Our Mission

21st Century Leaders® is a non-profit organization that connects, transforms, and inspires high school students across Georgia to leverage-diversity, explore career opportunities, and become leaders in their schools, communities, and ultimately the workforce.

About Us

In 1989, a group of executives saw two growing trends within their companies, 1) the need to prepare more managers and workers for increased leadership responsibility, and 2) the need for employees ready and able to cross class and racial barriers to work together. They believed the key to meeting these needs was building the next generation of leaders by providing young people with the training, guidance and encouragement necessary to enter college and the workforce with a highly developed set of leadership skills, and thus 21st Century Leaders, formerly The Georgia Business Forum, was established.

Our founding executive director, Robert Watson guided the organization from its inception in 1989 as a business-education partnership organization through its first strategic plan resulting in the organization’s emphasis on leadership and diversity to its current place as a premiere leadership and talent development organization for high school youth. Mr. Watson served the organization for 29 years until his retirement in 2018. “I continue to be inspired by the talent and enthusiasm of our high school students and those moments when they realize that becoming a leader is really all about helping others to do the same.”

21st Century Leaders’ strength and distinction lie in the engagement of business leaders and professionals as volunteers, the retooling of high-level corporate leadership training programs for our program delivery model, and an unyielding commitment to the power of diversity. Throughout our history, 21st Century Leaders has connected thousands of Georgia youth and business and professional volunteers for one purpose – to inspire the next generation of leaders to lead our businesses and our communities.

The purpose of our leadership programs are to:

  • CONNECT students with a diverse group of peers professionals, ideas and organizations
  • TRANSFORM student’s skill-sets, ideas and attitudes
  • INSPIRE students to demonstrate leadership by planning for their future, taking on new leadership positions, seeking out new opportunities, and giving back to their communities

Our Leadership Principles

21CL values these five leadership qualities that each student should embody after attending our programs:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Passionate
  • Leverage Diversity
  • Service-Oriented
  • Forward-Thinking

Our Leadership Compentencies

21CL programs are designed to help students discover, explore, and master the seven (7) foundational leadership competencies research indicates is needed for success in college and entry into the 21st Century work force.

  • Communicating Effectively
  • Problem Solving
  • Action – Oriented
  • Self-Development
  • Building Effective Teams
  • Integrity/Trust
  • Career Ambition
  • 1989 – Incorporated as “The Georgia Business Forum”
  • 1991 – First one-week summer program, The Summer Business Academy, is launched at Oglethorpe University with 31 students from 8 high schools
  • 1996 – Rebranded as 21st Century Leaders
  • 2001 – First Youth Action Centers launched
  • 2006 – First co-branded program launched; Leadership Unplugged: A CNN Experience with Turner Broadcasting System
  • 2008 – Second co-branded program launched; EarthCare: The Leadership Challenge of the 21st Century with Georgia Power.
  • 2008 – First 20 Under 20 Awards; now known as Georgia Youth Leadership Awards
  • 2009 – G5 @ Goizueta (now SYLI@Goizueta) developed by Atlanta’s 40 Under 40
  • 2014 – Launched Leadership Connect (pilot program), a statewide leadership and talent development program
  • 2015 – Second co-branded program launched with Turner Broadcasting System; Turner Voices Youth Media Institute
  • 2016 – Official launch of Leadership Connect, an online statewide leadership and talent development program and learning management system.
  • 2018 – Summer Immersion Program launched, allowing students an opportunity to job shadow corporate professionals over the summer.
  • 2018 – Founding Executive Director Robert “Bob” Watson retired after 29 years of service.
  • 2019 – 21CL celebrates our 30th Anniversary of connecting, transforming, and inspiring youth to lead!
21st Century Leaders is a great opportunity to meet many professionals from a variety of fields. You learn to network and market yourself to get you where you want to be career wise
Katie Garner, South Effingham H.S. Class of 2014
I would definitely recommend this program to other students. I have personally experienced other leadership programs and I would feel like I wasn’t prepared for the leadership roles. This program (21CL) was different. It made me more aware of how things work in the business world and on how to communicate with professionals.
Eric Goins, Toombs County H.S. Class of 2015
This experience allowed me to meet new people and be open to others who are not like me. Because of this, I am able to say I’m a true leader
Brittani Floyd, Sandy Creek H.S. Class of 2015
The level of respect that every participant in the 21CL program is treated with between the coordinators, sponsors, and professionals is practically non-existent in any other organization. Because of my participation in 21CL, I can truly call myself a highly motivated individual.
Angela Jiang, GSMST Class of 2015
I learned that my personality may be different from others, and that my ideas aren’t always the same as theirs but we can work together and be friends despite the differences we share.
Nataliegh Long, Murray County H.S. Class of 2017
Learning to network at 16 years old definitely impacted my future. Instead of just collecting business cards like my college friends did, I was building meaningful relationships. I got a full time, corporate job immediately after graduating from college, and even though I was young, I’m sure it was because of the confidence I gained by working with professionals early on.
Brandi Harrison, Senior Production Manager, CNN
I really enjoyed participating in the summer programs, which provided excellent opportunities to build business and teamwork skills and network with influential members of the Georgia business community as well as with other motivated high school students. I believe that the program provided a great foundation for my career in teaching me the value of networking and instilling in me the importance of being a team-oriented player in the workplace.
Ben Bryant, Assistant General Counsel, InComm
21st Century Leaders gave me the most unique and wonderful experiences that to this day I consider my favorite. 21st Century Leaders has been the catalyst for many of the endeavors I took on my junior and senior years in high school and all four years of college. I have great comfort knowing I have them as a support system, and I know they will continue to be there for me throughout the years
Maria Flores, Reinhardt University, Student Body President, Class of 2015
21CL At a Glance

Contact Us

If you would like to find out more about 21st Century Leaders, simply contact us using the information below.

Office Location: 115 New Street, Suite B Decatur, GA 30030

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1125, Decatur, GA 30031

tel 404.373.7441
fax 404.373.7442

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