Empowering Youth Entrepreneurs for Social Impact

How can youth from impoverished communities find a purposeful path and professional opportunities for their future? This challenge was presented to me by Michael Hess, the Founder of Nepal Orphans Home (NOH), when I asked him if there were other ways that I could contribute after completing my volunteer time with Nepal Orphans Home (NOH) in the Spring of 2015. I did not have an answer that day but promised to think about a solution as I returned to my home and work in Paris, France.

Two weeks later, the devastating earthquakes occurred leaving destruction and tragedy in their wake. Horrified by the news and the imagery, I contacted the NOH family and was reassured that everyone was fine. Michael Hess sent a letter to share an update on the difficult situation and the recovery efforts. There were challenges in getting the supplies dropped at the airport by NGOs to the people in the villages who desperately needed help. Michael had asked the NOH children and youth what they should do to respond to the problem? They quickly provided ideas such as renting jeeps and organizing rescue teams.

As I read the story of the NOH youth providing solutions for community problems, the response to Michael’s challenge entered my mind.

Nepal was challenged by the pressure of re-building communities and developing a stronger economic future. Representing nearly half of Nepal’s population, youth have great interest and talent to contribute to societal challenges, yet most lack training, resources, and the support of a local eco system. This is a challenge that is shared by many developing economies today. Then why not create a solution with an accelerated social entrepreneurship training program for youth in order to solve community challenges for social impact and economic empowerment? 

The idea turned into a three-year project journey which uncovered the importance of developing a local community and eco system. There’s an African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”; one could also say that “it takes a community to develop a social entrepreneur”. An initial project proposal was created in 2016 and then refined with my colleagues, Reinhold Steinbeck and Clynton Taylor, who are social innovation and design thinking experts.  Through additional visits, fundraising, and research conducted with local stakeholders in 2017 and 2018, it was possible to create a local eco system with key stakeholders as well as a test of learning content with youth at Nepal Orphans Home and local business school students.

Thanks to the support of global and local networks, the Empower Social Entrepreneurship pilot program was launched in May 2019 with the enrollment of 30 participants and seven mentors, including ten participants and a mentor from NOH. The pilot project offered a two-week intensive training program in partnership with Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM), the Nepal School of Entrepreneurship (NSE), and Nepal Orphans Home (NOH). It also enjoyed the support of local non-profit organizations dedicated to social entrepreneurship, education, and job skills training, including Chelsea Education and Community Center, Nepal Entrepreneurs Hub, Social Café, Teach for Nepal, and Idea Studio.

The program focused on peer learning and mentoring through interdisciplinary teams with youth from disadvantaged communities, business schools, and young professionals. This allowed them to optimize their collective experience to solve local challenges. The first week focused on “Understanding Problems and Creating Solutions” while the second week focused on “Making It Happen: Turning Ideas into Actions”. Teams were organized by their selected community challenges: Air pollution, waste management, job skills training, and education for women and children. The final day and team pitches delivered impressive solutions to community challenges. Two teams were awarded for the ‘Best Social Impact Idea’ (Community hub for clean water) and the ‘Best Social Action Plan’ (Greeting cards with seeds to promote a green environment). Certificates of Completion were awarded to all participants for mastering social entrepreneurship!

It has been a wonderful learning adventure and I’m thankful for a successful program as shown by positive evaluations and high-performance scores. It has been rewarding to witness the personal growth gained by these youth through their ability to create solutions for social impact. One of the NOH participants would like to start a school in his village, another team is developing a wellness center for young women. And the journey continues…Teams and participants have the option to pursue a six-month start-up incubation period at Nepal School of Entrepreneurship.  

Thanks to this journey, social innovation and community-building became a special part of the service offering from Global Minds Network. The Empower Social Entrepreneurship Program will be developed as a non-profit initiative for expanding training to youth in Nepal and other developing economies. At the final day of the program, participants were asked which word best represents social entrepreneurship? The majority responded “changemakers”, followed by ‘understanding’ and ‘teamwork’. Yes, may youth continue to make a positive change in the world!

–Dr. Karina R. Jensen, Founder and Managing Director

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