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As UN completes 75 yrs, why we need to now focus on young social entrepreneurs

UN and ESCAP have supported the social entrepreneurship movement in Asia and the Pacific in response to pressing issues, including Covid-19.

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations — a milestone of extraordinary economic and social progress in Asia and the Pacific. While the organisation enjoys a lifespan almost equal to the world’s improved average life expectancy, the future lies with those who have recently embarked on theirs: our young people.

As they continue breaking ground with entrepreneurial spirit to address defining issues of our time, such as climate change, technology and inequality, our investments in today’s youth will win the battle for sustainability.

Young entrepreneurs have been a source of innovation and economic dynamism, creating jobs and providing livelihoods to millions. To achieve and accelerate action on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we urgently need their expertise and voices on creating solutions to social and environmental challenges, as well as economic opportunities.

Yet, they have needed no prompting: the social entrepreneurship movement has emerged in Asia and the Pacific in response to pressing issues, including Covid-19. Spearheaded by the region’s young people with a strong sense of social justice, social entrepreneurs are providing innovative, market-based solutions that break the mould of traditional models focused on economic growth. But we must do more to truly realise the transformative potential of young social entrepreneurs.

Also read: India’s women entrepreneurs look to survive the pandemic by remodeling their business

Ways to help young leaders

First, we need to ensure that the next generation of business leaders think about social purpose as well as profit. To achieve this, education will be critical. Governments play a key role, like the Government of Pakistan’s Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, whose mission is to support students and young entrepreneurs in identifying innovative business solutions to urgent problems related to the SDGs.

Second, we need to scale up innovative financing solutions. It is encouraging to see governments embracing impact investing as a policy tool to provide much-needed finance to young social entrepreneurs. As an example, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) supported the Government of Malaysia to launch the Social Impact Exchange. The Exchange mirrors a traditional stock exchange model, and links social purpose organisations to impact investors.

ESCAP and its partner, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), are also supporting organisations like iFarmer in Bangladesh. The joint effort has supported iFarmer in creating a digital app to establish a profit-sharing model between urban investors and rural women who are farm entrepreneurs, which involves the purchase and management of livestock. After successful livestock management (raising and selling cattle), the investor and woman entrepreneurs share the profits, while iFarmer receives support through a management fee.

Third, because we are living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digitally savvy young social entrepreneurs hold much promise. While Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies pose challenges to the economy – most notably relating to jobs and the future of work – they also have the potential to spur mass entrepreneurship and new ways of doing business. ESCAP is currently supporting FinTech start-ups like Nepal’s Aeloi Technologies to develop digital finance and green solutions for women entrepreneurs. Aeloi’s goal is to make impact funding for women microentrepreneurs accountable and accessible using digital tokens, providing an assured digital link between funders and carbon offset providers. They work specifically with the electric minibus sector in Kathmandu, Nepal. Their system helps ensure that each dollar of investment is used towards building renewable energy powered transportation by providing real-time climate and social impact tracking.

Also read: How one-dollar scratch cards are helping farmers plan their future harvest

New decade, new goals

The United Nation’s 75th anniversary comes at the critical juncture of a new decade to accelerate the SDGs and recover from an unprecedented crisis. The need for innovative solutions and stronger cooperation across all stakeholders, particularly the youth, is clear.

In this context, the UN family’s anniversary event in Asia and the Pacific will bring together young social innovators and entrepreneurs from across the region whose ideas, platforms and businesses have made an impact. These innovators will discuss how technology and innovative solutions of today can be scaled up to build more inclusive, resilience and green economies and societies.

We stand ready to support these young people and their innovative solutions for tackling inequality and promoting inclusion, economic empowerment of women and girls and moving towards decarbonisation and tackling air pollution. In many ways, it is they who are carrying the mantle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The author is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Views are personal. 

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