On 17 January 2017, a new book hit shelves at Chapters. Called INK Positive, the book was meant as a stress reliever that featured positive writing prompts, recipes, puzzles, and colouring pages. Yet, this book was not the work of a famous author. It was the work of Bliss, one of hundreds of different Junior Achievement companies across Canada that are run and maintained by high school students.

MGCI students participate in Junior Achievement. Photo: Sophia Liu

Junior Achievement, often shortened to JA, is an international organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Their mission is to “inspire youth and prepare them to succeed in a global economy.” According to JA Canada, a branch of the organization, they have educated over four million Canadian youth since their founding in 1955, and continue to attract as many as 250 000 Canadian students to participate in their programs every year.

JA programs are split into three sections: financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. The goal of the financial literacy program is to educate students on how to create and manage wealth, while the work readiness program helps students develop practical job skills such as interviewing and critical thinking that can turn their interests into successful careers. The section that attracts the most interest, however, is entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is the process of learning, and creating a new business from scratch. The most important program in the entrepreneurship section is the ‘Company Program,’ an afterschool program where students create their own company. According to a Gallop survey, 45% of high school students want to start up their own company and forty-two percent want to innovate something to change the world. Unfortunately, most high school courses do not have a specific focus on providing students with the specific skills and resources to achieve such a goal.

The process of creating a new business at JA is relatively simple. Starting in September each year, high school students can go register for the Company Program at their local JA office. Then, near the end of October, each student that registered is assigned with a group of twenty to forty other students to create their company from scratch, including the name, mission, and goals. Although the company will initially be led by a group of advisers, which consist of JA volunteers, eventually each company will elect executives who will oversee all operations, such as the regular meetings.

JA supports these students by getting different corporations to sponsor these new private companies. They also provide many resources such as networking opportunities, and training events. These resources, however, are accessible only for eighteen months, by which time a JA company is required to close down. Not all companies are willing to do so, and thus many end up moving away from the influence of JA and become truly independent.

JA has become incredibly popular within the last couple years. On almost any medium of social media there will be friends advertising about their company. A number of different companies consist of students from the Marc Garneau Community.

Examples of such JA companies include:

  • Ignight, a company dedicated to improving road safety and educating youth about road awareness. Their product is the “LUMEN,” a reflective armband that allows wearers to see in the dark.
  • Lingado, a company that aims to improve student networking. They offer apps to increase the access students have to knowledge and communication with important people.
  • Bliss, a company dedicated to promoting positive thinking in times of stress. INK positive, their introductory product, was a stress-relief activity book that featured activities to do in spare time. They also raised $330, which is headed toward supporting Healthy Minds.
  • Cogito, an apparel company dedicated to providing resources to children who require them. In particular, they have donated over $300 of food.
  • 6ixbox, a subscription style box company that sources locally curated snacks. This year, 6ixbox partnered with an Instagram account with over 100k followers, and was nominated for several awards at the JA Venture Ontario event such as best commercial.

In general, the company program has received positive reviews. When asked about whether she would recommend the program, Raluca Gondor, a member of Ignight said, “For sure! It has allowed me to grow as an individual and as a leader, while providing me with unique opportunities to develop invaluable skills. Everyone, regardless of what they want to do, can benefit from this experience!”

In comparison to other schools, JA has less of an impact on MGCI.  While there are a number of students who are part of JA, involvement in the program is just beginning to increase. On the other hand, York Mills CI, which has a significant amount of involvement with JA, annually hosts a JA tradeshow. During the show, York Mills students who are part of a JA company act as company vendors to advertise and explain the initiatives of their companies. Depending on whether more students participate in JA in Marc Garneau, a similar event could be organized in the future.

Nowadays, many people find that they lack the necessary social skills to land a job or start a business once they leave college or university; becoming part of JA is a potential way to solve this problem. Nevertheless, it is important to note that starting a company takes commitment, and will affect the time available for homework and school activities.

When asked about her opinion on the matter, Jenny Bai, a member of Bliss, said, “JA really brings the reality of running a business to students, as they experience the process hands-on, from product creation to marketing to sales. So yes, it’s worth the time if you invest yourself into your position, regardless of whether you are an executive or department member of your company.”