By Neil Parmar
CGI may not be billed as a business conference per se, but, at times, it sure felt like one.
One of the most talked-about issues during this week’s annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting focused on the dearth of young entrepreneurs — and how to produce more of them.
Microsoft, which launched the YouthSpark initiative at last year’s CGI to create jobs, education and entrepreneurship opportunities for 300 million young people by 2015, returned with a private dinner for young participants and nonprofit partners to discuss the progress so far. The company’s program has provided 14.9 million youth globally with software and hardware technology tools, as well as coding and computer-use training. The software giant claims to have educated more than 78.6 million young people since its launch.
“In every city of America there are low-income students who have access to technology but who don’t have the skills,” says Johnnie Lovett, a 25-year-old who launched the clothing label Fresh Connection Brand and volunteers with Microsoft on its efforts. “We can give them the opportunity where they can learn tech and build those skills to understand how they can scale their ability and that, in turn, helps them build enterprises.”
In a separate session, CGI members discussed how to tackle unemployment across the world by way of cultivating more young entrepreneurs. Young people make up around 17 percent of the world’s population, experts noted, yet they account for 40 percent of those who are unemployed.
“It’s really frightening to me to think of all the wasted brain power, talent and leadership these young people represent around the world,” says Barbara Bush, the 31-year-old daughter of George W. Bush and CEO of Global Health Corps, which pairs young fellows and leaders to different organizations.
During CGI’s opening session, a panel which included former President Bill Clinton, Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and U2 frontman Bono was notable for also featuring a 24-year-old woman named Khalida Brohi. As an entrepreneur since 16, and founder of Sughar Empowerment Society in Pakistan, Brohi shed light on the challenges some young treps face in developing countries.
In Brohi’s case, she set up an embroidery group with permission from conservative tribal leaders in her homeland but then used the meetings to train women about entrepreneurship and life skills. “We’ve been bombed in our office, we’ve been attacked in many ways,” says Brohi. “There are times we had to go in hiding, but it’s been eight years — it’s not just a few days, or weeks, because of the consistency and persistency of my team.”
Yet even in developed countries, starting up can be tricky. Cesar Del Valle, a 33-year-old trep, sold his lighting and production company in Southern California to cover costs as a student at ESADE Business School in Spain. He has been pushing into the social-impact sector through a company he co-founded along with other ESADE students called Origin, which provides more affordable food in slums. These days, he is focused on fundraising for the venture and solidifying partnerships.
At the top of his go-to list was a session on scaling ideas and pitching for partnerships: “Considering the focus of the session is how to properly move from a proof-of-concept stage to a viable and successful long-term enterprise, the discussion is mouth-watering for a young entrepreneur,” says Del Valle.
Similarly, Felix Ortiz, 29, hoped CGI would help his business efforts. He used the timing of the event to launch his new venture, as some of his advisors and investors — which include Google Ventures and Comcast Ventures — were in New York City for the meeting. Known as Viridis Learning, Ortiz’s online platform links employers specifically to middle-skill and vocational job applicants — an underserved population.
“It was very strategic,” says Ortiz of his venture’s launch. “We consider ourselves a social venture, with the model of ‘you can do well by doing good.’ And that’s the way of the future [for] a lot of young entrepreneurs.”