The UN Foundation is excited to partner with the Millennial Trains Project (MTP) because entrepreneurs serve as a great catalyst for social change. Last week, our Resident Entrepreneur Elizabeth Gore joined 24 enterprising millennials for MTP’s inaugural 10-day transcontinental train journey from San Francisco to Washington D.C. These 24 entrepreneurs are currently traveling across the country, stopping in seven cities along the way, to advance projects that benefit local communities. Below is a brief Q & A with MTP’s founder Patrick Dowd.
Darley Tom: Your website makes it clear that the Millennial Trains Project isn’t just another convening site for young entrepreneurs; you’re looking for entrepreneurs who want their innovations to benefit communities around them and the larger public in general. What led to your focus on that specific type of entrepreneur?
Patrick Dowd: I think the idea is not just about being an entrepreneur, but being entrepreneurial in the way that you approach your unique purpose. We are creating a space for people to discover, recognize, and contemplate their purpose and their place in the universe. Given the many different perspectives on board, it’s an eclectic mix. The beginning of the project has been based on crowdfunding – a pretty entrepreneurial approach. But we’re not focused on business creation. It’s about inspiration, connection to other people, building transregional insights, informing people’s life path – more than just starting a business
DT: There’s a growing interest in entrepreneurship among leaders in nonprofit and development communities. What do you think about the shift to include more entrepreneurs in designing and planning projects in the nonprofit space?
PD: It’s natural that lines are beginning to blur increasingly in a generation that demands greater consciousness from brands everywhere. So as they create brands of their own and try to solve problems, they are combining social consciousness with profit for what they’re trying to build and brand.
DT: Apart from the projects that will be led by the MTP participants in their own communities and sites, the train journey also involves a number of innovation workshops led by other leaders in local communities across the U.S. How did you decide which leaders and local communities to reach out to?
PD: It’s been organic. In most cases they reached out to us, introduced to us by local friends and communities. There are more than enough examples of each city. It was a challenge to choose from – Omaha, Pittsburg, Denver – all are examples.
In Omaha, we are meeting with Emerging Terrains, which repurposes old industrial abandoned spaces for creative purposes or as a workspace. In Chicago, we’re meeting with Design for Good, which won the 2012 TED prize. They’re rethinking how cities work. They’ve developed an amazing transit app that is used by the Chicago Transit System. Somebody just reached out to us – it was completely natural. There are countless examples of people with high aspirations and commitment to build amazing things across the country.
DT: The MTP looks poised for an exciting first transcontinental journey. What’s your vision of a successful first trip? When the participants get off the train for the last time in D.C., what would you like everyone to take away from the experience?
PD: The journey will be powerful for people on a personal level. This is pioneer training, growing as leaders, and growing as a community, with super diverse, different backgrounds and different interests. And all on the same tracks! Deep bonds will be formed through conversation, debate, and maybe reconciliation over the journey. People will have grown their perspectives in a way that will give them a richer understanding of the different regions of our country, and find common threads across the 3,500 miles that we’re going to travel.
DT: The MTP itself is a pretty cool example of entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. What’s an entrepreneurial project you’ve personally been inspired by or are excited to see get off the ground?
PD: I’m really inspired by Autumn Carter’s group, California for Common Sense. They are millennial “doctors” for failing cities. They look at cities like Hayward in California, take their “vitals,” tell them you’re failing on education, etc. Tell them what to do to improve the city. It’s a talented group that could be working for a larger corporation. Instead, they’re developing this organization and blueprint. Their group can be scaled to other states. It’s very granular to the California system. They’re very genuine, not just to get in the press, they’re really pushing themselves to make the right diagnoses and the right prescription.