial activity. Evidence points to the potential of this workforce investment strategy to improve academic achievement and entrepreneurial, financial, and work skills in youth while building future local labor markets.
This longitudinal ethnographic study examines youth outcomes associated with the Building for the Seventh Generation program initiative on an indigenous nation in the upper Midwest of the United States. The study sample includes approximately 220 youth enrolled in grades 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12 (110 treatment subjects and 110 control subjects evenly divided among grade level). We examine youth outcomes associated with participation in a financial literacy and entrepreneurship education curriculum embedded in a public school system on an American Indian reservation. Data collection consists of focus groups and in-depth interviews with youth, teachers, and representatives of community-based organizations. In addition, pre-post tests assess knowledge acquisition and retention, future orientation, and self-efficacy among youth in both experimental and control groups. This study has just completed the first year of implementation.
Analysis of pre-post test scores from the first year of curriculum implementation suggests that youth better understand basic money management concepts and credit markets and are more confident in their ability to manage their personal finances. Additional findings point to positive changes in how youth think about their academic futures, availability of labor market opportunities, and hope for positive economic change in their community. Approximately 29 percent of youth participants have completed market analyses in their community, identified entrepreneurial prospects, developed business plans, and secured micro-loans to start their own businesses. Findings show that youth who participated in entrepreneurship education are more likely to graduate from high school than those who did not receive entrepreneurship instruction.
Stagnant labor market demand means that job creation must occur through entrepreneurship, but evidence and experience in the community suggest that successful entrepreneurship occurs through both attitudinal and skills training. When practical business skills are taught from a young age alongside reading, writing, and math children develop skills for both self-motivated income generation and the broader market. Ultimately, these skills grow the local economy and limit outmigration, which are outcomes desired in America Indian communities and those across the country.