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Abigail Falik wants students to take a year off doing good abroad

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Falik's vision for GCY came in part through lessons she learned as a youth traveling with her family in developing countries and later when she took off a year in the middle of college to travel.

The idealistic 19-year-old went to Brazil to work for a project helping street kids. However, she didn't speak Portuguese and had no formal support system to rely on. The difficulties of navigating a new city and culture on her own made for a steep learning curve and a challenging experience.

Yet the Brazilian endeavor itself seemed worthwhile.

Later, while earning her MBA, Falik combined those hard-earned lessons with cutting-edge research in the field of social entrepreneurship to design the kind of program she would have wanted in place back when she had to go it alone.

In 2008, GCY won first place in the Pitch for Change Competition, sponsored by Harvard Business School. In 2009, Harvard awarded her a social entrepreneurship fellowship.

Other awards and accolades followed. But more important to Falik, over the past two years, 44 fellows have gone through her GCY program, their horizons broadened and lives transformed.

After a year in GCY, says Gaya Morris, she entered college more motivated and with a clearer sense of direction, excited to investigate further the vexing questions she faced abroad. Living in Senegal, she says, helped her understand the complex problems involved in fighting poverty.

Falik envisions a big future for GCY. Young people today, more than any other generation, have to think globally and will need to develop language, social, cultural, and technical skills to address the world's challenges.

Yet only 9 percent of Americans speak a second language; only 22 percent even have a passport. A one-year immersion in another culture provides a great foundation for emerging leaders.

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