Let us be clear. Half-educated, unemployed youth with no prospect of being integrated into a better future is a prescription for disaster. If young people do not have a stake in the existing social order and political order, if they do not feel that there is a way forward for them, why should they sacrifice today for a better tomorrow? Why should they have an interest in protecting the stability and social safety of that system?
-Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Vice President, World Bank, 1999.
Many influential social and political movements throughout history were begun and led significantly by youth. For example, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum through the bravery of the student sit-ins. Also, an Italian-based Catholic community now located all over the world was begun in Rome by a teenager who felt compelled to follow Christ’s commands from the Sermon on the Mount to live simply and in solidarity with the poor.
During adolescents, youth are typically known to rebel from authority. However, when one is developing into an independent thinker and doer and finds oneself in a largely pre-determined existence (home, family, school…), it is understandable for the need to rebel in order to demonstrate one’s individuality. Therefore, providing opportunities for youth that engage their creativity and allow them to design community programs, clubs, movements, and business ventures that offer positive change for their communities is a vital way to empower them.
Youth entrepreneurship is growing fast. A 1999 Kauffman Foundation survey reports nearly 7 out of 10 teens say they want to be self-employed in the future. Stories about young people who are starting their own businesses are increasingly heard. And, while entrepreneurship is commonly a business term, it can refer to any sort of venture that engages the creative ingenuity of a youth’s mind, relies on resources they uncover, and meets some community need.
Consider these definitions from the online site, Taking it Global:
One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise while working two other jobs, volunteering, advocating for social change, going to school…Youth make excellent entrepreneurs. They are idealistic, energetic and knowledgeable about local and global economies. Many young people believe in the importance of supporting small business operations and decentralizing power from giant corporations. Of course, many young entrepreneurs desire to be financially secure, but creating a long-lasting, reputable and socially responsible company is viewed as more important than being able to retire at 35.
Youth are a huge and often untapped resource for social, political and economic change. We should consider it a priority to find ways to engage their idealism and activism towards good.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Why do you think youth could be good entrepreneurs?
What sorts of entrepreneurial dreams did you have as a youth or do you have now? What did you do or could you do to realize them?
What organizations are you aware of in your community that could collaborate to support youth entrepreneurial ideas?
Youth are tremendous assets to our communities and should not be overlooked in developing entrepreneurial activities and organizing for community change.