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While many of us are simply worrying about the challenges ahead, young people are already developing innovative ways to solve them.  Whether it’s spiraling unemployment, air and water pollution, or lack of financial services, this younger generation uses their entrepreneurial mindsets, creative imaginations, and aptitude for technology to promote new strategies for change.

Making sure that those at the bottom of the economic ladder have the resources they need to improve their lives – and even climb out of poverty — is currently the goal of 26-year-old Taufan Putra.  He quit his comfortable job at IBM to devote his time providing affordable financial services to low-income families living in remote rural areas of Indonesia – most of whom live on less than $2 a day. So far, through his organization Amartha Microfinance, he has provided average loans of US$100 to over 3,000 women across the country to help them support their families. “I strongly believe that consistent, systematic and collaborative efforts of all stakeholders will bring poverty alleviation programs to a new level, where we can uplift people out of poverty through empowerment instead of charity” says Putra. In Guatemala, Ruth Degola follows this same mantra. In 2004, at the age of 21, she and Benita Singh co-founded Mercado Global, an organization that links indigenous artisans in rural Guatemalan communities to sales opportunities abroad. The artists have increased their income three-fold through the production of hand-made high-fashion purses and accessories and are now able to send their children to school and enjoy greater financial stability. Said Degola at a recent Clinton Global Initiative interview: “These women are fighters. They are amazing artisans. All they needed was a market.”

Donnie Seet, age 29, wants young people to consider what it will take to become financially independent — even before they graduate from school.  So he co-founded Youth Enterprise Academy, which provides accessible, alternative entrepreneurship education that aims to teach young people living in Singapore and China how to think about and even start their own small business. His organization has already helped more than 10,000 primary, secondary and tertiary students begin to navigate the often difficult path to financial independence. Benjamin Faivovich, from Santiago, Chile, is working along similar lines. He wants to encourage young people to embrace entrepreneurship as a way of life through emphasizing experimentation and “learning by failing.” This 24-year-old is now collaborating with the national government to integrate these entrepreneurship skills into the educational curricula for all Chilean schools. His organization Emprende Joven also uses technology to support his mission—teachers of the financial literacy and entrepreneurship curriculum use a mobile app to share new ideas, lessons learned, and strategies for curriculum implementation.

Making a profit – while doing good – is not always easy. ButAdam Camenzuli, 25, is doing just that. Through Karibu Solar Power, he’s helping to bring much needed solar-powered light to villagers in Tanzania, eliminating the health hazards of kerosene lanterns and allowing students to study after dark. “By paying in small increments which replicate the required cash flow for kerosene, we make solar affordable” says Adam. Instead of buying kerosene refills at the local shop, customers purchase a light and a battery, leaving the solar panel with the shop owner. Each day, they bring the battery back to the shop to be charged—with this rent-to-own policy, the customer has paid for enough charges after 30 days to be able to take home the solar panel. Through his business model, Adam helps low-income families access clean light sources, while still generating revenue for the sustainability and expansion of Karibu.

All of these young social entrepreneurs are part of a global network of youth leaders who have been selected as YouthActionNet ® Fellows by the International Youth Foundation – where they are celebrated, supported, and connected to each other. Through their work, they have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box, connect to needs in their communities, take risks, and be flexible – all assets increasingly in demand in today’s world. Youth-led enterprises are in fact redefining the NGO model – through the use of virtual offices, combining social good with profit making, and using cutting edge technology to reach and benefit more people. They are far less interested in competing for grants – and more determined to be self sufficient and sustainable from the start.

It’s time to recognize young people’s unique and  growing contributions to efforts that expand jobs, provide access to financial and entrepreneurial opportunities among underserved populations, and support the economic growth of low-income communities. They deserve a greater voice in both the private sector and public policy. Invite young social entrepreneurs to join your board of directors – they will be invaluable assets in helping to boost business growth opportunities. Recruit them to help design government-financed development efforts to rebuild lives and revitalize communities. Ensure they have a far greater voice in shaping public policies that impact people’s economic and social well being. And finally, and most importantly, invest in and scale up innovative youth-led programs that have already demonstrated practical solutions to the toughest challenges of our time.

Author: Christy Macy

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