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Large segments of unemployed, underutilized youths in every commercial region have galvanized the brightest minds from the public and private sectors to invest more heavily on job creation. But sadly, those efforts have yielded little results. Unlike the throngs of analysts and civil servants, the so-called “economic time bomb” generation can’t wait for policy promises to deliver results while confronting plummeting self-esteem and poverty on a daily basis.

Based on 2014 statistics, youth unemployment among people in the 15 to 24 age bracket in Taiwan is nearly three times the national average, hovering at 12 to 13 percent (similar to the global average) against 4 percent. Some estimates pin youth joblessness as high as 15 percent. Furthermore, those between 25 and 29 make up 40% of temp workers.

One of the immediate solutions to empower the young is entrepreneurship. A cloudy notion that, when boiled down to its core, means creating opportunities for oneself and others — the magic of turning one opportunity into 10, 15, 100 opportunities. With over 600 million young people projected to compete for 200 million jobs over the next decade worldwide, we are forced to be risk-taking, business-creating dreamers that the school system never prepared us for.

In fact, the oversupply of an educated workforce is a sign that we were groomed to be job seekers with practices like regular performance evaluations and steady advancement. Not to mention the conservative values of our upbringing. The logical, fail-proof, advice I have always been given by an entrepreneur parent was: You need to work in a few large companies and gain experience before you start thinking about running your own business. What was once a delayed option in one’s 40s, 50s, and maybe never, has become an overnight necessity while one is still in his or her 20s and 30s.

Early entrepreneurship is also endorsed by Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the presidential candidate and chairperson of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as part of her campaign. She reiterated it on her recent U.S. trip, citing Silicon Valley as a model for Taiwan to embrace, not shun: failure as stepping stone to success. It’s a plan that officials, and the government under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), have made concerted efforts to introduce since 2010.

These days, government-backed initiatives like the Taipei Angel Club and crowd funding platforms online are signs of the new norm.

The International Organization of Employers, which represents the business community in social policy forums like the G20, acknowledges that early self-employment is no longer a choice but a “necessity.”

“Young people excluded from employment need to explore the work and income opportunities they can generate for themselves, and this needs to be recognized and properly supported…”

For a country like Taiwan with an aging population, the International Labour Organization says that offering youth entrepreneurship services is “extremely important…in order to prevent future serious labour shortages, which would impede their economic growth.”

Photo Credit:Michael Camilleri CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit:Michael Camilleri CC BY 2.0

Social business is the new way

“If you plant a mango tree, you get mangos. You can’t get apples from a mango tree…if we’re trying to get a different result from the same system — it doesn’t happen. A massive problem of the present system is enormous income disparity. ”
Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank founder and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Although entrepreneurship increases youth employment, not all types are created equal. Generally, policies and partnerships at job creation provide only temporary relief as new graduates inflate labour supply every year.

Moreover, a closer examination reveals that the free market economy is the root cause of poverty, joblessness, environmental stress and other entrenched social issues. Built into the system is exasperated income disparity and uneven distribution of wealth.

“The machine that we build called the economic system is always sucking juice from the bottom,” explained Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank founder and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “Out of that emptiness at the bottom, comes all of the social problem.”

Using the social business model, Yunus has launched a campaign to redirect creative and energetic youth from the traditional path of job-hunting to creating jobs for themselves and others through entrepreneurship. These businesses are dedicated entirely to solving social problems through zero interest investment loans. The investor gets their investment money back over time but never receives dividend beyond that amount — a leap from our ingrained profit-maximizing mentality.

Although these businesses should cover operating costs and make profit, success is measured by its impact on people’s lives and the environment rather than the profits made in a certain period.

“Social business can unleash the power of the youth and technology and solve the world’s problems much faster and also in a sustainable way. Social business is essential for our safety and security,” Yunus said at the international Social Business Day conference in Dhaka on May 28. About 1,600 people and 250 international participants from 30 countries attended the event. Ninety of those participants were from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

If we want to live in societies where every person realizes their full potential, then we must examine how our education system and cultural values equates worthiness with finding a job. The current youth unemployment trend should force us to reconsider how to foster the next generation of job inventors, and opportunity makers. On this subject, Yunus offers some radical wisdom to consider:

“The whole idea of employment is the wrong idea. Forget about the employment. That’s something you got somewhere else, it doesn’t belong to you, it doesn’t belong to any human being. Human beings are not born to serve under somebody…You decide what kind of entrepreneur you want to be, so why do you want to be decided by somebody else? Your fate is not decided by somebody else, your fate is decided by yourself.”

Moreover, he says our mindsets are “punishing” a human being. “In education, you’re telling your young people, have a good grade, get to the best school, and get the best job. As if that is the end product of everything that we do. That is not, human being is much bigger than that.”

An unemployment-free country is possible, argues Yunus, if everyone gets a chance to create their own futures as an entrepreneur.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original text was published on Thinking Taiwan: Young People Must Close the Unemployment Gap Themselves.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Lea Yang