An excerpt from Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up by Rob Salkowitz, published by John Wiley and Sons, reprinted by permission.
"I'd like to share a personal story, if you don't mind," said YerutáÂ Méndez, Director of Training and Technology for the Young Americas Business Trust, toward the conclusion of our interview. I had just asked whether she felt that entrepreneurship was realistically a path open to those at the bottom of the pyramid, or whether it was only an option for educated Young World elites.
"I'm from Paraguay, a very poor country, one of the most corrupt countries in the world," she said. "There was a time around 1997, during the financial crisis that affected Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, we were very…" Â Her voice wavered as she conjured up the memory. "My family was broke. At that point, my parents didn't even have the money for us to go to school. My mother was fighting cancer. We were in high school, and we couldn't even enroll. Â My brother said 'ok, I'm going to start a company and I'll be able to pay for you to go to school.' And my parents said, no, you can't do that. You can't spend all the money we have on something that's not going to work. So the first reaction my parents had was that it wasn't an investment, it was something they would lose."
YerutáÂ's brother pressed on with his idea. He wrote his business plan, pulled the family's finances together, and got his company underway. "He started a company to print t-shirts, and after five months he was making profits," said YerutáÂ. "He was so motivated! We were going to school in the morning and working from four to ten at night because we needed to get the work done so we could eat and go to school.
"That was something that changed our family. Now, each member of my family has a business. It changed our life. We said, 'we can't be employees; we have to have something by ourselves.' And we are proud of that. It made our family have an income. Now we're helping more than 20 families to have a source of income. So yes, even the most poor people, if they believe in what they're doing, they can have a success story."
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YerutáÂ's story is the traditional narrative of the individual entrepreneur: what used to be called the American Dream, but now belongs to the wider world.Â If the spread of entrepreneurship were the only driving theme in the rise of the Young World, it would still be a significant trend. Hope can change lives. Empowerment can transform communities. Enterprise can lift up entire nations.
That is a lot of potential resting on the shoulders of people like YerutáÂ and her family. Fortunately, in the age of a global Net Generation united by ubiquitous connectivity, entrepreneurism has become a borderless, collaborative endeavor with unprecedented resources available to shepherd great ideas into fruition. The drive, talent and ambition of individual entrepreneurs can now be channeled and amplified through the coordinated efforts of individuals, governments, NGOs, and grass-roots networks made possible by ubiquitous modes of social collaboration and pervasive access to information.
The Distinctive Qualities of Young World Entrepreneurship
The spread of mobile and network technology is introducing the billions in the Young World to the mindset of the global Net Generation, and more and more of these young people are looking to make an impact by creating organizations that succeed on both social and commercial terms. Their efforts are driving a swelling wave of ICT-based entrepreneurship, distinguished by six features that reflect the unique influence of the Net Generation norms (collaboration, global focus, sense of urgency, use of networked technologies, and so on). Young World entrepreneurship:
- Blends social and commercial objectives by putting discretionary effort behind social development initiatives and finding market-based solutions to long-standing problems.
- Creatively aligns public, private and NGO resources and traverses over old boundaries that served to constrain innovation and limit the missions of organizations.
- Leverages communities and collaboration to scale up quickly and mobilize resources, knowledge and attention to achieve goals.
- Is well-adapted and sustainable in Young World environments, making intensive use of capital and the productive power of knowledge, even in rugged conditions.
- Embraces the globalization of the knowledge workforce by drawing talent and ideas from everywhere, getting above local and national limitations.
- Solves systemic problems while meeting market needs by filling in the gaps in infrastructure, transparency, workforce capacity and community without waiting for governments or institutions to take the lead.
Each of these features enables the growth and spread of innovative ventures in areas where adverse conditions have made indigenous economic development nearly impossible in the past.
Because we are so accustomed to the slow pace of top-down development through government programs, aid, foreign direct investment, and the arrival of established multinationals to signal the maturation of Young World markets, it can be difficult to perceive how this swarm of small-scale indigenous entrepreneurism is effecting such a massive and consequential transformation in parts of the world that are, frankly, easy to ignore if you are sitting in New York, London or Tokyo. They are about to become much less easy to ignore.
Rob Salkowitz is a writer, consultant and entrepreneur specializing in the social implications of new technology and next-generation workforce. Read more about Rob here.