05/04/2013 09:19 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 06:12 BST

Nurturing a Culture for Social Contribution Through Entrepreneurship Eucation

Social enterprises are a growing sector and employ large numbers of people. Social entrepreneurs provide enterprising solutions for challenging social issues, yet the sustainability of social enterprises requires, like any business, sound management, entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. This area of endeavor offers a lot of opportunities to young people but they have little real awareness of what social entrepreneurship is even though they are generally very interested in the issues.

Adapting today's education systems to meet these new trends in the working sphere that reflect the interests of young people is more than challenging. Entrepreneurship education combined with ICT is a good way forward because it combines team-work and problem-solving competences with young people's digital skills. . For example, programmes like the Social Innovation Relay zero in on young people's keen interest in social issues, but also engage them through technology and an entrepreneurship experience. It switches them on to social enterprise as a career or business opportunity.

Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Europe and the University of Warwick announced this week the impact of the 2012 Social Innovation Relay (SIR) - a global competition organized in collaboration with HP that challenges secondary school students to develop an innovative business concept that addresses a social need. In 2012, there were over 20,000 participants from 13 countries.

The University of Warwick evaluated the program and demonstrated the significant impact of the Social Innovation Relay: three out of four students reported improvements in their teamwork skills (74%) and decision-making skills (72%). Furthermore, two out of three students report improvements in their problem-solving skills (67%). The Report provided with some further food for thought:

  • 71% of the student participants agree or strongly agree that they are more aware that social and business objectives can be complementary as a result of participating in the SIR;
  • 76% of the student participants agree or strongly agree that they have developed their ability for creative thinking following participation in the SIR;
  • 72% of the student participants agree or strongly agree that they better understand the importance of ICT in p
ursuing social and business initiatives.

These results show the important impact public-private partnerships such as the Social Innovation Relay can have on the employability and entrepreneurship potential of young people.

Entrepreneurship education enhanced through mentoring

Most important, this effort would not have been possible without the active engagement of the HP volunteers who participated in the programme as mentors. According to the survey respondents, mentors had a positive impact on learning outcomes. Mentors are trained in how to lead their teams through the SIR. Survey respondents reported that their mentors improved their considerations for social issues (80%); and provided examples and stories that were not to be found in books (75%). Almost two thirds reported that their mentor had made them consider starting up a social business.

I have developed a strong belief in the capacity of the business community to use its own human capital to help develop skills in the younger generation through volunteering and mentoring. This live and very human engagement helps young people validate what they learn; they see through this interaction how they can successfully apply their skills in a real-world context with ever-changing variables. Business should definitely play an active role in education--not as a replacement for educators in any way, but as partners with experience from the field.

The role of business in society is evolving--the private sector is increasingly involved in young people's education. Teachers are working more and more closely with the business community around their schools. Organisations like Junior Achievement play an important role in supporting these relationships year on year and in helping them multiply. Today, the private sector recognises the great contribution they can make in improving a young person's employability well before they enter the workforce. In fact they see it as a softer way to transition young people into the working world and help them make better education and career choices and educators see their students begin to see the relevance of what they are studying at school.

Through initiatives like the Social Innovation Relay, leading executives take it upon themselves to set the example on behalf of their organisations. The advantages are many; the young participants are better prepared to enter the work place, are more confident and have a greater appreciation of their skills and the opportunities available to them on leaving school. Furthermore, skills development of young people through corporate citizenship does not only have a positive social impact on an organisation but is also an excellent opportunity to attract talented young employees. The impact of the Social Innovation Relay only proves the added-value that will come of larger skills-based volunteering efforts. We need to keep scaling up our volunteering schemes on the ground to help education systems respond better to the fast pace of change in the labour market and to help young people to become more adaptable and flexible--and thereby, more employable.

Find more about the Social Innovation Relay here