Few pressing issues are as complex and multivariate as climate change. From tracking and understanding the impacts, to addressing the array of causes (such as reflectivity and food waste); governments and organizations are racing to source solutions.
This shared crisis is particularly pressing, because of its rapidly advancing timeline and its ripple impacts on numerous other issues: from its potential to tank the world economy, to the global health threat that it’s positioned to become. Due to its global impact, solving climate change depends on collaboration and cooperation.
In their Manifesto for Better Government, the Centre for Public Impact discuss this complexity of modern challenges and their solutions. These extreme times call for multi-pronged approaches that have numerous actors approaching solutions, and it’s potentially why some organizations are turning to youth entrepreneurship to address them. In one study, researchers noted that in some countries “youth entrepreneurship is being recognised as a promising alternative” to unemployment rates and job stagnation. Another article talked about how youth need a seat at the table as “under-30s make up 51% of the global population but only 2% of them are members of parliament” (and the like). Not to mention that “over the next 30 years, in the US alone $30 trillion of wealth will be transferred from baby boomers to millennials and generation Z.”
So, perhaps to truly address a complex problem like climate change that has employment, energy, spending, and more influencers involved, the path to the future is best paved by investing in youth entrepreneurs.
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) certainly thought so. Established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the CEC facilitates collaboration and public participation to foster conservation, protection and enhancement of the North American environment. In recent years, the CEC set a goal to better integrate youth into its work and support youth innovation and creativity in a concrete way. To do this, they created the Youth Innovation Challenge, which was designed to convene and support a community of young, environmentally- and socially-minded innovators and entrepreneurs in Canada, Mexico and the United States and connect them with one another. The Challenge invited youth aged 18-26 to submit science, technology and innovation business ideas for a chance to pitch their idea to North America’s top environmental officials. The winners received C$5,000 in project seed funding in addition to mentoring by CEC experts.
In the end, they funded a project from Mexico, Canada, and the United States – and all of them under 26! Meet the youth entrepreneur winners whose projects still exist in evolved states today:
Food Refined (Canada)
Vanessa Fiore and Adam Wali co-created a small scale waste to energy, today known as “Food Refined.” Food Refined is an all-in-one device that they created converts food waste into biogas, and biogas into energy to create electricity to power businesses. This solution was particularly pioneering in that sustainability was an attainable goal – even for small businesses.
Image from YouTube
Rocapet uses plastic as a coarse aggregate for the production of structural concrete. This concrete complies with the Mexican and American construction standards at a lower volumetric weight, economic savings and benefits the environment. Imagine buildings built out of our recycled water bottles!
SOULMUCH (United States)
Meet Kristian Krugman and Reyanne Mustafa. The two were working as waitresses in the restaurant industry and frustrated witnessing perfectly untouched food being thrown away each night. Oftentimes, it would be 30-40 pounds of oversupplied cooked brown rice, quinoa, and organic juice pulp doomed for landfill. They decided to take that unused food supply and upcycle it into new food products… they now sell those products to their former employers.
Setting the right conditions to empower youth
None of these projects were previously being funded and all of the ideas were new. With male and female winners from every CEC represented, they demonstrate the need for diversity in our solutions and innovators. Although many of these projects or businesses look different today than when they were first funded, all of them said that the initial challenge, mentoring, and planning set them on the path that they’re on today.
But if you’re really going to start empowering youth entrepreneurs, you’ll need a few things to get it right.
To begin with, it requires a comprehensive communications plan to make a system like this viable.
The CEC, for example, coordinated a press release launch, a promotional video by Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and a Facebook ad campaign. This is in addition to sending targeted emails and phone calls to universities and innovation hubs.
A research study also noted that youth entrepreneurs often struggle to sustain a business model given their lack of access to resources that their older counterparts might have, which is why they often choose business ideas that are a “low entry barrier and low value added sectors.” So, it’s important to provide funding and resources to youth as they explore complex and critical problems like climate change.
But with the right mix of mentoring, communications, and resources, it’s possible that we’ll see the solutions’ to humanity’s greatest challenges coming from some of our youth entrepreneurs.