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Dionna Stevens and Asia Grinage are Peer Forward Peer Leaders

How “Peer Leaders” Drive Success In Education

How can American schools help more underserved youth strive for college and unlock better futures? It’s one of the biggest challenges facing educators today. For Fossil Foundation’s partner, PeerForward, the answer lies in harnessing a special power: peer influence.

For 20+ years, PeerForward (formerly College Summit) has worked with high school students to create better outcomes for their peers in low-income neighborhoods. It has now remodeled its core program and rebranded the whole organization to put peer influence front and center.

Each year, PeerForward trains and coaches new teams of “Peer Leaders” with the potentially life-changing mission of guiding their classmates to enroll in college and helping them navigate the intimidating admissions and financial aid process. We sat down with a few Peer Leaders to understand how they are becoming change agents in their classmates’ lives thanks to the PeerForward program.

Meet Peer Leaders Dionna, Asia, Noella and Jacob:

Dionna Stevens

Senior, Age 18

Asia Grinage

Senior, Age 18

Noella Sampson

Senior, Age 17

Jacob Rodgers

Senior, Age 17

  • Asia Grinage is a Peer Leader for Fossil Foundation partner Peer Forward
  • Noella Sampson is a Peer Leader for Fossil Foundation partner Peer Forward
  • Jacob Rodgers is a Peer Leader for Fossil Foundation partner Peer Forward
  • Dionna Stevens is a Peer Leader for Fossil Foundation partner Peer Forward

What does it mean to be a peer leader?

DIONNA: A peer leader is someone who motivates others to do more than what they can do for themselves. It’s motivating your peers to help them step out of their comfort zone.

ASIA: We’re kind of like the delivery men. We give our peers the information they need to be successful in the future.

NOELLA: It’s in the name itself. You have to be able to stand up for your peers around you. If nothing is getting done, you have to make sure that your responsibilities are fulfilled.

JACOB: A Peer Leader is a dynamic innovator and motivator. There are people that need guidance and the peer leader can help others become better people. We don’t want anyone to fail.

Why is it important for young people like yourself to be a peer leader?

NOELLA: Some students may not always be willing to rely on adults. It can feel like adults don’t know what you’re going through. But once you see a student that’s the same age as you in a higher position, they feel more comfortable relying on you because you’re going through the same thing they are.

JACOB: In my community, not many students really respect or listen to their elders because of their environment. But if they see a peer that’s headed in the right direction, you can talk to them and show them that they can do something better with their lives.

Can you describe a memorable moment that you’ve had as a peer leader? What happened?

ASIA: We hosted onsite admissions for a school that didn’t require SAT scores. One boy—who didn’t think he was going to get in—applied, got accepted, and even got a scholarship! We got about 40 students involved and excited about college that day.

JACOB: When our group helped at least 50 seniors sign up for FAFSA (Federal Student Aid) one night, that was a huge success! We didn’t know how many people would show up, so it became such a memorable moment to pass around this knowledge and see the number of people that were actually interested in utilizing our help.

How has being a Peer Leader changed you?

NOELLA: During freshman and sophomore year, I struggled with putting myself out there. PeerForward made me step up and put myself in a position where I needed to reach out, not only to the students, but to the faculty as well. Not only has it given me the leadership to help others and set an example, but it also helped me become more open with others and not afraid to speak up.

JACOB: Being a peer leader has helped me to mature – be more calm and patient with what I do. This process made me realize that you can’t be arrogant because people won’t want to listen to you. You have to genuinely get to know others in order to help them.

What advice do you have for young people?

NOELLA: Young people should always stay on top of their game because college and the workforce always expect something of you. You don’t want to regret not doing anything in high school or in life. Do what you want to do that benefits you and makes you happy.

JACOB: Keep pushing and keep believing, because there’s always a way to get where you want to go. Don’t let anyone stop you from getting you there.

DIONNA: Don’t slack off. If you feel you can do it in your heart, then do it. Also…deadlines are not suggestions!


By Keith Frome
Co-Founder & CEO of PeerForward (formerly College Summit)

We don’t often think of branding as a powerful tool for education reform but it is crucial in driving youth engagement in schools. Applying the power of branding to educational practice offers the field a new approach to driving achievement for all students.

Effective education helps a student define his or her identity. Great brands do the same. In 2015, College Summit undertook a transformational project with Fossil Group and Fossil Foundation that awakened us to the truth about branding: at its core, a brand is a choice about who you want to be. While we might often think of branding as being externally oriented, a powerful brand is, rather, an inward quest for authenticity.

Our partnership with Fossil Foundation has always been collaborative and rooted in the sharing of insights and expertise. When we sat down with members of the Fossil team, we had a frank conversation about the challenge at hand—our brand was not capturing our core mission: to empower students to guide more of their classmates to pursue higher education. This led us to ask ourselves, “How can we express this mission through brand identity?”

Our brand development process started with the program name. We asked, “What concept will galvanize students to lead this movement of college-goers?”

We discussed how educators, teachers, as well as peers already lead students and friends to become the people they are meant to be. We then explored how peers can continue to strengthen their influence to improve life for themselves and others—our core approach—ultimately landing on the program name “PeerForward” to express the idea at the heart of our efforts. We took an iterative approach with Fossil to create the brand identity, resulting in a strong logo with a bold use of color that conveys grit and leadership—qualities the PeerForward program develops in each student.

  • PeerForward ad in Times Square New York
  • Peer Forward team rings Nasdaq bell
  • Assortment of Peer Forward branded logo products

We now use this PeerForward identity to activate 11th and 12th grade “peer leaders” who conduct campaigns and coach friends (and often their parents) through the key steps high school students need to take to continue their education: creating a college list, following through on multiple applications, completing financial aid forms and making the connection between academic choices and career success.

Just as an educator might tell his or her students to review the material they’ve learned in class, the work that PeerForward and Fossil have undertaken asks the educational system and youth themselves to “re-view” the power of youth.

Woman speaks in public for Acumen Beyond Dialogue article

Fossil Foundation and Acumen: Beyond Dialogue

ACUMEN: The opportunity to invest in women – as leaders, change agents, and key business stakeholders – has never been clearer. Acumen, with support from Unilever, Fossil Foundation, and Danone, is hosting its third Beyond Dialogue workshop today, as part of the Skoll World Forum, to explore precisely this opportunity. Beyond Dialogue: Integrating and Empowering Women in Partnership with Social Enterprises brings together leading corporations, social enterprises, and thought leaders to find new ways to work together to expand the role of women across the business value chain.

Gender inequity and poverty are intertwined, and over the last three years, Acumen has been strengthening its gender focus. This workshop builds on Acumen’s 2015 report Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration Can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty, which explored how social enterprises are engaging with and improving the lives of women and where additional opportunities for gender integration exist.

Each of the sponsoring organizations has committed to partnering with social enterprises, and see business as a force for good and a means to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems, including gender inequity. Katja Freiwald, Director Global Advocacy and Partnerships for Women´s Empowerment & Livelihoods at Unilever, believes that, “Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do. It is essential to drive social and economic progress, and sustainable business growth for corporations and social enterprises alike. Unilever has long recognized the importance of women to our business as producers, distributors, consumers, employees and societal changemakers. We are a proud signatory to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which we aim to implement throughout our operations.”

Today, Unilever is launching its innovative ASPIRE framework in partnership with the Netherlands-based BoP Innovation Center (BOP Inc.), which lays out a model for making last mile distribution a pathway to build more inclusive markets that support local communities, engage women, and help expand access to critical products and services. More details on the ASPIRE framework and how it can be applied are available here.

Fossil Foundation has joined forces with Acumen on this event based on its commitment to improving the lives of young women and girls around the world. Janiece Evans-Page, Vice President of Global Philanthropy and Sustainability “We are partnering with social entrepreneurs to empower young women with training and education opportunities that build a sustainable livelihood for them and their families.”

Similarly, Danone is working to engage female entrepreneurs in its value chain. Jean-Christophe Laugée, the Vice President of Nature and Cycles Sustainability at Danone says “We cannot build an inclusive economy without women especially given their unique connection to their communities and contribution to the common good. Danone champions gender diversity and women’s empowerment together with entrepreneurship. We created the Danone Ecosystem Fund to support long term locally-led initiatives with positive social, environmental and economic impacts. This fund has led to the creation of 71 projects in 30 countries, many of which specifically address the issue of increasing women’s skills and independence. In total, we have helped empower professionally over 33,000 women to date.”

According to Yasmina Zaidman, Chief Partnerships Officer at Acumen, “This event celebrates the creative ways that business large and small are amplifying opportunities for women, but today we also want to push ourselves to go further.” Acumen has actively sought to build a bridge between corporations and social enterprises that achieve measurable social impact, and lead to more inclusive and sustainable business models.

The Beyond Dialogue Workshop is designed to yield new collaborations, and aims to discuss the role of women as agricultural producers, as agents in last mile distribution models, and as recipients of investment capital through gender lens investing, amongst other topics all rooted in empowering women through inclusive business. Acumen will publish a blog series from the workshop to accelerate learning among corporations and social enterprises seeking to partner.

Since its founding in 2001, Acumen has invested $113 million in 108 innovative enterprises addressing the problems of poverty in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Acumen’s approach includes not only provision of long-term private equity for early stage social enterprises, but also management support, technical assistance, insights into consumer preferences, and links to business opportunities and partnerships.

Audacious Under 24: Meet Marjory

Fossil Foundation celebrates young people who are charting their own course to a brighter future. Audacious Under 24 takes you into their world—in their words.

Marjory’s big audacious goal is to unleash the power of young people by becoming a teacher.

The 20-year-old student from the Samfya district of Zambia is on a path to do just that. After completing her schooling in 2014, she joined Camfed’s alumnae network, CAMA, which empowers 100,000 young women across Africa to harness their education, leadership skills and curiosity to benefit others. Marjory enrolled in CAMA’s Shaping My Future program, where she developed key life skills such as business management and family planning, and learned about women’s rights and how to be independent.

Despite personal losses and difficulty gaining access to education early in her life, Marjory sees nothing but a bright, fulfilling future—one that certainly involves graduating college, teaching children, and sparking a sense of true grit in others. “Go out there. There are all kinds of jobs,” she says. “Don’t feel shy that people will be pointing fingers at you, and don’t lose hope in whatever you’re doing, because you never know what tomorrow may bring.”

What was your day-to-day life like prior to knowing anything about the CAMA program?

My mother died when I was seven, and I never knew my father. I was raised by my grandparents, but it was very hard for me to go to school because they could not pay for my school fees. In grade 8, one of the teachers at my school said they were choosing girls to sponsor as Camfed beneficiaries and I was one of the girls that was chosen.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned through the program?

What I learned in the CAMA “Shaping My Future” program helps me in my daily life. Now I own my own business selling women’s clothing. I know how to budget and how to run a business. We learned a lot about good decision making in daily life when living on our own or living with others.

Since joining, I’ve been doing charity work with other CAMA girls. We teach young people about HIV/AIDS and support children in school by donating uniforms and school supplies. We also help the elderly.

Tell us about a moment or experience that has been the most meaningful?

In the Shaping My Future program, the most meaningful topic I encountered was women’s rights. As women we are not really given those rights. In the program we learned how we can defend ourselves and how we can use those rights in our daily lives. For example, when you get married when you are very young, we learned that your rights do not come from your husband. You can also make your own decisions. Every person in the world has the freedom to make their own choices because we have those rights.

What do you imagine for your future now that you’ve finished the program?

I imagine my future to be perfect – very bright, because I have learned so much and am now running my own business and helping others.

What message or advice do you have for other young people?

Don’t rely on others; make yourself useful. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to come and tell you how to do things.

Audacious Under 24: Meet Jahnnai

Fossil Foundation celebrates young people who are charting their own course to a brighter future. Audacious Under 24 takes you into their world—in their words.

Jahnnai knows the importance of grit.

The 19-year-old student from the Luapula province of Zambia has overcome her share of obstacles to get to where she is today. When Jahnnai finished school, she joined Camfed’s alumnae network, CAMA, which connects and empowers 100,000 young women across Africa to use their education, curiosity and leadership skills to inspire others. Now, she runs her own business and hopes to study physiotherapy in college.

Jahnnai credits CAMA’s Shaping My Future program for instilling confidence and teaching her the right skills to achieve her goals. Her experiences have even sparked a close family member to start her own journey to independence.

Tell us about your day-to-day life prior to joining the CAMA program.

I lost my father at the age of 11. When I passed seventh grade, the teachers in my school saw that my mother was struggling to pay for my school fees. She was a widow with six children. When Camfed came to my school, the teachers submitted my name to receive support, and in eighth grade, I became a Camfed scholar.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned through the program?

Through CAMA’s Shaping My Future program I learned how to run a business and all about the importance of banking, along with communication and leadership skills.

Tell us about a moment or experience that has been the most meaningful?

After the Shaping My Future program, we were given grants, which I used to set up my business. I manage that business with the skills I was taught. Now I am able to pay for myself to take short courses in ICT (Information and Computer Technology) at a youth resource center.

What do you imagine for your future now that you’ve finished the program?

Now that I am finished with the program I imagine my future to be very bright. I want to be independent. I don’t want to be dependent on others, but for others to be able to depend on me.

I imagine my future to be very bright. I want to be independent. I don’t want to be dependent on others, but for others to be able to depend on me.

My role model is my paternal uncle. He is the most educated person in my entire family and has the courage to speak up for what he thinks is right. I want to be like him—educated and strong.

Describe a situation where you were able to inspire or help another youth on their personal journey?

I’ve inspired my sister, who is entering twelfth grade this year. When Camfed chose me, I became very serious about my life and passed twelfth grade. After that, I began the Shaping My Future program and have been putting what I learned to use. I started my own business and am able to take short courses. My sister was really inspired by my experience and says she too will work very hard to become independent.

Unstoppable: Roadtrip Nation Collaboration

We’re proud to partner with Roadtrip Nation to unleash the power of youth. Over the past 15 years, they have traveled more than 500,0000 miles, interviewed more than 1,000 interesting people from all walks of life and distributed content to over 7,000 schools all with one goal in mind: to help youth pursue fulfilling careers.

Founded by three guys in a green RV, the team has now grown to 70 people creating content, products and experiences to prove that anyone can pursue what they love. Recently, Roadtrip Nation made its way to a Fossil store in Costa Mesa, CA, and to corporate headquarters in Richardson, TX, where high school students interviewed leaders from different parts of the company to learn more about their careers. Enjoy these snapshots from their experience below!

Iliana Hall

H.R. Sr. Director

Jin-Ya Huang

Packaging Manager

Chano Magana

Retail, Sr. Director

Dora Yarid

Retail, Regional Manager and V.P.