You Want Fries With That Social Change? the value of global youth entrepreneurship
Around the world, young people are at the forefront of innovation: engaging in critical issues, creating and getting involved in campaigns, and contributing positively to the success of their families and communities. Youth are also major contributors to labour markets and economies: there are an estimated 158 million children aged 5-14 engaged in child labour worldwide, many working in unsanitary, unsafe, and inhumane conditions. Conversely, many children and youth also work to support and augment family incomes through informal employment, supplementary income, or by helping with daily chores and labour.
What constitutes “work” and “employment” differs all over the world – for many in the West, formal employment may not begin until early or late adolescence, with a steady job beginning in late adolescence or one’s early 20s (or in my case, in some foggy, distant Narnia). Elsewhere, where employment comes with a more fluid definition – particularly in subsistence professions such as agriculture – children and youth begin to contribute to their local economies at a much earlier age.
Whether it’s through education, community involvement, or informal employment, youth contributions to innovation are important. A healthy economy with thriving enterprises that encourage and support youth-run businesses give youth a stake in society and a stable hope for the future. By running their own business and becoming engaged in the local and national economies, youth can discover and exercise their passion.
By contrast, in stagnating economies that provide little to no opportunities for upward mobility and growth, it is easy for people young and old to feel disenfranchised (worth noting: the youth unemployment rate of Tunisia is 31.2%, the highest in the Arab world, followed by Egypt at 19%).
“There is no doubt that what young people strive for is the chance of a decent and productive job from which to build a better future. Take away that hope and you are left with a disillusioned youth trapped in a cycle of working poverty or in danger of detaching from the labour market altogether – thus representing a vast waste of economic potential.” (source)
Here are a few examples of young people working to utilize this potential:
Patel (25) from Mwinilunga in rural Zambia is working with Rent-to-Own (RTO), a business development service that teaches business skills to small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs and gives them opportunities to access new equipment through small mortgages. “Completely self-taught” and “amazing with technology and equipment” according to his colleagues, Patel is now RTO’s head mechanic.
A recent Forbes article by Chelina Odbert profiles 3 teenagers from the Kibera slum in Kenya who are described as former criminals turned “serial entrepreneurs.” These 3 boys (“Be Good,” “Boyz,” and Sam) started the Moja Youth Reform, now a group of 20 youth who run a charcoal business, kale garden, and provide trash collection services (as well as protection services for visitors to Kibera). They host “several community cleanups a month, and charge a toll to any outsider that tries to bring materials [to dump] into Kibera.” It’s not often there are many financial opportunities in slums, particularly for youth, but these individuals have found a way to start their own businesses and to contribute to the development of their community.
And youth entrepreneurship extends to social enterprises as well – Susheela Ramachandran (23) and Leah Stuard-Sheppard (20) are the founders of Elephant Tale, an initiative to ameliorate the Canadian civics curriculum to include more interactivity and action items as well as aspects of world issues, critical thinking, and global citizenship. Young people like Patel, Be Good, Boyz, Sam, Susheela, and Leah are all working in their own ways to support themselves and their communities, and deserve all the support we can give them.
Let us know about any other youth superstar entrepreneurs you know!