Skills to succeed for the next generation of green and social entrepreneurs

Carol Appel
Carol Appel Head of Training Youth Business International

Socially aware and environmentally friendly – Gen Z and millennials are key actors in raising awareness about important global issues, promoting a sustainable lifestyle, adopting environmentally friendly practices, and implementing and leading social and environmental initiatives. This is also reflected in how they engage in entrepreneurship.

Many young entrepreneurs are now invested in creating and growing social and green enterprises: cause-driven businesses that exist to address social and environmental issues. Unlike charities, these businesses aim to make profit, but most is reinvested or donated to create positive social and environmental change.

A solution to youth unemployment

This combination of a more socially conscious generation and the overall growth of social and green businesses creates a powerful solution to one of the most pressing issues young people are facing right now: youth unemployment. The youth NEET rate – young people not in employment, education, or training – now stands at an alarming 30 per cent for women and 13 per cent for men worldwide.

Youth entrepreneurship can solve this issue. But with a lack of knowledge and experience, young entrepreneurs face many challenges when starting and growing a business, especially social and green ones.

Young entrepreneur Esrat Jahan Chowdhury from Bangladesh produces bags from biodegradable, environmentally friendly Jute. Esrat says she felt lost when she started her business – she didn’t know where to source raw materials, how to navigate the legal requirements for starting a business, and how to get financial support.

She experienced what is described in the World Youth Report: Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda, a flagship report prepared by the United Nations’ Division for Inclusive Social Development. It states that “young people’s limited life and professional experience can represent a weakness. Young social entrepreneurs who start ventures without sufficient knowledge, training or practice are at a disadvantage in the marketplace. The potential of the social entrepreneurship model is also weakened by the dependence of youth on others and their limited financial capital”.

The time to act is now

Now is the time for us to act to build the next generation of young social and green entrepreneurs. During Youth Skills Week, we are reflecting on the work we are doing currently to build the skills that young social and green entrepreneurs need in order to succeed in business and scale their impact.

Throughout our 20 years of working with young entrepreneurs, we have learned that they need support in various areas: business skills training, soft skills training, access to finance, access to markets, and mentoring. While running our recent Social and Green Impact Accelerator with three of our members – Sky’s the Limit in the US, Qredits in the Netherlands, and Somo in Kenya – we learned that when it comes to social and green businesses, there is additional support needed in areas such as governance, impact measurement, and funding and finance.

All this combined improves the chances of success for young social and green entrepreneurs, and helps build a fairer, more sustainable, and brighter future for generations to come.

As for Esrat, she managed to overcome her obstacles with support from our member B’YEAH. B’YEAH trained her in all aspects of entrepreneurship, including how to create a business plan, how to access finance, and how to market her products effectively. They also paired her with a mentor who provides professional and emotional support. And she even took her business online last year after receiving digital skills training through our ‘Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era’ programme, funded by IKEA Foundation. Now she runs a successful business giving employment to disadvantaged rural women in Bangladesh and promoting the use of eco-friendly Jute. As Esrat says:

“This is not just a business; this is a social responsibility.”

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