What if you could ask Chris Hadfield how it felt to float in space, or talk to MTV host Lauren Toyota about what it takes to interview some of the world’s biggest stars? Ten Thousand Coffees is the first ever youth movement of its kind and it’s starting right here in Canada.
The initiative aims to connect students, recent graduates and young professionals with experts in their field. What may begin as a meaningful conversation online, could quickly transition to a face-to-face encounter. There are 37 expert categories, with leaders like Rick Mercer, Amanda Lang, McDonald’s CEO John Betts, Justin Trudeau and George Stroumboulopoulos, all ready to connect with you, the next generation of up-and-comers.
For Founder Dave Wilkin, the idea for Ten Thousand Coffees began with one. While attending a conference in 2008, Wilkin asked Co-Founder of a Toronto based public relations agency to meet him for coffee, and to his surprise she agreed. It was through this simple act that Wilkin decided to start his own company, and help thousands of young Canadians also connect with global brands and pioneers. “I found that CEO’s were already going for coffee with young people – their friends’ kids or the kids of fellow board members and colleagues,” says Wilkin. “I knew that if I created a platform that could connect CEO’s and industry professionals with young people outside of their personal networks, both parties would jump at the opportunity and great ideas, insights and opportunities would come from it.”
But does the online platform run the risk of being labeled “the lazy man’s communication?” Whereas generations past had to “get out there” to network, the accessibility is now open to anyone simply by logging on to a site and requesting expert advice.
Wilkin prefers to see it as adapting traditional mentorship to a technological-driven generation. “Here is how I think of it,” begins Wilkin, “Ten Thousand Coffees is more like an online dating website that allows people with similar interests to connect, it’s all about creating opportunities that people would have never had access to.”
And much like dating, the desire to connect has to be reciprocated. The novice signs up, creates a profile and can begin viewing expert profiles in any field. If they wish to connect, they must answer a series of questions, from challenges they see facing their industry to why they want to meet with that expert in particular, before the connection is officially established and a conversation can begin.
But are the barriers between mature young professionals seeking mentorship and fans seeking a brush with fame thick enough?
Former host of MuchMusic, Lauren Toyota, who recently joined the site, thinks so. “The people that have reached out have all mentioned that they’ve grown up watching Much or grown up watching me and felt a connection to doing something like this with their lives,” says Toyota, who is now a host for MTV. “I really have related to everything people have said in their submission forms and I just put myself back ten years when I dreamed of doing this and how excited I would have been for the opportunity if I went and had coffee with a former VJ.”
For Toyota, the main message is to inspire the next generation to follow their dreams, as she did. “For some people, maybe having coffee with me is their first step,” she says. “Everything counts, and I really think there is nothing more valuable than talking to people who are where you want to be.”
The ancient art of sharing thoughts over a cup of coffee is being reintroduced to the young minds of today thirsting for connectivity.
“The possibilities with Ten Thousand Coffees are endless,” says Wilkin. “For starters, we want to see government programs that better reflect the needs of youth, executives building businesses that attract and retain the best young minds, jobs being created and new relationships and innovative ideas coming to life.”
Senior Business Correspondent for the CBC, Amanda Lang, is part of the movement and admits that she knows first hand how important the right conversation can be. “For a young person just starting out their career, the right conversation can be pivotal,” says Lang. “I am continuously excited by the talent that we have in this country and for that reason joined Ten Thousand Coffees, and I encourage all Canadians to join the movement whether you are just starting out or have already made it.”