The theme of this year’s Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards Gala, held online on March 4, 2021, was “Celebrating Teachers: NFTE’s Frontline Workers.” Sponsored by the nation’s leading nonprofit dedicated to advancing the entrepreneurial mindset in young people, the event celebrated the perseverance of NFTE teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. A video montage shared messages of hope and appreciation from NFTE instructors, current NFTE students and alumni.

NFTE also recognized Citi and the Citi Foundation and American Student Assistance (ASA) with the Entrepreneurial Leadership Award for their dedication to the advancement of youth entrepreneurship education.

“In the past year, the nation has seen just how essential our teachers are,” said Dr. J.D. LaRock, President and CEO of NFTE. “During the pandemic, teachers have had to confront all of the problems of society at once. They’ve had to teach the same content in half the time and do it while grappling with the very real issues of the digital divide. They’ve had to work with students who need more support than ever, and at times they’ve even had to work in situations where their own health could be compromised. We cannot underestimate the extent of their dedication in a time like this.”

Over the last several years, hundreds of Citi team members have committed over 3,000 hours as coaches and mentors to budding NFTE entrepreneurs. With its Pathways to Progress initiative, the Citi Foundation has committed time and resources to address the global problem of youth unemployment and has become a leader in promoting youth entrepreneurship, job access, mentorship, financial education, and career guidance.

“With so much happening in the world today, the Citi Foundation is accepting this not as an acknowledgment of the work we have done, but as a reminder of the work ahead of us, with all its challenges – and, yes, the opportunities,” said Brandee McHale, Head of Community Investing and Development at Citi and President of the Citi Foundation. “We are ready to take on this work alongside all of you: the youth, teachers and volunteers that bring NFTE’s vision to life.”

Likewise, American Student Assistance (ASA) has focused on helping students access educational opportunities for more than 60 years. Through philanthropy, advocacy, research, and collaborations with partners like NFTE, ASA continues to help middle and high school students know themselves, know their options and make informed choices about their education and career goals.

“Students are naturally curious and innovative in their own ways, and entrepreneurial programs teach students how to harness that creativity to launch a new business or endeavor,” said ASA President and CEO Jean Eddy. “Through these programs, educators are helping students learn about the range of jobs and occupations available and build their occupational identity and entrepreneurial mindset that will serve these students well into the future. We are proud to support these hardworking and dedicated NFTE educators and their students.”

In addition to the honorees, the Gala celebrated the leadership of former and current board members with the Lowell B. Mason Award for Exemplary Board Leadership, named for NFTE founder Steve Mariotti’s grandfather. The recipients were National Board chair Michael J. Kacsmar, of EY, Board member Gus Harris, recently of Moody’s Analytics, and former longtime Board member Diana Davis Spencer, executive chairman of her eponymous foundation.

The event was emceed by NFTE alumnus Aaron Trinidad, winner of the 2019 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Aaron attends DePauw University and is currently working with the Chicago-based startup Jiobit.


About NFTE
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is a global nonprofit organization that provides high-quality entrepreneurship education to middle and high school students from under-resourced communities, as well as programs for college students and adults. NFTE reaches 70,000+ students annually in 25 states across the U.S. and offers programs in 12 additional countries. We have educated more than a million students through in-school, out-of-school, college, and summer camp programs, offered in person and online. To learn more about how we are promoting inclusive capitalism and building the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs, visit