Young, Confident and Leading
The following is a guest commentary for CNBC.com.
Since 2008, of all the implications of a weak global economy, perhaps the most frightening has been the very high youth unemployment rate. The International Labour Organization estimates that some 88 million young women and men throughout the world are unemployed, accounting for 47 percent of unemployed persons globally.
Having so many of the world's under-25 generation out of work has long-term political, social and economic consequences — and economic leaders have been stumped as to what to do about it. It is therefore encouraging this week to see so many members of Generation Y taking matters into their own hands and writing the next chapter of global economic history.
The Arab Spring and the youth behind it were in great part a response by young people who felt deprived of a chance to determine their own economic future. As stronger entrepreneurship ecosystems emerge, young graduates unable to secure a job have more opportunities to leverage their economic freedom and create a job — or even hundreds of jobs. As they choose to start their own businesses, they not only change their lives but also contribute to their communities and countries through job creation and economic renewal.
Taking that plunge is never easy, and is especially admirable when the only tool many young entrepreneurs outside the U.S. have are rusty entrepreneurial instincts from childhood business play. They are taking a risk in an often unfavorable economic climate without collateral for financing or previous experience in the fields of their business ideas.
They also do it in societies without a history of cultural capital—where negative perceptions of self-employment and risk-taking are a major roadblock, particularly during difficult economic times. For example, the percentage of Arabs aged 15 to 29 planning to start a business within 12 months dropped from 26 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2011, according to a recent Silatech-Gallup poll report.
In contrast, young Americans' remain enthusiastic about entrepreneurship.
Imagine a world then in which the entrepreneurial flame in boys and girls is kept alive and nurtured and where cultural and financial startup capital is accessible for the young, particularly during times of historically high levels of youth unemployment.
That is the premise behind Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) which kicks off today and is guiding millions of people to consider starting a business sometime in their career. I will spend the week in the Middle East and Europe, which have especially high rates of youth unemployment, taking a look at some of the events targeting tomorrow's more open and networked generation.
For example, in the U.K., at the Entrepreneurs 2012 event, I will join former President Bill Clinton and many other successful leaders in using Global Entrepreneurship Week as a chance to emphasize the importance of startups to the global economy. Serial entrepreneurs such as Peter Sage and Joel Blake will also join the London celebration along with actor Kevin Spacey, Discovery Channel's Bear Grylls, and dozens more entrepreneurs, investors, advisors and inspiring individuals.
Young people attracted to startup networks and communities all over the world share the same passion. This is what is most exciting about GEW. You can see "one world" when you look at startups and young entrepreneurs.
Whether in Bangladesh, Moscow or Silicon Valley, you see a committed, global and bold generation at a time when so many of us are cautious, anxious and even protective of our home turf. Far from looking like a generation to worry about, if you live in one of the 130 nations participating in GEW and go by one of the hundreds of business plan competitions or Startup Weekend events happening throughout this week, you will find great optimism, confidence and commitment by youth to solve economic, social and environmental problems and design their own destiny.
There are many organizations springing up around the world to help them. Beyond GEW, Youth Business International (YBI), led by the Prince of Wales and which hosts GEW in many countries, has done outstanding work providing support to young entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), which is part of YBI, has been well run and data-driven. There is also the Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA) which meets around the G20 meetings, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE), the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) comprised of top American Gen-Y entrepreneurs, Youth Business China, Saudi Arabia´s The Centennial Fund, Enablis in Africa and so many more.
Most of these initiatives have formed successful, cross-sector partnerships to provide training, mentoring, credit and a strong support network to a new generation of fearless risk takers.
In December, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit will gather these and other entrepreneurship thought leaders in the United Arab Emirates. While the focus of the Summit will be on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the lessons will resonate beyond, in both industrialized and developing economies, as we all seek to nurture this generation of entrepreneurs.
There is much to share about how young people who are hard-wired to leverage informal networking habits at birth can be leaders in new firm formation. This is why the World Economic Forum's Global Education Initiative (GEI) which will meet during GEW in Dubai has been collecting lessons from around the world to help countries implement systems that can educate the next wave of entrepreneurs.
In addition, data availability and reliability is improving every year. This week Global Entrepreneurship Week will release its own paper from surveying entrepreneurs in roughly 30 countries offering insights into their views on access to financing, mentorship, skills development, taxes and even exit strategies.
However, while the work of such entrepreneurship support organizations and researchers is important, at the end of the day, the story of youth entrepreneurship is being written by young people themselves. With employment increasingly less stable and economies less predictable, the skills entrepreneurs develop while operating in risky climates and trying to form teams and businesses will become especially important.
The world needs more entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses, creating jobs, changing lives and birthing new ideas. During GEW, we are reminded that in the end we should either join them, mentor them or simply focus our energies on removing the roadblocks in their way to increase their chances of success. With 130 nations participating today and throughout the week, perhaps the prospects for the young unemployed just got brighter.