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Source: Small Island Developing States

By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

This year, the United Nations is marking its 75th anniversary. In Asia and the Pacific, this milestone marks extraordinary economic and social progress. While the Organization enjoys a lifespan almost equal to the world’s improved average life expectancy, the future lies with those who have recently embarked on theirs: our young people.

As they continue breaking ground with entrepreneurial spirit to address defining issues of our time like climate change, technology, and inequality, our investments in them can win the battle for sustainability.

Young entrepreneurs have been a source of innovation and economic dynamism, creating jobs and providing livelihoods to millions. To achieve and accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we urgently need their expertise and voices to solve social and environmental challenges, while creating economic opportunities.

Young people have needed no prompting from their elders or our institutions: the social entrepreneurship movement has emerged in Asia and the Pacific in response to pressing issues, including COVID-19. Spearheaded by the region’s young people with a strong sense of social justice, social entrepreneurs are providing innovative, market-based solutions that break the mold of traditional models that focus primarily on economic growth. But we must do more to truly realize the transformative potential of young entrepreneurs.

First, we need to ensure that the next generation of business leaders think about social purpose as well as profit. To achieve this, education will be critical. Governments can play a key role, as shown by the Government of Pakistan’s Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, which focuses on helping students and young entrepreneurs identify innovative business solutions to urgent problems related to the SDGs.

Second, we need to scale up innovative financing solutions. It is encouraging to see governments embracing impact investing as a policy tool to direct finance to young social entrepreneurs. ESCAP supported the Government of Malaysia to launch the Social Impact Exchange in 2017, which mirrors a traditional stock exchange and links social purpose organizations to impact investors. 

In another example of innovative financing solutions for social entrepreneurship, ESCAP and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) are partnering to support organizations like iFarmer in Bangladesh. The joint effort has supported iFarmer in creating a digital app to establish a profit-sharing model between urban investors and rural women farm entrepreneurs that involves the purchase and management of livestock. After successful livestock management (raising and selling cattle), the investor and a woman entrepreneur share the profits, while iFarmer receives support through a management fee.

Third, as we are living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digitally savvy young social entrepreneurs hold particular promise. Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies pose challenges to the economy – most notably relating to jobs and the future of work – but they also have the potential to spur mass entrepreneurship and new ways of doing business. ESCAP is currently supporting FinTech start-ups like Aeloi Technologies to develop digital finance and green solutions for women entrepreneurs. Aeloi’s goal is to make impact funding for women microentrepreneurs accountable and accessible using digital tokens, providing an assured digital link between funders and carbon offset providers. They work specifically with the electric minibus sector in Kathmandu, Nepal. Their system helps ensure that every dollar of investment is used to build renewable energy powered transportation by providing real-time climate and social impact tracking.

The United Nation’s 75th anniversary comes at the critical juncture of a new decade to accelerate the SDGs and the simultaneous survival of and recovery from an unprecedented crisis. The need for innovative solutions and stronger cooperation across all stakeholders, particularly youth, is clear.

In this context, the UN family’s anniversary event in Asia and the Pacific will bring together young social innovators and entrepreneurs from across the region whose ideas, platforms, and businesses have made an impact. These innovators will discuss how today’s technology and innovative solutions can be scaled up to build back better towards more inclusive, resilient, and green economies and societies.

We stand ready to support these young people and their innovative solutions for tackling inequality and promoting inclusion, economic empowerment of women and girls, and moving towards decarbonization and tackling air pollution. In many ways, it is they who are carrying the mantle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The author of this guest article, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, is the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News