Two somewhat contradictory articles on the Millennials and Entrepreneurship appeared recently, one by Scott Shane claiming that young people are less interested in starting their own businesses than were people of my generation (Boomers), and the other by Annika Small, suggesting that interest in self employment among this group is on the rise. To be fair, the articles quoted different studies that compared different population samples across different time frames – the classic “apples to oranges” quandary. But, clearly, interest in entrepreneurship among Millennials can’t be both increasing and abating, can it?
But wait: where the authors are in agreement is that if you add the word “social” to the mix (as in “social entrepreneur”), then there is an unambiguous trend among Millennials towards a desire to create a better world vs. fatten their bank accounts. Annika Small sees Millennials as “looking for radical solutions to social problems rather than creating a product or service that will make them a stash of cash.” Shane finds that “young people have broader goals life goals than their parents did when they were in school. Millennials may be less focused on being successful entrepreneurs because they think it is important to achieve other goals, like being good parents and citizens.”
It is, of course, possible both to improve society and make wads of money, as the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley have done. The difference with Social Entrepreneurs is that we focus on curing some societal ill or injustice as the top priority. But like all entrepreneurs, we strive to do so in a financially sustainable way. Microfinance is probably the best example of a social enterprise that started out trying to put capital into the hands of the poorest micro entrepreneurs in developing countries so they could create their own businesses and bootstrap themselves out of poverty, and has grown into an industry that has transformed the global financial sector. Players in the microfinance industry today include commercial banks, payments companies, retailers, money transfer companies, telecoms as well as the pioneers like FINCA who started the revolution.
What excites me is to see more and more young people entering the Social Enterprise space, bringing their passion and new ideas for creating a more just world with less poverty. The kind of disruption that my generation created in the ‘60s, and which birthed microfinance, is seeing its echo in a whole new generation of social entrepreneurs.