There's a saying you've probably heard before, it goes something like, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." Well, there's a group called Generation Enterprise and they're teaching the world's urban youth how to fish.
Generation Enterprise is a network of small business incubators that empower homeless and unemployed youths to create socially-responsible businesses and jobs in slums across the urban developing world.
Three years ago, Generation Enterprise applied for and won a grant from Seventh Generation as part of a challenge issued when our 2009 Sustainability Report was released. Entering was simple: submit your best idea for a social enterprise. The winning entry would receive $10,000 to launch their program.
Clara Chow is the president and CEO of Generation Enterprise. Her inspiration for what would become Generation Enterprise came as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, when she met a Nigerian activist working with street youth in Lagos who wanted to build a microfinance bank targeting homeless, unemployed, and underemployed youth.
These youths were deemed at-risk and otherwise "unemployable." They were named "Generation Lost" or "Generation Hopeless." But now, through innovation, business training, and entrepreneurial spirit, they are Generation Enterprise.
They are trained in start-up methodology and general business theory and then guided through the process of launching a sustainable business with them in the driver's seat.
Currently, Generation Enterprise has a strong presence in Lagos, Nigeria, working with four different state governments and various foundations. They've launched businesses that install electrical equipment, provide hand-sanitizer to trash collectors, and offer citizens individual packs of healthy snacks to eat on the go. To date, they've been invited to 15 different countries, and are working on expansion plans to India and Columbia this year.
While youths make up 50% of all unemployed people on the planet, and 85% of our global youth live in developing countries, the world either needs the continued success of organizations like Generation Enterprise or an impossible number of fish.
I caught up with Clara a few months ago when I was delivering a lecture at Stanford University. She is their pursuing an MBA there while she runs Generation Enterprise. She continues to inspire me – I'll never forget how I felt the evening she won the Seventh Generation grant, the moment her vision started to become a reality.