Thinking Beyond Borders is a relatively new organization that is designing a brilliant program for gap year students between high school and college. A group of 16 students and a few staff members will travel the world for a full academic year, spending a month each in a number of different countries and working on projects with a variety of local NGOs. E.g. in rural Bolivia they'll live with native host families and spend the majority of their time working on clean water projects with one particular organization, while also traveling around visiting and learning about similar organizations in the area. Then on to South Africa for a similar stint working on public health and the AIDS epidemic, and so on to India, China, and Vietnam. The programs are being designed and chosen to provide as diverse an experience in the developing world as possible. Then for six weeks after coming back to the U.S., the students go around making presentations to educational and philanthropic organizations, meeting with representatives from the UN and World Bank, etc. The idea behind having this specifically be a gap year program is that students can then start college right from the beginning with a hugely expanded global perspective, which many people only get after going abroad in junior or senior year, if at all.
What I love about all this is that it works on two levels, both educating future leaders and world-changers while also providing direct service and support to organizations working on the ground in the here and now.
Right now Thinking Beyond Borders is still working on fund-raising and program development, getting ready for their first actual program year starting in September 2008. Their goal is to have all the initial fund-raising get the organization to the point where it can be completely self-sustaining on tuition fees alone. The tuition will be comparable to a year at college (they're calling this "the best first year of college you can get") but there will be lots of scholarship opportunities, both built into the program and from ongoing donations. I'm going to be making one of my monthly donations to them, and if you find it interesting too, there's more information on their website and in this video of a talk one of the founders gave at Google a few weeks ago.