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Social Entrepreneurship – An Alternative Pathway for Youth Leadership Development

Source: 2020 UN World Youth Report

By Nike Akerele-De Souza, Co-Founder, IntegrateYouth UK, Teach for Nigeria

As a founder of various initiatives working in underserved and marginalized communities, I consider myself a social entrepreneur and enjoy analyzing problems and finding solutions, especially those that touch my heart. Having lived in and travelled to many countries, I have seen the power of the collective efforts of young people struggling to address societal challenges in their communities.

You will agree with me that leaders across the globe are facing significant challenges—the climate crisis, food insecurity, economic disparity, social inequalities, and unemployment to name just a few. I have seen what it is like not to find work or be able to access opportunities available to others. I have also seen the excitement amongst young people who wish to live productive and meaningful lives.

Youth are interested in tackling the world’s problems and are increasingly demanding greater inclusion and meaningful engagement in the processes where decisions are being made concerning their future and that of their countries. Many are taking action to address development and societal challenges in their communities and countries, increasingly through social entrepreneurship.

The global youth projections present a remarkable opportunity for development and growth if we can harness the skills, innovation, and drive of young people as leaders who have the solutions to address the increasing global challenges.”

Youth development however remains one of the defining challenges of our times.

The past few years has indeed been quite challenging for young people with pandemic-related school closures, increasing inequalities, social tensions, the rising cost of living, hunger, and war and conflict in some areas. One of the ways to address these challenges is for young people to have the skills they need to engage in society, in the workforce and to be changemakers. It is therefore essential that young people have the leadership skills to lead and solve the problems they see around them.

“Social entrepreneurship offers young people an avenue to express their views and to have an impact on society.”

Youth are no longer prepared to wait for handouts, they want to oversee their own destinies. A significant number want to start their own businesses or initiatives, or take part in projects that are innovative, transformative, and disruptive. There is an urgent need to turn the tide of challenges they see that will affect their future. Hence, many are turning to social entrepreneurship to contribute to addressing societal challenges and to help accelerate the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The world requires leaders that can work inclusively with key stakeholders in their communities and countries and who can adapt to the ever-changing environment and circumstances. These should be individuals who can lead and successfully engage in entrepreneurship with the requisite leadership skills, such as “intrapersonal” (i.e., resilience/grit, self-awareness, empathy, respect, trust, courage, social and cultural awareness), “interpersonal” (i.e., creativity, inspiration, collaboration, negotiation, problem solving, communication), and “systems-oriented” (i.e., risk-taking, innovation, growth mindset) competencies. Entrepreneurial skills, attitudes, and behavioural qualities are often present in young people; however, they need support to continue to build these skills as well as other skill sets much needed in navigating the complexities of today’s world including design and systems thinking, political intelligence, community engagement, and an understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Source: Teach for Nigeria

Initiatives, such as Youth Economic Opportunities 2030 (YEO 2030), emphasize youth leadership. YEO 2030 focuses on sharing best practices for addressing key issues affecting youth economic opportunities globally and is committed to placing young people at the helm, while it assists to advance the achievement of SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Another example is Teach for All, a global network of 61 independent, locally led and funded, partner organizations that support young leaders to "expand educational opportunity around the world by increasing and accelerating the impact of social enterprises that are cultivating the leadership necessary for change." As a network partner, at Teach for Nigeria, over the last five years, we have also been able to support over 850 young leaders through their leadership journey, including those who have established various “Be the Change” social initiatives to meet the needs of their communities.

As social entrepreneurs, youth are more likely to succeed because they are increasingly gaining first-hand knowledge of and experience with the social issues they aim to address. It is, therefore, encouraging to see fellowships and programs by organisations such as the Obama Foundation, Coca-Cola Foundation, Mastercard Foundation Young Africa Works Program, Africa Leadership Initiative, Africa Leadership Academy, Kofi Annan Foundation, Ashoka, Acumen, Weidenfeld-Hoffman Trust, George Leadership Fellowship, Gleitsman Leadership Fellowship, and the David M. Rubenstein Fellowship, who work closely with youth to build their social ventures and leadership skills.

It is time to increase investment in youth leadership globally and work collaboratively to ensure young people succeed. We need more ethical, community-focused, service-oriented, and innovative leaders who are equipped to navigate the challenges they are facing. Social entrepreneurship offers young people the opportunity to take the lead and make the changes for a more inclusive and productive world.


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