My Service on a Dragons’ Den Panel

A few days ago I served on a panel in the style of Dragons’ Den—the popular television show on which entrepreneurs pitch their business proposals to a panel of investors hoping some of them will invest in their business.

1-photo 2This panel, however, was different from the one on television:

  • The entrepreneurs were twelve high school students at a local Christian school.
  • The stake was $500 of real money donated personally by the two teachers involved.
  • The panel was three adults with significant personal experience in community development in developing countries.
  • The students pitched proposals for a dozen development and humanitarian organizations with ministries such as disaster relief, micro financing, water sanitation, drug abuse rehabilitation, combating sexual exploitation, agriculture, animal husbandry, hygiene and health.

Each organization had to meet criteria such as:

  • Be fiscally responsible
  • Be a clear Christian mission, though not necessarily overtly evangelistic
  • Have a clear mission and vision
  • Have the expertise and organizational system to achieve their ends
  • Incorporate local, grassroots ideals
  • Become sustainable without continued fiscal support from outside

Each student had five minutes to convince the panel to award the $500 to the organization they had chosen to present and three minutes to answer any questions the panel might have.

Their teacher graded each student on basic presentations skills such as speaking skills, body languages, team skills, the use of audiovisuals as well as content, attractiveness, creativity, and word usage.

1-photo 3Each student did a ton of research knowing the panel would want statistics, numbers, financial information, and results seen thus far. They also might want to know if the needs the organization seeks to meet are real needs, felt by the community itself.

As a panelist, I was impressed with the amount of research presented to us in the hour and a half session. I was even more impressed with the passion some of the presenters showed and the communication skills many of them evidenced. We three panelists deliberated among ourselves and prayed for God’s guidance, then chose one organization to receive the grant.

Later we heard how excited the students had been, even to the point of being extremely nervous. They were very aware that this was not just a little class exercise in which they presented to their peers to build up their grade points. This was real. With real money at stake for real organizations and the presentations were to real experts. Yikes!!

Later that day, the principal, who had witnessed the whole process tweeted a brief report. He got a response from someone in the school community. “Great idea! I will match the $500.”

Woohoo! The organization will receive $1,000 and the students will learn something about contagious enthusiasm in fund raising.

The whole experience made me wonder if church missions committees would not benefit from involving high school students as presenters the next time they made decisions concerning the church missions budget.