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A lot has been written about the “digital generation” – the cohort that grew up marinated in high tech, and whose worldview reflects their constant exposure to information, communication and collaboration, media and multitasking.
But the greatest impact this generation is having on the world is when they have a blank canvas to start their own businesses – and nowhere is this felt more profoundly than in those parts of the world where young people are most numerous: emerging economies.
Over the past two years, I’ve been studying the most innovative young entrepreneurs on five continents and observing how the values of the digital generation are reflected in the commercial businesses and social enterprises they create.
Despite vast differences in background, market conditions and culture, these “Young World” enterprises exhibit six distinctive features that make them uniquely well-adapted to the conditions of the globally-connected, resource-constrained economy of the 21st century.
Young World entrepreneurial organisations do and demonstrate the following:
- Blend social and commercial missions and excel in finding market-based solutions to social challenges in their environments.
- Align public, private and NGO stakeholders, forming new kinds of partnerships to address issues that overlap old boundaries.
- Leverage communities and collaboration to compensate for deficiencies in scale and initial capacity.
- Demonstrate lean and sustainable business models scaled to profit even in low-income markets.
- Capitalise on the globalisation of the knowledge workforce and find effective ways to manage virtual and distributed teams.
- Reinvest to fill gaps and increase the capacity of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, uplifting their local economies and making it easier for future entrepreneurs to emerge and prosper.
Not every new organisation shares all of these traits, but the most promising and innovative knowledge economy enterprises across the Young World are strong in at least four of these dimensions.
This can be seen in ventures ranging from Africa’s Ushahidi, which is using mobile, web and geolocation technology to revolutionise crisis response; to Argentina’s Globant, providing world-class IT services while blazing a new trail for business culture and entrepreneurship in Latin America; to Brave New Talent, the London-based venture founded by 26 year-old Lucian Tarnowski, which is an online service that connects talent with employers allowing them to build relationships and engage with each other.
Established businesses have much to learn and much to gain from the emergence of Young World enterprises. Yes, they represent competition, but also opportunities for partnership in reaching new markets, expanding capabilities and innovation, and filling gaps in an aging workforce.
Meanwhile, in a world that desperately needs new ideas and new drivers of prosperity, Young World entrepreneurship offers market-based solutions that could do a world of good.
- Rob Salkowitz is the author of Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up.