As a Bay Area native, I’ve walked through Dreamforce and wondered exactly who got to go to such a fancy, humongous convention — a similar response for many of our young people. At Enterprise for Youth, we are consistently looking for opportunities that challenge and inspire our youth, so we were excited to attend the 2019 Future Executive Summit at Dreamforce, hosted by Salesforce last November.
The energy at the entrance grabbed our youth immediately. They were made to feel like they deserved to be there as Future Executives. Soon after we arrived, I got to see our students erupt in surprise when former President Barack Obama showed up to engage in conversation with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Quite the kickoff, the president relayed his thoughts on the importance of listening to young people.
“When we listen to young people and learn about their hopes and dreams, it’s more important than any policy. What I am seeing in young people is a sense of responsibility for others. There is a core humanity and a core dignity to each of us. ” — President Barack Obama
While we were all moved by the President’s words in our own ways, youth attendee Jaida wrote, “I will now reevaluate my role as a leader. As Obama said, ‘Being a leader is about recognizing the power of others and unleashing it.’ As a leader, I have to make sure that everyone feels included in the group in order for all of us to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions to accomplish a goal.”
Winnie connected with something Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Uber, mentioned in a fireside chat offering advice for future leaders: “Don’t over plan your life.” She told me later, “I do not know if the options in front of me currently are the best for me. I spoke with a lot of individuals working at Salesforce and all of them didn’t have a straight route to their success. I learned that it is perfectly fine [to] go with the flow.”
We got a chance to explore amongst the sprawling Dreamforce campus, which takes up over 20 city buildings and is covered in national park imagery. It was wonderful to watch everyone take in the expo and workshops — the throngs of people, the technology — it was a highlight of the continuing technological revolution we’re living in and our students got to be a part of that in a very tangible way.
The next day, students participated in a speed networking session, practicing their personal pitch and asking detail-oriented questions to a series of Salesforce volunteers and employees. Zhenyu struggled at first to get his points out during the pitch. He said, “I got better at it at the end of it and didn’t stutter as much and spoke louder. I learned that being a leader is not about being in a high position where you can command others. It is about working with and listening to those around you and getting everyone to do the best they can in the situation they are in.”
We were thrilled to see a variety of empowering speakers throughout Dreamforce. World Cup and Olympic champion Megan Rapinoe addressed the gender pay gap. Emilia Clarke shared about her work helping patients with brain injuries and the importance of letting stories define and assist “good” with both passion and purpose. We heard from one of the most prominent and eloquent actresses and activists of our students’ generation in Yara Shahidi, star of the hit TV shows black-ish and grown-ish. I was struck when she stated that “Young people want to learn more but don’t necessarily have the resources to do so.” It fired me up for the work we do at Enterprise, to connect our youth not just to increased work development learning, but to workshops, to contacts, and to open up a network of resources for them to take on the world. Education can truly be a tool for anything.
For me, the most meaningful part was witnessing the youth think more critically about what they cared about in the world and wanted to change. At my table, I heard students talk candidly about how they and their communities had been personally affected by issues like mental health, homelessness, and gun violence. They were able to articulate conversations being had by many all over the country in their own, personal way — their experiences, friends, and their schools — and being inspired to empower others.
“After leaving the Summit, I would like to be a bigger and more confident advocate for others. I would like to change the world slowly.” — Hope
“I would share more of what I have to say because my voice is important.”— Carlos
“I want to make a change and be the change in my community. I want to continue speaking up for the issues I see. I want to continue advocating for the needs of homeless people living in the Bay Area.” — Winnie
Hearing speakers like Obama, Yara Shahidi, and Megan Rapinoe discuss leadership, courage, and work ethic was so special. These messages and moments will be something that our youth will return to over and over as they move forward through life. Bringing high school students to an event like Dreamforce is all about getting youth to explore opportunities they may have never even thought about. As young people walked around the event and got to meet with participants in the Executive Summit, they saw all types of businesses, organizations, and people that are part of the Salesforce community, a global community that breaks down barriers and builds bridges through technology, leadership, and innovation. Our youth became part of that community at the Future Executive Summit at Dreamforce. We are so proud to get to watch them grow into the kind, useful leaders they will inevitably become.
Youth and Community Specialist
With contributions from Senior Program Director, Carlo Solis, and the students of Enterprise for Youth.