Nearly 90% of young people today live in low and middle-income countries. Around 200 million adolescent people are not in education programs and 13% of young people globally are unemployed. This presents numerous challenges and hinders young people from acquiring skills which will be useful for their further development and activation in society. However social innovation presents an opportunity for young people to create their own opportunities by themselves.
The covid-19 pandemic presented a challenge in terms of peer-to-peer interaction, education, community involvement and overall engagement. The need to adapt to difficult circumstances has inspired young people to find new ways to interact, especially through ICT solutions. A study commissioned by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre named ‘ICT-enabled social innovation services for active inclusion of young people”, stresses that ICT driven social innovation for young people is focused on three main areas: education and training, active inclusion aimed at supporting young people’s entry into the labour market and youth inclusion addressing issues around social and civic participation. Many youth initiatives have done the best they could with their resources thanks to ICT solutions. Social innovation became the cornerstone to transforming youth initiatives into smart organisations.
There are numerous examples of how young people have taken the initiative and have created socially innovative solutions in many EU countries as well as globally, before, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. We have the example of Zafer Elçik, a 24 year old from Turkey who recognised that his autistic brother was most attentive when he was using his smartphone, which gave him the inspiration for the idea of an educational Gaming app which would serve children and young people with learning difficulties and special needs in order to help them develop their cognitive skills. Otsimo, the app he developed is now helping more than 30.000 users and is downloadable for free. There are numerous European initiatives which have been pioneers in social innovation among youth, such as Capacitare, Consultoria e Negócios Lda, Citizens in Power, Geopaideia, etc.
In this period of uncertainty, having young people collaborate and innovate along with their peers to find solutions which are socially advantageous is more important than ever. Through peer to peer collaboration they can find solace during troubling times and contribute in their community, therefore regaining a little agency in the development of their social circles as well as beyond their initial sphere of influence.
The labour market is currently governed by large industries, nevertheless it is still noticeable that entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly important. The labour market can be shaped and renewed thanks to the potential that can be brought by young social entrepreneurs and their innovative solutions. Although social entrepreneurship is an innovative concept in and by itself, there are still areas and niches which have not been explored and have not been served. This presents an opportunity for young people not only to focus on an activity which has a positive impact on society and turn it into an enterprise, but to automatically reduce youth unemployment as well.
It is important to remind young people that before starting to develop their project or business idea they need to start by creating a solid plan and form a team of peers that can help them navigate their project. They can seek the help and consultation from civil society organisations in their vicinity, they can pitch their ideas to potential investors and therefore involve more potential partners in what they have envisioned.
There are a plethora of opportunities for young people who want to start something of their own. One of these examples is the Erasmus programme for young entrepreneurs, thanks to which a young person can be mentored and assisted by an experienced entrepreneur in another EU country.
A network which can be of relevant importance to young people who are interested in developing their idea or in finding like-minded individuals to develop their socially innovative idea with, is the JEUNE network – The Young Entrepreneurs Organization of the European Union, which currently represents as many as over 1,660,000 young people from 20 countries who are interested in entrepreneurship. As it is the largest European-wide network of young entrepreneurs it is crucial to foster and create relations between civil society, companies as well as governments with the aim of voicing the needs for development of entrepreneurship among youth, as well as improving the opportunities for youth by creating a relevant and useful network, which is at their disposal should they need it to further their prospects.
To conclude, it is clear that young people nowadays come across many challenges in acquiring employment opportunities, and social innovation through entrepreneurship is still what can be considered a niche through which they can become active members of their communities as well as earn their living or even create employment opportunities for their peers. It is up to decision makers to help foster this and it is up to CSOs to offer guidance and partnership to those young people that wish to become social innovators in their communities.