Daring to do: Young social entrepreneurs doubling down on business with impact

Around the world, young people are prioritising careers that make a difference. They want to work for employers that have a positive social impact. Many are becoming entrepreneurs themselves. As we rethink our lives following the COVID-19 pandemic, this search for meaningful work is intensifying. A changemaker survey recently found that 80% of young people reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased their desire to make a change in the world.

Entrepreneurship is attractive to today’s youth. Around 45% of young people in OECD countries are looking to become entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship, especially among marginalised groups, is also an important driver of job creation. And many are already leading social enterprises to address these challenges. In the Province of Québec (Canada), almost one in five board members of social enterprises are 35 or below, and in India, almost one-third of social enterprises are led by young people. They make up more than one in four social entrepreneurs in Australia, the United States and Western Europe.

Youth-led social enterprises are creating impact

Youth-led social enterprises are at the forefront of addressing pressing social and environmental issues. Young people have come of age in the face of global warming, environmental degradation and global instability. And many have realised they want to do something to shape a brighter future for themselves and the planet and create their own solutions.

Young people are creating environmentally responsible social enterprises to combat climate change. They are delivering 100% renewable energy, including in remote or socio-economically disadvantaged areas. Many are developing search engines that plant trees and positively affect the climate. They work on changing polluting industries such as the clothing industry by working with unsold, deadstock fabrics. And many support the most vulnerable by providing more agency and decision-making power to ride share workers or connecting refugees directly with their communities. And they have a direct impact in their local communities: they finance day care and activities for refugee children by turning their drawings into patterns on socks to be sold, or creating backpacks from old festival banners.

“Many young people have great ideas that will improve their communities. But they often lack the knowledge and skills or capital to turn their great ideas and solutions into successful social enterprises.”

Policy makers can help make ideas become a reality

Policy makers are working to integrate social entrepreneurship skills into primary and secondary school curricula in Korea and Scotland (United Kingdom). They provide higher education programmes and specialised training opportunities and co-creating learning content with young people. Many policies and programmes also help them secure private investment through grants, specialised financial intermediaries, public loans or loan guarantees.

What most young social entrepreneurs also need is to have a seat at the table when decisions are taken and policies are being designed. This can be by integrating their views early in agenda-setting and policy design to ensure their ideas and experiences are woven into future social entrepreneurship policies.

Some places are already doing it 

In the town of Utrecht, this happening through the impact030 network. This network consists of civil servants of the municipality, members of ENACTUS, a youth social entrepreneurship organisation, employees from Rabobank Foundation, professors of both the Utrecht University and University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and social entrepreneurs.

It co-ordinated the implementation of municipal action plans to foster social entrepreneurship in different sectors in Utrecht, including a more inclusive labour market, the circular economy and sustainability. It also participated in a consultancy session of the Dutch Ministry of Interior Affairs, providing practice-based input for the upcoming Dutch legal framework for social enterprises.

Putting words into action in policy research and advice

The OECD acknowledges the importance of youth involvement in policy processes as well. Working together, the OECD and policy makers can address this important issue to make it easier for young social entrepreneurs to start businesses that can have social impact and improve the places where we live.


This year marks the second edition of the OECD Youthwise programme, an initiative to involve young people within OECD’s research and policy-making. By participating in closed-door meetings and consultations, engaging with a range of topics, themes, and people from the OECD, they have a direct input into OECD work. In this way, young people can actively bring their generation’s perspectives, insights, and ideas to the OECD.

This ambition is also reflected in the recent OECD Council Recommendation on Creating Better Opportunities for Young People. This year, the OECD also adopted a Council Recommendation on the Social and Solidarity Economy and Social Innovation. It provides the first internationally agreed global framework for promoting the social and solidarity economy. These new standards will help policy makers from national down to local governments provide the tools to help the social and solidarity economy, including youth-led social enterprises, make a greater difference.

If you are interested in learning more and contributing to the OECD’s efforts to improve policy for youth-led social enterprises, get in touch. Read the new report

Internand member of OECD Youthwise at Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs | + posts

Jonathan van de Gronden is a member of YouthwiseOECD's Youth Advisory Board for 2022 and is currently working on the UN humanitarian reforms as an intern at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While serving on the board of a global student organisation, he became interested in how social entrepreneurship could help shape a sustainable future. Jonathan has a background in public administration.

Junior Economist and Policy Analyst at | Website | + posts

James' work mainly focuses on legal frameworks for the social economy and social enterprises, as well as on youth-led social enterprises. He holds a double master’s degree in economics and public policy and the political economy of Europe from the London School of Economics and Sciences Po, Paris.

Policy Analyst, Social Economy and Social Innovation at | Website | + posts

Natalie Laechelt has been working at OECD since 2016, initially on 21st century skills, social inclusion, gender equality and the link between education and civil society organisations. Since 2021, she is investigating the social impact associations, cooperatives, foundations, mutual organisations and social enterprises are creating, still with a particular focus on youth and gender equality. Natalie holds a bachelors degree in Business Administration and International Commerce from Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) and University of Glamorgan as well as a bachelors and masters in Political Science from LMU Munich. She also studied at NUS in Singapore and Sciences Po in Paris.