If you want to take part in the conversation around institutional support to facilitate growth of youth-led small enterprises, you'll find schools are an inevitable talking point. On the second day of the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit held in D.C. in September, youth employment through established corporations and businesses was a focus alongside the development of small businesses. Primary and secondary schools are viewed by some microenterprise experts as a means to broaden young people's minds to the opportunities available to them in business. Models of this development approach can be seen across the globe. The concept of self-sufficient youth who develop and practice entrepreneurial skills alongside traditional arithmetic and writing skills, however, has been met with some pushback from parents and communities who don't see much value in mixing small business efforts with serious education curricula. If families are on board though, students are able to join business clubs which allow them to leverage their talents or available resources and integrate financial literacy, business development, and leadership to effectively run a microbusiness on their own.
Photo: Making Cents 2016 Group Session
When aided with qualified mentors and responsive school officials, students have been able to develop and run stores that dispense crafts, agricultural produce, as well as snacks. Successful school based business have the potential to be both educational and profitable, but this dynamic doesn't come without its own set of challenges and complications. Questions around the use of profits, the availability of a committed mentor, including the steps needed to ensure businesses don't fail often emerge in business clubs, and must be negotiated and dealt with carefully.
Photo: Ahmed Alhendawi at Making Cents 2016
The School Enterprise Challenge, a non-profit organization which invites schools to design and develop their own business ventures, deals with these types of questions, and has seen over 2919 schools in 116 countries submit business plans in just a year's span alone. By providing practical materials, enterprise curricula, and training workshops, the organization encourages entrepreneurship with a social as well as an environmental focus. It also creates a global learning community of schools connected by their experience of running small ventures. Those who successfully report their business activities and demonstrate sustainable progress are then considered for monetary awards. The decision making power given to students when it comes to choosing where they would like to see their profits go is key: the School Enterprise Challenge lists charity support, improving standards of education, supporting other students, and reinvesting in their business as options for students to consider.
Part of tackling unemployment in developing nations comes down to equipping school aged children with the practical exposure to the business world, so they are not only picking up useful tools but also seeing the potential in new and innovative business ventures they can call their own. For this reason, students aren't just tied to selling physical goods, but also experimenting with performance art, computer or media skills, and math and accounting skills. It becomes really important that youth come out of school knowing that sometimes, the sky is truly the limit.