This short editorial explores the importance of entrepreneurship among youth in the global South. It offers an overview of the various ways in which young people are finding economic niches within uncertain economic landscapes. However, it warns against the ideological risks attached to celebrations of youth entrepreneurialism and calls for a focus on entrepreneurship that addresses the institutional environment and broader social inequalities.
It draws on examples of youth entrepreneurship from around the globe including: South Asia (India, Nepal), across Africa (Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe), and South-East Asia (Indonesia).
Entrepreneurship is increasingly recognised as a practice that ordinary people across the global South, not only business elites, engage in. While young people around the world have moved into formal education in increasing numbers over the past quarter century, there is a chronic lack of formal-sector jobs. In response to this there is a growing number of young people around the globe finding economic niches within uncertain economic landscapes. This phenomenon of unstable youth employment is not unique to the global South, but the pace of change has been quicker than elsewhere in the world.
Youth entrepreneurship has become powerful development discourse in recent years with WDR 2007 and there are ideological risks associated with this celebration that should be noted: the promotion of individuals as solely responsible for their own success can decrease pressure on state investment in services and support and can contribute to an individualistic mentality that may decrease community solidarity. However, this should not detract attention from the need to support entrepreneurial initiatives of the young; the centrality of an enabling institutional environment bears out in the research.
Further, the editorial highlights “bad entrepreneurship”. That is, the ways in which young people occupy in potentially undesirable patron-client networks such as: mercenaries in conflict-affected areas, hired thugs for political parties, and brokers in the corrupt disbursement of state resources. Research into youth involvement in illegal enterprise further reveals the extent to which the discourse of youth entrepreneurship is used to rationalise their actions.
It suggests that a successful policy focus on entrepreneurship needs to address the institutional environment and social inequalities.