Abby Falik

Your Guide to a Total Pandemic Pivot with Founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, Abby Falik

What do you do when you run a program that has hundreds of young adults spread across the world for an intentional gap year, and a global pandemic strikes? The only thing you can do: stage an emergency evacuation to bring every kid that’s abroad back home, ASAP. And that’s exactly what Abby Falik, Founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, did back in March. And then she swiftly shifted how this organization—dedicated to re-imagining the transition into adulthood by facilitating a yearlong immersion experience abroad for high school graduates—could still make a significant impact, despite their main program being on pause for the next school year. What emerged was a new virtual program, the Global Citizen Year Academy, a leadership experience that “equips determined young people worldwide with powerful skills for a lifetime of social impact.” And the incredible silver lining to all the chaos that ensued this year is that Abby and her team were able to dramatically scale their reach and impact at a lower cost and more sustainably. This episode is an absolute must-listen for any leader that wants to develop and grow their impact with their teams, their communities, and the world.


1:58 – On advice in business school: “The key piece of advice everyone wanted to leave us with was ‘Relationships are everything. People are everything.’ You cannot move forward in the world without centering the relationships in your life.”

6:08 – “It’s really about creating a throughline, a consistent connection that persists, despite the waves. Everything around us is changing so fast, all the time. And there’s a steadiness that can come from knowing that I connect with myself in the morning [through meditation], I have other rituals in the evening that are just about closing out the day. I write down three things that brought me joy during the day. There have been plenty of days in the last six months where that’s been hard to find. But even if I can’t come up with something, it’s the reminder that, ‘Oh, I’ve got to try harder tomorrow. Open your eyes for what’s worth savoring, because there IS a lot here.’”

7:42 – On Covid’s impact on history: “As a global community, we have walked through a doorway. One chapter of human history has closed. And we’re sitting in this liminal space before we know exactly what comes next. And as an entrepreneur, it’s been highly energizing to sit here and feel like, ‘Okay, what does the world need next, and how do we build it?’ Because we can’t just default to what the market solutions and the least common denominator might build on the other side.”

12:29 – On their Global Citizen Academy: “We experimented with a radical approach to pricing, that’s ‘Pay What You Can.’ To really demonstrate that this was not meant to be an elite or exclusive experience. And 60% of the students who are joining us from 50 countries are receiving full scholarship.”

13:12 – On the purpose of Global Citizen Academy: “The notion is to help them find their people, their purpose, and their power to make an impact. These are kids who didn’t want to sit on the sidelines as the world comes apart at the seams. That they want to figure out how to develop themselves in ways that the world needs now.”

16:24 – “Our alumni get through college on average one year faster than the national average. And to me even more significantly they report feeling more fulfilled with the experience. They have more self awareness, more confidence, more resilience, more ease with ambiguity. And then they end up in jobs where they report 80% of them feel like they are highly engaged and making a difference in some way. And that’s compared to 30% when we benchmark against national stats. And so, you’re turned on. You’re an agent of your learning and of your life in a way that our traditional  educational paradigm is teaching and reinforcing the opposite behaviors.”

20:54 – “We’re honoring the beginning of meetings with more of a commitment to connecting as people….so our Monday meeting is now all virtual, but we do a really intensive check-in before we get going. In fact we start every meeting with a moment or two of mindful reflection to cleanse the palate and be deliberate about that transition. So we ring a bell and everyone’s quiet. And then in our team meetings, we’re breaking into small groups and talking about a prompt that elicits a more human and personal conversation.”

22:08 – On a meeting ritual: “There are other rituals we’ve kept [since before Covid], that have always shaped our meeting and time together. So, in our senior team meetings, we start with a check-in that we call The Stoplight. And everyone goes around and tells whether they are green, yellow or red. Which is an indicator of how present they are and how much attention they feel they are able to put on the meeting and the conversation. So green means ‘I’m all here,’ a yellow means, ‘I’m almost here, but a little distracted and pulled,’ and a red means, ‘I’ve just got fires burning in the back of my mind, and it’s hard for me to be present.’”

25:17 – “I think there’s a power in there for leaders in finding the strength in vulnerability and the confidence and humility both to show up a little bit more whole.”


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