Boston’s Jobs For Youth Shifts Upmarket: The Risk of Youth Microenterprise

Martha Nichols
July 1, 1998

In the mid-1980s, entrepreneurship seemed like the next big thing at Jobs for Youth in Boston. Fred Jungmann, the original executive director, was an entrepreneurial type himself, as was current Executive Director Gary Kaplan, who arrived in the ‘80s. JFY received a lot of money from the Mott and Ford foundations to get the program off the ground — and $100,000 from the Prince’s Trust in England. JFY’s youth entrepreneurship project was based on a similar London program supported by Prince Charles. JFY Boston board members even had their pictures taken with the prince (before his popularity took a dive).

From 1986 to 1991, JFY helped start about 70 small businesses. Participants went through what Kaplan calls a “mini-MBA” and did full-scale business plans. These enterprises included photo shops, food pushcarts, and hat and flower stores, some of which are still operating. But by the early ‘90s, the private seed money had run out, and Jobs for Youth failed to attract public funding to institutionalize the program.

Although the idea of entrepreneurship resonates with American ideals, it never flew in the public sector, especially when economic times got tough. In this case, JFY’s adept juggling of private and public funding didn’t work, and administrators like Kaplan learned much from this failure. JFY applied repeatedly to the Labor Department for funding, but was always turned down. The response of federal bureaucrats was basically, “Why should we spend public money to help people make a private profit?”

On the private side, local banks wouldn’t put up loans for these small enterprises, since the JFY participants had no collateral. Business is business, after all, and in this case the organization’s larger goals got lost in the public-private shuffle. As Kaplan freely admits now, “Microenterprise is not the right approach to helping people get out of poverty.” Such programs may give a few clients a boot up, but they don’t affect economic policy.

Nichols, Martha. "Boston’s Jobs For Youth Shifts Upmarket: The Risk of Youth Microenterprise." Youth Today, July/August 1998, p. 49.

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