By Melody Mukami
The raging COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of innovation and community in overcoming problems that face society. Moreover, the challenges of unemployment, inequality, poverty and global warming oblige us to rethink how we do business. This brings me to the rise of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship can simply be defined as selling products and services to solve social problems. It is using businesses to make an impact in the world and make our world a better place.
All around the world, more young people are using the resources around them to establish social enterprises. But not so much in emerging economies such as Kenya. The youth struggle to find entrepreneurship opportunities and innovate due to a lack of funds and an education system that kills creativity in children and the youth. Despite these challenges, young people continue to be innovative, entrepreneurial, and hardworking. They are full of passion and vigour, which breeds new ideas on a daily. This can be seen by the number of small businesses being established daily in Kenya. From jewellery shops to thrift stores, the youth have not run out of ideas to make money to support themselves and lessen the burden on their parents. The innovative and creative nature of the youth can be harnessed for social good.
One way we can do that is by encouraging the involvement of young people in social enterprises. Not only would this solve a myriad of problems such as accessibility to healthcare and education, but it would also see the unemployment margins reduce significantly. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
If I were chosen to lead Kenya, my main focus would be empowering young people to become social entrepreneurs. There are several ways by which I would do this, one of them being fostering an education system that teaches children and the youth their potential for impact. I would, through schools, show them how they can be agents of social good irrespective of their backgrounds.
I would encourage and ensure the incorporation of entrepreneurship activities in companies. Most millennials want to change the world for the better but cannot as the dire economic situation forces them to neglect their dreams and focus on finding professions that cater to their needs. They no longer care about being productive members of society but only about meeting their needs. Providing them with platforms within their workplaces that encourage them to change the world while meeting their needs will see more young people bring their innovative ideas and impact the world through social entrepreneurship.
Another great way I would help young people become social entrepreneurs is by improving their access to finances. Inaccessibility to financial support has proven to be one of the biggest hindrances to entrepreneurship and social innovation. I would establish funds and grants to be awarded to the most promising young social entrepreneurs every year.
But providing finances does nothing on its own. Along with availing of financial support, I would create innovation challenges for students, especially in tertiary institutions. The most successful and promising ideas would proceed to free incubation and mentorship programs with international partner organizations such as the Hult Prize Foundation. In China, every semester, students are encouraged to participate in innovative activities within their schools. This helps them harness their creativity within their various fields and breeds new social enterprises that continue to be developed to serve communities. Kenyan students who leave to study in the United States of America, Canada, and China, excel in these activities. Imagine how much better our country would be if we could provide them with such platforms here at home.
I would also support learning that builds leadership. Social enterprises need solid and visionary leaders to manage them; otherwise, they will fail. Imparting the required leadership skills in young people is crucial for social entrepreneurship in any country.
I would advocate for regional and local hubs to foster community connection for those creating change in their societies through the county and national governments. These hubs would serve as a way for social entrepreneurs to connect, share, and improve their ideas.
I would also provide avenues for students to tell their stories to a broader audience to reach local and international investors and mentors. I would create economic and political environments that attract investors and establish partnerships with local and international organizations. These organizations would mentor young people to change the world, regardless of their backgrounds, and provide them with financial support for their enterprises.
Social media is a potent tool for millennials and Gen Z. It has become a resource for communication and networking. I would use the Ministry of Youth Affairs systems to encourage social media sharing to crate hyperlinked calls to action and encourage them to use blogs, websites, and YouTube to research, learn and share skills that foster innovation. I would also ensure digital inclusion for the youth. Digital skills and connectivity have proven to be vital for entrepreneurial success.
Moreover, I would connect students to powerful models for change, such as The McKinsey 7S Model. These models would teach students goal-setting, persistence, and actions to make social change and dreams happen.
By encouraging and supporting the establishment of social enterprises by young people, we would lower unemployment rates and solve numerous social issues such as poverty, disease, and negative civic engagement.
Melody Mukami is a 21-year old engineering student at Beijing Jiaotong University. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship. In 2020, she served as the Hult Prize Campus Director for her school. Hult Prize is an organization that encourages students all over the world to use businesses to solve social problems.