Strike while the iron is hot. The wisdom of this saying epitomizes the entrepreneurial mind. lt is a mind that the youth should embrace. However, it is not just acting that makes a difference in entrepreneurship but knowing opportunities when they manifest themselves. Ultimately, it is creating value for the community that brings dividends.
In August 2023, thousands of young people will gather in Lisbon (Portugal) for the 37th World Youth Day. Many of them will book accommodation through a platform known as Airbnb, an online platform that allows people to share homes with tourists as an alternative to conventional hotels.
Airbnb was co-founded in 2008 by two unemployed art school graduates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. Both were 26 years old. The story goes that in October 2007, a design conference was held in San Francisco, which drew a huge crowd of participants who overcrowded the city’s hotels. Brian and Joe decided to rent out some air mattresses to some of the participants. This initiative was the light-bulb moment that gave birth to Airbnb.
Airbnb is but one among many companies started by young people. Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Dell lnc were also founded by college students in their dormitories.
Pope Francis’ message for the 37th World Youth Day, focusing on the theme of “arising” and “going with haste”, uses the figure of Mary, the mother of the Lord, to propose attitudes and behaviours to be embraced by 21st-century youth. We say that Mary’s mindset as described by the Pope captures the essence of the phenomenon of Youth entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is broadly defined as the ability to recognize and act on an opportunity to create value for the community, while youth entrepreneurship relates to entrepreneurial activity undertaken by young people aged between 15 and 35 years.
Youth entrepreneurship is widely framed as a response to youth unemployment. However, considering that the ability to create value for the community is a constituent dimension of self-actualization, youth entrepreneurship cannot be circumscribed to the realm of necessity. Tales abound of young people who decided to abandon the comfort zone of salaried jobs to venture into the stormy waters of entrepreneurship.
ln Greek mythology, the god Kairos is presented as a young and handsome man always standing on tiptoe, always running. He holds a razor in his hand and has a single lock of hair that hangs over his face; however, the back of his head is bald. Kairos is always followed by the goddess Metanoia, a haggard and sorrowful woman carrying a stick with which she whips those who have failed to get hold of Kairos.
Metanoia is the goddess of regret. Entrepreneurial opportunities are like Kairos: they come by and swiftly disappear if they are not harnessed. Failure to leverage emerging opportunities leads to regret.
ln the Pope’s message for the 37th World Youth Day, Mary is presented as a young woman who can recognize an opportunity when it arises. The opportunity consists of the possibility to be of service to another person. Entrepreneurial opportunities push us outward, toward others. As the Pope writes, “Mary’s focus is always directed outwards”. Entrepreneurship is not primarily about what is in it for me!
Further, Mary acts on the opportunity immediately. She does not succumb to what management guru lgor Ansoff calls “paralysis by analysis”. The Pope’s words are apt: “When faced with concrete and urgent needs, we need to act quickly”.
The 2021-2022 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) describes our times as characterized by the “new uncertainty complex” encompassing a battery of challenges ranging from climate change to disruptions of supply chains due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. These problems contain opportunities for young people to “arise” and to act with haste in providing solutions.
Nairobi – Kenya