Helping youth enterprise take off, will bring sustainable returns, say UN economists

2 July 2020

Young entrepreneurs who want their work to have a positive impact on their communities, urgently need more help from governments if they’re to succeed and resist the COVID-19-fuelled economic downturn, UN economists said on Thursday.

Amid worsening global employment prospects owing to the pandemic, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) maintained in a new report that unlocking business opportunities for young adults “could lower unemployment and bring social benefits”.

It said that socially-minded enterprises benefited 871 million people in just nine countries in Europe and Central Asia in 2016, providing services and products worth around $6.7 billion and creating employment, particularly among marginalized groups.

Sky’s the limit for start-ups

Young entrepreneurs who have already made a difference include Zaid Souqi, from Jordan, who created The Orenda Tribe: Art for Hope, in 2014.

His art and art therapy initiative empowers Syrian and Jordanian children in vulnerable situations.

In Malawi, business trainer Ellen Chilemba started Tiwale when she was 18; now 30, she now has trained more than 150 women as entrepreneurs.

And Pezana Rexha, a young architect from Albania, set up Pana Design: Storytelling Furniture, making furniture from reclaimed wood with people who normally face difficulties finding employment, such as older workers and those with disabilities.

Chief among DESA’s recommendations is the removal of obstacles to start-up funds for youngsters.

This is a common failing in “many” countries, where regulatory systems often prevent them from accessing the financial products and services they need to start a business.

In addition, lack of access to training, technical support, networks and markets, all combine to discourage the growth of such social enterprises, said DESA, which defines social entrepreneurship as “businesses that generate profits while seeking to generate social impacts”.

Joblessness hits youngsters hardest

According to the agency’s 2020 World Youth Report, unemployment among the world’s 1.2 billion young people (aged 15-24) is far higher than for adults.

The COVID-19 crisis has worsened their job prospects, the DESA report continues, although before the new coronavirus emerged in China late last December, before turning into a pandemic, labour experts estimated that 600 million jobs would be needed in the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs, the report noted.

Highlighting the multiple benefits that could come if Governments did more for their aspiring youngsters, the UN agency explained that new measures could also contribute to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 objectives to tackle everything from poverty to inequality.

“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.”


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