Helen Clark: Speech at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA) Summit on UN Action on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship

Jul 19, 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
at the
G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA) Summit
UN Action on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship
Sydney, Australia  

Many thanks for the invitation to speak at this G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit today.

I am told that many young entrepreneurs attending this Summit are already walking the talk on entrepreneurship, and have generated close to 100,000 new jobs.

You share with the United Nations the conviction that youth entrepreneurship will play a vital role in creating opportunity and livelihoods in the future – and that that will have beneficial effects for people of all ages and across societies and economies.

I thank our hosts today, the Enterprise Network for Young Australians for their determination to “encourage young people to be active, innovative, creative, and socially responsible citizens”.

This matters: today’s generation of adolescents and youth stands at 1.8 billion people – the largest our world has ever seen.  Most of these young people live in developing countries.

The energy, enthusiasm, and innovation of this large youth generation can bring a huge demographic dividend to countries and to our world.

But, there’s a but: to get dividends one has to invest – and for youth that means investments in education, skills training, sexual and reproductive health services, availability of credit – and in all the other services which widen opportunity.

It also means a commitment to inclusion - economic, social, and political.  There’s an old saying – no decisions made about us without us.  Youth must be able to have meaningful input into the decisions which are impacting on and shaping their lives.

Without environments which create opportunity and inclusion for youth, a demographic dividend won’t be realized.  Yet it so easily can be – with the right policies and approaches, including on youth entrepreneurship.  The alternative isn’t appealing – a generation with many unemployed, alienated, and disengaged youth is not a recipe for peace and harmony for any country.

That is why the United Nations are placing such a high priority on youth development.

And that is why it is critical that the post-2015 development agenda which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals speaks to the needs and aspirations of youth.

Today’s Summit has before it a very useful White Paper on what the international system is doing and could do better to foster youth entrepreneurship.  It is a clarion call to all international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the G20, and their Member States to pay far more attention to what is needed to boost youth entrepreneurship.

We face a paradox: young people are savvier about technology, more knowledgeable about the world around them, and more interconnected that any previous youth generation has been.  

Yet, as a generation, they also face high levels of unemployment.  While representing only 37 per cent of the global working age population, young people make up sixty per cent of the world’s unemployed.

Many people despair of current economic settings and trends generating the hundreds of millions of jobs needed to overcome current levels of unemployment globally and to absorb new entrants to the labour market.  That is why it is so critical to take fresh approaches to entrepreneurship, and to equip today’s youth with the skills to create their own jobs – and, as they succeed, to create jobs for others too.

In developing countries, more than two-thirds of all jobs now originate in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises.  Through entrepreneurship, harnessing the energy and innovation of youth, there is an opportunity to lift the quantity and quality of jobs, and to generate inclusive and sustainable growth.  The ICT innovation hub of Nairobi, Kenya, and the agricultural enterprise training of the Songhai Institute in Benin are good examples of nurturing youth entrepreneurship in practical ways.

So, How Can The UN System Help To Promote Youth Entrepreneurship?

The short answer is not through a series of small projects which won’t add up to anything remotely close to meeting the size of the challenge.

The real answer lies in the convening and mobilizing power of the United Nations to get youth entrepreneurship and other youth priorities promoted in global development agendas and to inspire countries to take action on those priorities.

The UN Secretary-General has himself established a Five Year Action Plan on Youth.  Following his initiative, our UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth and Development undertook a global survey of youth to inform its planning and action. It’s not surprising that the young respondents to the survey identified a lack of financial literacy, business skills, and access to financial services as the most important challenges which youth entrepreneurs had to overcome.  The UN system-wide plan drawn up since directly addresses these issues.

UNDP has responded by launching earlier this year its own Youth Strategy, focused on youth entrepreneurship and employment, civic engagement, and political participation.  Through it, UNDP seeks to scale up support for youth entrepreneurship in much the way that the G20 Youth Employment Alliance Report suggests the UN can act – through its unique ability, as an impartial organisation, to create “entrepreneurship ecosystems”.  Through its leadership role in UN Country Teams in developing countries around the world, UNDP can convene relevant parts of the UN system, governments, financial institutions, entrepreneurs, and civil society actors in joint efforts to remove barriers to youth entrepreneurship.

Some examples of this kind of approach in action include:

In Nepal, UNDP, the government, and the private sector helped entrepreneurs compete in higher value markets with products with low environmental impact. Together we worked to identify and fill infrastructure gaps, make appropriate technologies available, and connect entrepreneurs with micro financing institutions. As a result, 8,000 entrepreneurs established or expanded their businesses creating more than 13,000 jobs using products like bamboo, natural fibers, and ginger.

To engage young people, we employ youthful media. The UN supported YouthConnekt initaitive in Rwanda is using Google hangout technology, social media channels, and text messaging to connect young people with mentors, potential start up financing, training opportunities and more.  In Sierra Leone, we have located mentoring and career advisory services in schools and universities.

In a number of countries, our work is mainly with those who might be termed “reluctant entrepreneurs” – for whom self-employment is not a choice, but rather the only viable way to make a living as there are few jobs in the formal sector. In sub-Saharan African countries, for example, just 21 per cent of workers receive wages or salaries, compared to fifty per cent of workers worldwide.

For “reluctant entrepreneurs”, new technologies and seed funding are often unavailable, and there is generally no insurance for them to fall back on. Many are among the poorest of the poor, living on $1.25 per day or less.  Where “reluctant entrepreneurs” predominate, our focus is on boosting basic literacy and business skills, and on supporting the establishment of enabling regulatory frameworks, insurance schemes, and social protection systems.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where most young people work in agriculture there is enormous scope for rural enterprises run by young women and men to boost agricultural productivity and raise incomes. There are good examples which can and should be scaled up. The Songhai Center in Benin trains young people from a number of countries in effective agricultural practices, management, and business support services. In Kenya, rural polytechnics offer similar opportunities.

To expand opportunities for entrepreneurship, concerted action is needed to reach out to youth, and to combat any discrimination on grounds of gender, disability, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else. More effective governance is also critical, as entrepreneurs suffer more than most citizens from exposure to corrupt or overly bureaucratic practices.  

Our work at the country level will succeed where it is embraced by government and other stakeholders, and mainstreamed into policies with budgets to support it.  Often UNDP and other agencies can show proof of concept.  To be taken to scale, broad partnerships and government leadership are required.

Prioritising Youth Entrepreneurship Is In The Post-2015 Development Agenda

UNDP and others in the UN development system have led huge global outreach on the post-2015 agenda.  One vehicle for that was the My World survey accessed by 2.4 million people.  Seventy-five per cent of the respondents were under the age of 31, and they rated a good education, getter job opportunities and healthcare, and honest and responsive government as high priorities in the future they want.

The new development agenda will be finalized by negotiations between UN Member States, beginning later this year.  An Open Working Group of Member States is currently producing a report on what the post-2015 goals and targets could be.  In my opinion, the focus on youth could be sharpened a lot. At the 2012 Rio + 20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the call was for “The Future We Want”.  Youth are that future, and the new sustainable development agenda must engage youth and speak to their needs.

The G20 countries cover more than 66 per cent of the world’s population and 85 per cent of global GDP. They have a big influence in negotiations at the UN, and on global development. At the G20 summit in Brisbane later this year, leaders could throw their weight behind a post-2015 agenda which empowers youth as entrepreneurs.  

The G20 can also recognize the opportunity which youth entrepreneurship represents to help it reach its target of increasing global growth by at least two per cent above the current trajectory over the next five years. Capitalising on youth talent requires investments in the education, skills training, infrastructure, and other services which young entrepreneurs need to succeed.  Through their actions, G20 countries could give global leadership on youth entrepreneurship.  

At the UN, we share with this G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance a vision of entrepreneurship as a means of empowering young people to improve their lives and contribute to their countries, and of addressing global employment challenges.

I urge all attending this summit to call on your leaders to act to create conditions which are conducive to youth entrepreneurs.  The world’s large and growing youth population can be a powerful and transformative force for a better world – if the right investments and decisions are made now.

UNDP Around the world