13 October 2020

75 for UN75: A Conversation on Rethinking Youth Entrepreneurship

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and as part of its 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is hosting the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues with academics, educators, researchers and students around the world, to discuss their priorities for the future, obstacles to achieving them, and the role of global cooperation in managing global issues. On 1 October 2020 UNAI hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Youth Entrepreneurship” as part of this series.

The “75 Minutes of Conversation: Rethinking Youth Entrepreneurship” webinar was hosted by United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) on the eve of the International Day of Non-Violence, which is also the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. The webinar aimed to address the importance of youth entrepreneurship and sustainable development as a path toward building a more united, peaceful future for the world.

The event began with a musical performance by Ambassador Rudi Warjri, who has served as the ambassador of India in Brunei, Colombia and Peru among other countries. In his remarks, Ambassador Warjri noted the importance of youth entrepreneurship, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as we need innovations, especially from young people, to combat the pandemic.

Following the performance, Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Former Head of MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, and Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations and to India, opened the discussion by sharing the success of resolution A/RES/67/202  on Entrepreneurship for Development. The resolution, initiated by Israel and adopted by the UN General Assembly on 21 December 2012, acknowledged the role of entrepreneurship in enabling youth to turn their creativity, energy and ideas into business opportunities by helping to facilitate their entry into the labor market. Mr. Carmon explained that Israel contributed to the resolution by sharing its experience of “building a developing nation from scratch.”

Meethu Mary George, Assistant Professor of Education and English Language at Kristu Jyoti College of Management and Technology in India, and Council Member of the Kerala Forum on UNAI, described entrepreneurial youth as “the most important economic agents in the economic augmentation of any country.”  A record number of young people are embracing entrepreneurship as a way of life, and she encouraged higher education institutions to implement strong systems to support entrepreneurial studies with a special focus on education for sustainable development in order to meet the needs of innovative youth looking to build a brighter future for all.

Sam Vaghar, Executive Director of the Millennium Campus Network, emphasized that the United Nations itself is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Aa a young social entrepreneur himself, Mr. Vaghar noted that courage was the foundation for him to begin a journey within the field of development. However, “courage does not always come easily” and leaders throughout history have often faced resistance. He noted that the commitment in the UN Charter to the dignity and worth of the human person is “our north star as entrepreneurs.” Recounting the beginnings of the Millennium Fellowship in 2007 as a college student, Mr. Vaghar recalled that they received only 15 applications. Today, more than 1400 fellows from over 80 campuses in 20 countries are currently enrolled in the program. In closing, he urged academic institutions to provide opportunities that demonstrate the value of collaboration to bring us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Subana Abdul Salam, Student of CMS College Kottayam and Council Member of the Kerala Forum on UNAI, said student priorities include pursuing innovative solutions to meet the current demands of the world. She also expressed concerns over current youth unemployment rates, noting that young people are twice as likely to be unemployed as adults. “One main problem people face is the lack of promotion of their product and ideas. When actively promoted, their ideas could help in sustaining growing economics.” She noted that the world is at a risk of losing skills, and as such, “We need job creators rather than job seekers.”

Dr. Sunitha Kshatriya, Manager of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center at the American University in Dubai, the UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals, provided practical and tactical examples of how courage must be met with institutional strategy. The goal is to “graduate businesses from university rather than graduate students from university,” she said. Referring to the initial stage as the “mindset stage” Dr. Kshatriya encouraged students to look at the environment, identity a problem and develop an idea. This year, out of the 6 startups that advanced from the university's framework, a solar powered battery for refugee camps and construction sites is currently being produced by a manufacturer in the United Kingdom.

During the Q&A segment, participants raised questions on various topics including entrepreneurship education and initiatives currently available at the panelists’ universities and how they could replicate these efforts at their own schools. A common thread throughout the discussion was the need for youth to partner with organizations or initiatives with a similar vision to their own, and the need for adaptability to deal with the rapid changes engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information on youth entrepreneurship, check out this list of resources:

75 Minutes of Conversation: Rethinking Youth Entrepreneurship

As part of the United Nations 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) hosted a webinar in the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series titled 'Rethinking Youth Entrepreneurship" held on 1 October 2020.