UN report finds Unlocking entrepreneurship opportunities for youth could lower unemployment and bring social benefits

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Tearing down barriers that prevent more young people from becoming successful social entrepreneurs will contribute to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and tackling the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report released today by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

The report calls on governments and other decision-makers to remove obstacles to youth social entrepreneurship, such as access to start-up funds that are presently limiting the ability of young people to engage in profitable activities. Many regulatory systems often prevent — sometimes involuntarily — young people from accessing financial products and services needed to start an enterprise. And a lack of access to training, technical support, networks and markets are also discouraging the growth of youth social enterprises.

The 2020 World Youth Report “Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda,” defines social entrepreneurship as businesses that generate profits while seeking to generate social impacts. 

Unemployment among the world’s 1.2 billion young people is far higher than for adults and COVID-19 has worsened their outlook for job prospects. Estimates dating from before the pandemic suggest that 600 million jobs would have to be created in the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs.

The economic impact of COVID-19 is set to make the job market more challenging for youth. The ILO reports that in the first quarter of 2020, about 5.4 per cent of global working hours, that is equivalent to 155 million full-time job, were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019.

Social entrepreneurship can provide a viable path forward for young people to earn a living and help address their communities’ needs while advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. Particularly, the report found that social entrepreneurship can enhance the social inclusion of vulnerable groups. 

“Creating pathways for youth social entrepreneurship can generate positive outcomes for everyone,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  “When supported by enabling policies and programmes, social entrepreneurship can represent a great way for young people to earn a living, and improve the world around them.”

The benefits of social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship, the report states, can contribute to sustainable and inclusive job creation. Estimates suggest that in 2016, social enterprises benefitted 871 million people in nine countries in Europe and Central Asia, providing services and products worth EUR 6 billion and creating employment, particularly among the most marginalized social groups. 

“Wherever supportive and enabling entrepreneurial policies and programmes are in place, youth social entrepreneurship can leverage the energy and creativity of young people as agents of change,” said Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist. “However, supporting youth social entrepreneurship does not release decision-makers from their obligation to address the needs of youth, especially in terms of employment.” 

Young social entrepreneurs have already made a difference. Zaid Souqi, a young man from Jordan created The Orenda Tribe: Art for Hope in 2014. This value-driven enterprise uses art and art therapy to empower Syrian and Jordanian children in vulnerable situations. Ellen Chilemba, now 30, started Tiwale in Malawi when she was 18 and now has trained over 150 women as entrepreneurs, among other community-based initiatives. 

Toufic Al Rjula and partners created Tykn, which aims to provide self-sovereign identity to stateless people and refugees. And Pezana Rexha, a young architect from Albania, created Pana Design: Storytelling Furniture which uses reclaimed wood to create furniture and employs members of society who would normally face difficulties finding employment, such as older persons and persons with disabilities. 

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