Do Something Awards Semi-Finalist Scott Warren first witnessed the power of the vote while living in Kenya. He saw people waiting in long lines just to vote. He knew he wanted that kind of civic engagement in the United States. His organization Generation Citizen goes into schools and teaches students about civic engagement in a captivating way. Here's what Scott had to say about his program.
1. How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you're addressing?
I first got passionate about democratic participation in a positive way, observing democratic elections in Kenya in 2002. The opportunity to see thousands of rural Kenyans casting their ballots for the first time was incredibly inspiring, but at the same time, it made me realize how many young people in this country are not getting that same experience.
2. How do you feel about it now?
I feel hopeful. This year, we will be working with over 4,000 students in Providence, Boston, and New York City. Every time I go into a classroom, or observe one of our Civics Days, I see the potential of our program. That concept of an individual person making a collective difference, that I saw in Kenya and I see every day in our program, drives me on.
3. What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?
When I started Generation Citizen, I had the opportunity to serve as a Mentor in one of our first classrooms in Central High School in Providence. One of the students, Quay, was extremely shy.. When we had our Civics Day at the State House, he volunteered to speak, which surprised me.. He got on the local news, and with a big smile on his face, said in front of the camera “I’m so excited to know that my voice can make a difference.” I
4. Can you describe the moment you knew that you were actually making a difference?
Just the other day, the Commissioner of Education for Rhode Island, Deborah Gist came to observe one of our classes. One of the students had just written her a letter about school testing and classification systems. The Commissioner brought a personal letter for that student, and then talked to her in the hallway for 10 minutes. An 8th grader sent a letter to the Commissioner, and then got a personal letter and meeting with her.
5. What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project? When you were growing it?
Every day, we have people doubting that we can grow it. When I started it, people said that we were growing too fast. . So, overall, it’s doubt, because I’m young, because it’s a difficult economic climate, and because, honestly, civics is not a top priority right now. We’re making it one, despite all that doubt.
6. What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?
There is nothing more important than a team. I started out alone, but quickly realized the importance of getting good people behind us. We are a huge human capital organization. The amount of qualified and passionate people that are involved in this organization astounds me, but I have learned how important it is that they are all compelled by our mission, and that they are all extremely competent. Going forward, nothing will make or break us more than the people behind us.
7. What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?
I think the thing that’s surprised me, pleasantly, is how helpful people have been. I have so many mentors, advisors, and investors that are completely dedicated to Generation Citizen’s success. When I started out, I’m not sure I realized how many people would find our mission and vision compelling, and work to ensure our success.
8. What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?
Keep at it. There is nothing more important than being passionate about your idea. If you are passionate about it, you can make it happen. There will be a ton of bumps along the road, but believing in yourself, and the idea, will allow you to get through those tough days.
9. If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be and why?
I would have been a little more strategic about our growth at the beginning. I think we grew a little too fast, and it stressed me out a little too much. Now we are much more strategic, and I’m very confident about our direction going forward
10. What’s next for your project?
Ultimately, we will become the biggest, and most effective civics education organization in the country! In the shorter-term, we’re expanding to serve 6,000 students next year, expanding our team, evaluating our impact, and building our movement. We're formally partnering with districts, expanding to more universities, and engaging in thought leadership.
11. If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for your organization, who would it be and why?
Darren Criss, from Glee. He is awesome, as is the show, and he was a spokesperson for Rock the Vote’s Democracy Day last year. So he sings, acts, and is passionate about expanding democracy. What more could we want?
What Can You Do?
Learn more about all of the Do Something Awards Semi-Finalists.