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What We Teach

Why we teach Self Interest in YE

In Youth Entrepreneurs, students learn how to use economic thinking to solve entrepreneurial problems. Students explore this framework for economic problem-solving through what we call the “4 S’s,” which are Scarcity, Self Interest, Subjective Value and Sunk Cost. Here we explore the idea of Self Interest. 

“When I think about self interest, I think about two things,” says Mik Love, Training Specialist at Youth Entrepreneurs. “First, doing well by doing good by others. Second, creating value for others.”

Self interest is that idea that we only get what we want by helping others get what they want. For many students, it can at first sound like selfishness, but it’s quite the opposite. It’s a type of empathy — the more we learn to consider the needs and wants of others, the better we can serve those needs. The better we serve those needs, the closer we get to our own goals. 

“Most of our economic activity is driven by this behavior; it operates as a motivator in our market economy,” Mik explains. 

YE teachers have found that it’s best to teach self interest cohesively with the other 4 Ss, specifically subjective value. Subjective value teaches us that the value of things are always changing, and that is key for students to learn how to create value through the lens of self interest. 

In the YE classroom, there are a lot of activities that can shed light on the principle of self interest for students. One of these activities is Money Bowl. Students are blindfolded and form a circle around a bowl. As the teacher drops YE currency into the bowl, students can grab it or leave it alone. Sometimes students take it for themselves right away, but over time, they often decide that if they let the teacher keep dropping money into the bowl, at the end they can split it evenly and everyone benefits. 

“[Money Bowl] forces the students to ask, ‘How do I think about myself within the context of our community? How can I make others’ lives better?’” Mik says.

“As students use the Codec in our classrooms to debrief activities, they encounter several opportunities to work their ideas and thoughts around self-interest.” Other activities that exemplify self interest include PIT, Towers, and Trading Game. Through these activities and many more in the YE classroom, students learn the difference between greed and self interest. They learn that they can put their customer first while still prioritizing their own goals and striving to make a profit.

When YE students participate in activities like Money Bowl and PIT, they get the experience first, and then the lessons can often be a light bulb moment. Students can struggle with greed or feeling that things are unfair, but teachers gently guide them to understand that all of their decisions and participation is based on voluntary exchange. 

As they draw on their experiences, both within and outside the classroom, they understand that they have freedom to enter and compete in the market, and that freedom comes with responsibility, both YE Foundational Values. 

“Being an entrepreneur is all about creating value for yourself and others, every day,” Mik says. “Whenever you solve a problem for profit, you create long-term value for someone else’s life to be better. The value comes through the good works that you do for others.”

An understanding of self interest in the classroom can lead to benefits outside of the classroom as well. 

“Self interest is a mindset. It’s how I relate to the world in which I live,” Mik says. “ 29% of our students will go on to start businesses. The other 71% still have to have a self interest in their own future. Self interest anchors the goals they want to accomplish, whether that’s going to school, finding new and innovative ways to approach their career, or bringing something else to the table that creates value.

It looks at how you align yourself with your community and how your decisions impact the lives of others. Self interest is woven through everything in life.”

Read more about YE’s economic principles on the blog