It’s a seemingly unusual recipe for innovation: take a few hollowed out vintage train cars, add 20 young American entrepreneurs with concrete ideas for positively impacting their local communities, sprinkle in five dynamic Fulbrighters -- foreign students studying in the United States on a U.S. government scholarship -- top off with a cadre of established mentors, and mix together for a 10-day cross-country train journey from Portland, Oregon, to New York, New York, with stops for workshops with local leaders along the way. That is the 2nd Millennial Trains Project (MTP) voyage taking place from August 7-17, which is seeking to empower civic-minded youth leaders to explore the United States while advancing entrepreneurial initiatives. Using repurposed vintage, dome-topped trains, the MTP leads crowd-funded transcontinental train journeys for diverse groups of young innovators (and virtual audiences) to explore America’s new frontiers.
The story of the Millennial Trains Project is a fascinating one that is rooted in cross-cultural ties. The impetus for the founding of the Washington, DC-based organization was a formative Fulbright experience by its founder, Patrick Dowd. After college, Dowd took part in the Jagriti Yatra train voyage across India, which brought young people together from around the country to learn about one another and taught them skills, including entrepreneurial development. He gained inspiration and saw untapped opportunity from the journey in India and sought to replicate the idea for young Americans, ultimately creating and leading the first cross-country train voyage for young American entrepreneurs last summer.
This year, the State Department partnered with the Millennial Trains Project to bring on board five talented Fulbright scholars from Pakistan, Yemen, Russia, Colombia, and Indonesia to participate in the journey, share their unique perspectives, draw out an entrepreneurial idea that they can implement in their communities back home, and build meaningful relationships with American counterparts.
I recently had the chance to serve as a mentor and spend some time on the train in Oregon and Washington State, bearing witness to the innovation lab on tracks. I participated in a thought-provoking discussion, in a glass-domed train car, about the role of millennials in the larger world around us. Fascinating ideas were put forth by young Americans to showcase an ethos of service and social entrepreneurship in an effort to re-brand the millennial generation in a more positive light; suggestions were advanced by the foreign Fulbright students to further tackle misperceptions about youth overseas and to focus on the similar political, economic, and social struggles faced by young people around the world; and there was a unified belief in the need to spend more time building networks and bridges for the future across cultures and countries.
This collaboration between the U.S. State Department and the Millennial Trains Project is emblematic of State Department efforts to connect young American leaders and youth empowerment organizations with young foreign counterparts to build greater connectivity and collaboration to solve the world’s challenges together. Please let us know if you’ve got other ideas for linking youth-focused organizations up with international counterparts. If we can use trains to build bridges between communities both domestically and abroad, the potential for new, innovative collaborations is endless.
About the Author: Andy Rabens is the Acting Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.