Nina J. Lu
Montgomery Blair High School
11th Grade
Silver Spring, MD
Maryland – 2nd Place Winner

    The soft glow of the fluorescent desk lamp on Jimmy’s desk reflected off the seventeen-year-old’s dark eyes. Or, it would have, if the brighter, more saturated gleam of his cell phone's retina display hadn't outshined its feeble, passionless blaze. The arranged catering company for his school newspaper's charity banquet had called off at the last minute in favor of a high-profile celebrity wedding on the same day deemed “a critical opportunity” (and thus more important than his high school banquet). With quick, practice movements, Jimmy typed a frantic text, a hasty string of shorthand and slang ending in "THX" to his entire address book, an impressive list of 461 contacts, except his mother (he wouldn’t want her worrying about him being up at this hour). Searing red numbers—2:40 AM—jeered at him from the face of his alarm clock. Jimmy couldn’t believe he would have to “wake up” in less than 3 hours. Resting his head pensively against his palm, Jimmy waited only for his classmates to tear their attention away from their Facebook profile or Halo Reach. A moment later, a text vibrates from Joey. 

    “My uncle owns a franchise, if it’s for charity, he’ll cater free.” 

    Spirits soaring, Jimmy celebrated with a tweet: 

    BANQUET FRIDAY—1/2 proceeds go to the American Red Cross for Pakistan flood relief efforts. BE THERE, SUPPORT A GREAT CAUSE! Catering courtesy of @JoeyBoy's avuncular relations! 

    Switching the light off in his bedroom, he can't help thinking to himself with a smile: Quandary solved. 

    June 2009 marked the official end of the longest economic recession in post WWII United States history1 and the beginning of a long and trying trek toward economic recovery. The Greater Washington business community stands at the frontlines of this battle against the lingering repercussions of the recession: unemployment and conscientious consumer spending in a stagnant economic landscape. Although this assessment seems rather bleak, with an open-mind and the willingness to explore and implement the novel, dynamic, and perhaps unconventional ideas of today’s high school students, the Greater Washington business community can advance and achieve the economic stability and galvanization we strive for. 

Lesson 1: Networking and Communications—A Web of Connections 

    A defining characteristic of today’s high school students is the highly resourceful instinct for “keeping in touch”. Take a peek in any high school student’s pockets and you will undoubtedly find a cell phone nestled in between the silver gum wrappers and learner’s permit. The sheer number of texts sent by American teens on their cell phones (an astounding average of 3,146 texts per month2) stands as testament to the efficacy we exhibit in communication and the emphasis we place on it. Furthermore, this efficacy doesn’t end where the cell phone bill ends but extends to the technological frontier of the World Wide Web as well where teens are the most active members of social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Thus, one of the most important lessons the Greater Washington business community can learn from today’s high school students is the importance of pulling resources and building networks for long term viability and the benefits of using these advantageous communication platforms to control company image. 

    According to Inc. Magazine, the Greater Washington area has the largest number of fastest-growing private companies in America3. We can expect this number to skyrocket in the coming years with the introduction of congressional stimulus packages promising substantial increases in quantity and scope of government funded contracts. 

    With the tectonic plates of the 21st century global economy in constant motion, it is more important than ever for the rapidly developing and growing businesses in the Greater Washington Area to not only gain but retain its local and global clients. By embracing the example set by its future entrepreneurs—today’s high school students—and utilizing the myriad of available technological advances to construct far-reaching and comprehensive networks of effective communication, the Greater Washington community can not only fortify existing client-company relations but also better adapt itself to the precise needs of a constantly changing consumer base. In this day and age, endless advances on the technological front provide us with a tremendous database of resources and an ever-expanding network of contacts and connections and, in the coming years, the businesses which are going to achieve sustainability and growth are going to be those which have truly mastered the ability of harnessing these advances. 

Lesson 2: Ingenuity and an Eye on Unconventional Sports 

    In addition to our networking and communicating abilities (or perhaps in light of them), today’s high school students show an incredible aptitude for resourcefulness and ingenuity. What prompts me to say this is a curious scene I stumbled upon while waiting for an afterschool activity to begin: several of my classmates devising an adaptation of baseball with trees as bases, a graying tennis ball, and much to my amusement, an AP U.S. Government textbook as a bat. And while I highly doubt all high school students spend their spare time devising adaptations of traditional sports with very unconventional equipment, simply the fact that even a few of them do opened my eyes to a uniquely fascinating and creative dimension of the high school student body. This resourcefulness, this audacious ingenuity truly embodies the essence and greatest strengths of today’s high school students and if adapted by the Greater Washington business community would help it remain competitive and dynamic in the national and global market. 

    One aspect of business that demands this type of radical and innovative rethinking is internal structuring. Gone are the days of the Machiavellian view of top-down leadership when fear of punishment led to reticence and apathy. The companies of the future are going to not only encourage their employees to have a say but build a “corporate culture” of synergism and open-minded forward thinking. A change of fundamental logistics about the structuring of company hierarchy is the only way to produce an internal environment truly conducive to the high level of efficiency the future global market will demand in the coming years. In a nation so wholly devoted to the notion of democracy and freedom, it seems only appropriate that the culture and organization of our businesses should follow suit. Just as the internet provides today’s high school students with their own “soap box”, the Greater Washington business community must provide their employees with the power and opportunity to take initiative and share their own inputs. This sort of paradigm shift will change the way business is done in the metropolitan region as well as in the entire United States, propelling us into an era when even employees at the bottom of the corporal ladder can feel the incentive and drive to contribute and to achieve. 

Lesson 3: Social Responsibility—Not Just to Fulfill a Quota 

    Today, almost all school jurisdictions in the country require students to fulfill a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate high school. The many students in Montgomery County, who choose to surpass the required seventy five hours, cite the rich diversity and fervor of the people they meet as well as the fulfillment of a sense of purpose as their primary reasons for their commitment. Just as many students go above and beyond the community service hour requirement, the Greater Washington business community should make a concerted effort to promote sustainability and global development not simply out of obligation or to fulfill a quota but in the genuine spirit of social consciousness. 

    As the political epicenter of the country, D.C. is the home base of an enormous number of charities and non-profit organizations and, as a result, also the prime location of their derivative social gatherings, conventions, and volunteer events. Sponsorship of these community activities, particularly ones whose goals are consistent and congruous with that of the company’s, allows businesses in the Greater Washington Area to foster positive relationships with their potential customers and unite with them under the banner of a shared cause. Sponsoring social events also demonstrates business savvy because companies are able to address issues at the forefront of consumer consciousness and appeal to their consumers’ personal beliefs. It is much more difficult to appeal to this potent medley of ethos and pathos in more traditional forms of advertising that market solely the cold cost of goods and services. Community involvement is especially important for small businesses as a way of increasing name recognition among potential clientele. By emulating high school students’ commitment to social involvement through sponsorship of social and charitable events, companies in the Greater Washington business community target potential customers, increase name recognition among both locals and tourists, and help foster a physical and economic environment healthy and conducive to long-term market proliferation and sustainability. 

    With a commitment to efficient communication, audacious ingenuity, and a sense of social purpose, the Greater Washington business community can help pioneer and effectuate an expeditious economic recovery and cultivate an economic landscape ripe and full of opportunity for America’s future generation of business leaders.