Will COVID-19 inspire young women to become social entrepreneurs?

MICHAEL TAYLOR

THEY have been called a lost generation – fledgling careers, studies and social lives upturned by the chaos wrought by COVID-19.

But as the pandemic exposes long-standing social problems, and creates new ones, some young people have seized the opportunity to apply business-minded solutions.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked three young, female social entrepreneurs to reflect on their experiences over the last year and what advice they can give to other youths hoping to set up socially conscious businesses.

We spoke to Harsha Ravindran, 18, co-founder of Ascendance, a Malaysia-based social enterprise and youth movement that connects and empowers students to help them to share ideas and learn about how to tackle major societal challenges like climate change, education, health and poverty. Ravindran is also the founder of social enterprise Startmyname.com, which helps create simple and quick websites.

Gabby Tan, 19, is a Malaysian student at Stanford University and an environmentalist and educator. Most recently, she has been working on Tideturners – a youth-led environmental education project dedicated to increasing awareness of key environmental issues and facilitating greater youth engagement in advocacy and solutions.

Tracy Rabi, 11, is an author and founder of Kids Finance With Tracy in Tanzania, which gives financial and entrepreneurship education to African children aged 8-17 through finance books written by Rabi, flashcards, summer holiday camps and free online content.

What makes young people well-equipped to tackle pressing issues through social entrepreneurship?

Ravindran: “Many teenagers and Gen Z’s are already making waves today by doing what they can to champion the causes they support, and they are willing to put in the hard work to achieve their goals. Today’s technology and freedom enable us teenagers to go about there and learn first hand about the issues surrounding us, hence giving us a little bit of experience that equips us with the skill set we need to tackle these pressing issues.”

Tan: “Over the past seven years, I’ve had the chance to work with and learn from like-minded teenagers who are taking on big issues across all corners of the world. The power of young people is in our energy, big ideas, determination, and a common desire for a better, more sustainable, and just world. When we come together, we can do so much.”

Rabi: “Youths like me are best equipped to tackle the pressing issues that teenagers especially face as we live the life and see the challenges that face us. We are also best positioned to create solutions for our problems in a language and manner that is both interesting and relevant to our peers. Social entrepreneurship for us helps us learn and practice entrepreneurship skills, make money and do good to our societies all at once.”Tracy Rabi, 11, gives a TED talk in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 10, 2020. Credit TEDX Oysterbay

Do you see this as a viable career, especially if pandemics become the norm?

Ravindran: “Social enterprises provide a platform for anyone to have a sustainable and successful career in creating social change. This pandemic has definitely shown us that both normal and social businesses play an important role in keeping the world turning.”

Tan: “Social entrepreneurship is definitely the future because our generation is increasingly conscious of the impact we’re having on people our planet and we care more than ever about the ways we learn, consume, and produce.

“The pandemic has affected marginalized and vulnerable communities the worst, exacerbating inequalities and emphasising the fact that if we maintain the status quo, we will be ill-equipped for future crises. As we come out the other side of this pandemic, I hope we take the opportunity to reimagine our world and recover better.”

Rabi: “Definitely, we deliver our teachings via digital platforms like social media, YouTube and soon, mobile apps. With no or minimum physical interaction, this makes our product usable even if pandemics become the norm. We plan to keep this venture going as I grow into an adult. The business model works and the business allows for changes and adoptions as technology keeps evolving.”

What’s your one piece of advice for female youths aspiring to become social entrepreneurs?

Ravindran: “Find an issue that speaks to your heart and is personally meaningful to you and set a clear goal that you want to achieve. From there, find an environment of people who can help support you in what you do. Don’t follow the norm, instead focus on constantly looking for creative solutions to the problems that stand in your way towards your goal.”

Tan: “Once you find your ‘why’ and the issue that makes you tick, the first thing you should do is find like-minded, passionate people to work with because we are always better together. In order to solve issues we must be relentless, which is so much easier when we have a team to come along with us.”

Rabi: “It is the most rewarding thing to do. Learning is fun, interacting with different people is fun and the new things you learn cannot be measured. I advise aspiring teenpreneurs to take the leap of faith and try social entrepreneurship as a hobby then ask an adult to help you make a business out of it.”   Harsha Ravindran, 18, gives a TED talk in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on July 7, 2018. Credit: Harsha Ravindran

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