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Give & Take: Finding Your Cognitive Cash Value

Carolyn Hamm

There’s a common misconception that giving back requires a monetary donation, which can be discouraging for those with little “personal AUM”, as I like to call it. As such, I’ve found that what’s even more valuable than cash, is cognition— the ability to donate a set of refined skills or expertise.

As a public relations professional, I often take for granted the ability to communicate my ideas. And, in an industry that prides itself on strategic articulation, something as simple as pitching an idea feels like second nature. This is why, in a quest to determine what tangible skills I had to give back, I came across the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is a New York City-based nonprofit that aims to provide programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures. As a Business Plan Coach, I became a mentor to a group of high school students looking to participate in the NY Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (YEC), held last month in New York City.

The NY Metro Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge is an annual competition for NFTE students to pitch their business ideas to a panel of professional elites for the chance to win money they can put towards launching their business. Nearly 50 teams competed this year, including my group of mentees, who aspired to launch their very own fashion app aimed at helping end-users make outfit choices based on a number of factors, such as weather forecast, mood, and activity.

Honing my PR skills, I helped the group decide on core messaging and determine how exactly they’d like the brand to be identified. Some questions we discussed were: who is the audience; why do they need this product; what would an investor want to know about the business plan and how can we best communicate that idea; and what is most important with this project.  

In just a few weeks, this group of students began thinking like PR pros in identifying the most crucial and interesting aspects of their business and communicate them effectively. While the team may not have walked away with the prize money, it was exciting to see public relations skills being applied outside the office. Instead of money, the team gained the long-lasting skill to position themselves to be heard. As for me, I learned that perhaps my most valuable asset isn’t in my wallet— it’s in my mind.

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