Youth entrepreneurship programs have been around for a while. Organizations like Young Millionaires club & Junior Achievement encouraged youth to be involved with entrepreneurship. Futurpreneur (formerly CYBF) provided support and financing to young entrpreneurs and governments funded all these organizations to promote entrepreneurship.
But lately there seems to be a big push to get youth starting businesses. There are a proliferation of organizations, all competing rather than collaborating, to support youth in their desire to start a business. However there’s just one problem – youth don’t want to start a business. And the answer as to why may be the simple hierarchy of needs.
How can I work when I’m hungry and alone?
Strictly speaking of Prince Edward Island, we have a small youth demographic. We have low educational scores and we have food scarcity. We have mental health challenges and we have an exodus of young talent.
In 2013 the youth population (ages 15-24) was only 19,131. That’s only 13% of the population. Factoring the little ones coming in behind them as well, they still only make up 29% of the population. How many of our youth are we anticipating will start a business? Did these organizations even do their own market research? How many will stay on PEI after graduation? Will they leave for greener pastures and bigger cities? Will they attend college or university? Will they succumb to addictions, mental health or other socio-economic factors that will impede their abilities?
Now let’s consider the fact that one in 4 children go hungry on PEI. Poverty is very real in Island homes. That’s why breakfast programs are popping up in schools. Children go to school hungry. They come home hungry. They are tired and can’t focus. We don’t have to review nutrition’s impact on the brain to know that kids can’t concentrate let alone run a business on an empty stomach.
Mental health. It’s huge. Not just on PEI, but in most Western worlds, children are facing unprecendented levels of mental anguish. About their families, their environment, their future. Everything around them seems bleek. They don’t know who they are and who they are supposed to be. While most youth are brand savvy, they are still influenced by external forces that do not have their best interests. That’s why we are starting to see anti-bullying campaigns, self-esteem campaigns and mental health strategies targeting children. Some provinces are even developing coping and resiliency workshops to help children “deal with it”.
And then there’s education. It’s challenging being an educator.That is the most understated statement I can make. Government seems more obsessed with raising test scores than actually teaching children. Home and School associations seem to be the leaders in bridging stability and improvements in the system however the most in-need families don’t have representation at the table.
All this to say – there is a fundamental structure that needs to be rebuilt before youth can get to entrepreneurship.
What have you done for me lately?
I toured the organizational circuit for 2 years and finally in 2015 several organizations that support youth entrepreneurship got together. They recognized the need to collaborate (for their survival as much as for the sake of the youth). What went on during that meeting, I’m not sure, however I remain hopeful that they took a deep look at themselves and their organizational goals while also discussing ways to work together.
Resources are scarce these days. Funding is limited. Organizations are cash-strapped. It makes sense for them to get together. It makes sense to use technology to improve their operations and collaboration. It also makes sense for these organizations to consider the possibility that perhaps there is a fundamental issue that isn’t being addressed. Why would youth want to start a business when they can’t even afford their next meal? Can’t afford their rent? Don’t have family support to launch?
What would Danny do?
Of all the CEO’s and Founders I talked to, every single one mentioned either family support or mentorship. Danny Murphy specifically talked about his parents being the single most important factor in getting off the ground (along with his perseverance to not give up!!)
The family landscape has drastically changed on PEI. Children no longer have the support systems at home or in their neighbourhoods that would provide a safe and secure environment to pursue their dreams. Digital distractions and socio-economic challenges ensure youth don’t get beyond their day-today. Mentoring, training, guidance and support are all but absent. It’s not enough to say – Hey Georgina, but we have lots of programming and services, this organization exists, etc, etc… you would be missing the point altogether.
Youth need familiar if not familial support and guidance. You can’t just throw resources and say, well it’s here if they just came out. It doesn’t work that way. In my experience, I’ve had to go to the youth, not the other way around. I’ve had to provide them with basic necessities first, a safe and comfortable environment, mentoring and guidance and most important – encouragement that they can dream. That possibilities and opportunities still exist on PEI. That they are the ones who can make the difference. That it’s okay to fail. That they will have to continue to learn. That they need to vocalize their needs and wants. That they are the sole bearer of their future. That they need to ask for help. That someone cares about them.
Critical thinking and hopefulness
I suppose this essay is just a way for me to express a little bit of criticism at the current structures, display my muted optimism for the potential of our youth and to serve as a Call-To-Action for all of us that want youth to remain on PEI and in good health with lots of motivation and determination.
In order for PEI Youth, especially the priority youth, to even consider entrepreneurship, we need to create a pathway that leads them to community support and mentoring. Perhaps a platform or an actionable youth strategy.
Once we build the foundation of community support for youth wellness – only then will our youth start to shine.
BID Inc. Do Good Work.
I originally wrote this on LinkedIn
References (Images & Stats)