Articles - Fostering Entrepreneurship in Waldorf Schools

What People Say
I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.
Charles Greenhalgh, Parent

“Waldorf Education…has been extraordinarily successful for my son. In three years, the remarkable, dedicated faculty has directed his attitude and energies toward academic achievement and civic responsibility… The school draws out the best of qualities in young people… In summary this system works!” Gilbert H. Grosvenor (1875-1966), President & Chairman, National Geographic Society, former Waldorf parent.

This world is changing with ever increasing acceleration. The leaders and innovators of the future will require skills not dreamed of in the old dog eat dog, top down paradigm that used to rule the economic playing field. All indicators are pointing to the fact that the future business leaders of tomorrow will need to possess a lively, integrated combination of creativity, social skills, emotional intelligence..and also a world view. They will need an experience of context about themselves, their community and the world they live in. These are qualities that Waldorf graduates can, and very often do possess due to the rich, holistic learning experience that the Waldorf curriculum offers. Waldorf students bring particular qualities that can be useful for the future business and entrepreneurial leadership of today and tomorrow.

Steve Jobs, legendary founder of APPLE, sent his kids to a Waldorf school in Los Altos. They were not allowed to use I Pads. Their primary school education was all hands on, nature oriented and creative. Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and father of five, explains what drives those who work in tech to keep it from their kids.

“My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules…that’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself. I don’t want to see that happen to my kids”. On both a national and international scale, the world ‘conversation’, for better or worse, is primarily around world economy or world finance and it’s collateral damage or positive change. If there aren’t enough leaders who have been imbued with this holistic approach to the world, and have perspectives of social conscience, environmental consciousness and vision as well as a dimension of spirituality, then the conversation will invariably largely bypass those who aren’t involved and can’t participate in a discussion from the vantage point of real experience. The negative, extreme elements of capitalism will prevail if not tempered by a broader set of nuanced values and sensitivities. From a very practical perspective, it seems that Waldorf Schools can still do much more in regard to focusing young people around building a relationship to money, basic financial and investment literacy, skill building and entrepreneurialism.  If more Waldorf graduates would start their own businesses, or even nonprofits, the positive backflow could be Waldorf alums who potentially would have more money to give; could serve on school boards, and could express their appreciation for what they have learned in high school in a multidimensional way.

These considerations and others served as the inspiration for Triskeles to initiate the “Tempus” conferences in conjunction with Kimberton Waldorf School near Philadelphia. Triskeles is a Pennsylvania based organization which offers experiential programs for youth. It strives to give them tools, knowledge and encouragement in order to live their lives in ways that reflect sustainability at many levels. The Triskeles hypothesis is that Waldorf Schools should, in a practical way, distinguish themselves from other independent schools, whether from a student recruitment perspective or from a financial sustainability perspective. They will do this by focusing on the natural creative will of students and encouraging their entrepreneurial spirit and holistic business skill development, through special experiences and training. Schools could develop and use the current Waldorf curriculum in even more creative ways to make this a hallmark part of the “brand” of what Waldorf schools do. Part of this approach would be generating and creating opportunities for young entrepreneurs of all kinds. The Tempus conference could itself become a distinguishing ‘sub-brand’ for Waldorf Schools to celebrate and explore this topic.

Triskeles had worked with the Kimberton Waldorf School around the idea of entrepreneurship in relationship to class offerings, internship placements, and exposure to local leaders.  In 2013 Triskeles incubated the idea to develop and manage the Tempus Conference, which as far as we know is the only high school focused entrepreneurship conference in the country.  There are a lot of college/university incubators working with entrepreneurship; Kimberton Waldorf School was interested in the idea, and was willing to host the conference.

The support for this youth entrepreneur conference came from a number of sources; among these the Waldorf Educational Foundation (WEF) which is interested in this topic so that schools can extend their educational reach. Support also came through a number of sponsors, with a primary one being the Rudolf Steiner Foundation (RSF).  The leadership team at RSF has also been interested in and active about this topic, and affirmed that the conference is relevant to the ongoing conversation around entrepreneurship and triple bottom line issues.  Among other national thought leaders, Don Shaffer (CEO of RSF) gave a keynote talk at the second Tempus conference to over 100 high school students from many schools.

On March 20 and 21, 2015, Triskeles and Kimberton Waldorf School hosted the third Tempus conference.  The first conference was one partial day; the breakout sessions were almost as big as the plenum sessions.  We brought in a number of national and local speakers, and had participants on the panels that were inspiring and could address the conference themes from a personal perspective. The conference participants, “walk their talk”, making the presentations quite compelling. For the Tempus Conference in 2014, we adjusted the conference topics to more closely align with the high school student experience.  We chose the theme of “Stepping Stones” and focused on smaller group work, using a workshop model.  We had panels and workshops with national level speakers giving the opportunity for young people to have a more participatory experience in these smaller settings. The conference took this approach again in 2015.   Speakers who can speak authentically about their own experience in the entrepreneurship space are key; Tempus brings in young entrepreneurs-so there is a peer-to-peer learning exposure.  These are individuals (some of them in their late teens or early 20s) who have participated either in entrepreneurial training or have already created a business or major event on their own.   Examples of topics were:  Networking for Success, Food Entrepreneurship, Getting Your Company Right and International Social Entrepreneurship.

The conference has drawn students from a number of Waldorf Schools, but also seeks students from local high schools and colleges.  Some of the at risk youth who have participated in Triskeles youth programs also joined the conference.  This diversity of youth allowed young people of different backgrounds to go through a similar, shared conference experience and through that process, meet each other.  The Tempus conference has attracted Waldorf students from as far north as New England, and as far south as Washington DC. In upcoming years Triskeles plans to continue to develop the Tempus Conference, but will do so with a broader range of central partners. The Tempus Conference is a wide avenue for exploring the topic of social entrepreneurship and for collaborating with schools, professionals, leaders and students from many backgrounds. For more information on this subject, check the Tempus website, www.tempusconference.org.