Social Enterprise and Youth: Making Differences Through Business

Ever shopped in a Salvation Army or Oxfam store? Read a copy of The Big Issue? Those, and many others, are examples of social enterprises – businesses run for social purposes.

Businesses need no longer make profits as their only focus, and helping the world does not need to be a non-profitable venture. It’s getting more common nowadays to combine capitalistic success with social responsibility, by forming businesses and companies that profit financially and help society in some way – from providing goods and services that benefit society (or benefit the organization’s social efforts), to providing skills and opportunities for disadvantaged people through employment. While the concept itself isn’t new (“social entrepreneur” was a 19th century term given to employers with genuine concern for their employees’ welfare), it is steadily gaining more prominence as corporations think about Corporate Social Responsibility and people realize that saving the world does not necessarily mean eschewing capitalism.

One big boost has been the recent Nobel Peace Prize win of Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank – the company that introduced microfinance, or very small loans to help people in developing communities form businesses to support themselves and others. You too can get involved in international microfinance – check out Kiva to read about and loan money to various small ventures around the world, from a grocery shop in Ecuador to a textile maker in India, just for a minimum loan of US$25 (RM86.50).

Young people have been especially vital in social enterprise – not just as consumers, but also as founders, supporters, and maintainers. Websites such as Youth Venture and YouthActionNet have sprung up to provide resources, tips, networks, and even funding for youth social enterprises. The folks behind YouthActionNet, the International Youth Foundation, have also published Our Time Is Now, which profiles several young people making major differences in the world through social enterprises and social projects.

A lot of available resources are concentrated in the Western world, but Asian youths do have some strong support. One such resource is the Youth Social Enterprise Initiative (YSEI), a South-East Asian organization that provides resources, funding, and networking for Asian young social entrepreneurs. Their website is chock-full of information – videos with leading social entrepreneurs, the FutureShifters blog and network, and guidebooks on starting and managing social enterprises. They also offer a fellowship that provides up to US$15,000 (RM51,891) in start-up funding, as well as mentorships, workshops, and networking.

If you already have a social enterprise project in its pilot stage, apply now to be part of the Global Young Social Entrepreneurs’ Competition 2007, part of the 3rd Global Knowledge Conference (GK3). If your project is picked, you will be able to pitch it for potential funding at the Forum, as well as take part in networking and development workshops.

The conference will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on the 11th – 13th December 2007. 100 selected participants of the competition will be sponsored (with 10 pitching), but you can also be part of the forum by registering for GK3. Registration is US$350 (RM1210.80) and will be open on 1 July 2007. Applications for the Entrepreneurs competition close 15 August 2007.

Got a business idea that will change the world? Make use of these resources and get your project started!

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2 Responses

  1. Very thought-provoking! I’d like to invite you to republish this entry as a posting on the SRI Open Forum. My firm, Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc., hosts the online community bulletin board called The SRI Open Forum (just Google the name to find it) which was built as the central location for the free exchange of ideas and experiences around everything related to socially responsible investing, corporate governance, environmental issues, social enterprise, etc. I invite you to visit the site, and feel free to republish this article as a posting. Hope to see you there!

  2. Tiara,

    I’m currently designing a course of study to teach U.S. public and private high school students about creating social enterprise.

    Thank you for providing me with a wealth of resources about Social Enterprise and Youth!

    So much of the good work, at least in the U.S., appears to still be a secret. I hope to raise awareness among adults and particularly, parents of students, in empowering our youth in Nashville with the skills to change our community .

    You have provided me with both information and inspiration!

    If you know of anyone teaching similar school courses, please let me know.

    Thank you!

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