Entrepreneur

The jobless & mass entrepreneurship

The narrative of modern India has been far from a fairytale, struggling between fact and faith to find the truth of survival. Today, we stand at the crossroads of an unclear future, a country which is getting increasingly younger but where the youth feel shortchanged. Even as unemployment peaks, in a rose-tinted world of unicorns, 2030 could see as many as 10,500 startups providing only 2,10,000 jobs — a number that pales against the demand for jobs.

One needs to delve deeper into the complex layers of the job crisis. The chasm between the growth in wealth and increasing unemployment is intriguing. According to an ILO report, the rate of unemployment is the highest amongst persons with secondary education which indicates their prospects are tied to routine tasks which are being automated. Streams like engineering have supply outnumbering the demand. Billions of dollars being pumped into startups are unable to create large scale employment. And consequences of unemployment go beyond economics.

Amidst all the success stories, there is a growing restlessness among many who have not had a level playing field. There is still a desire for “government jobs” but public sector can absorb only a fraction of the unemployed. We see 25 million applicants for 90,000 vacancies in Indian Railways. The riots triggered by job quotas in Haryana, AP and Gujarat can only be a cry for help. The lack of economic success is leading to a burning desire for some kind of identity and may seek out political and ideological engagement. Machoism replacing the dignity of labour is a dangerous weapon in the hands of young India. 

In most economies, MSMEs have driven growth, while India sadly lags. We are mostly a country of self-employed, with a subsistence living. The barriers to entrepreneurship are many -beginning with mindsets that have been wired to think of entrepreneurship as risky. Small businesses in India seldom grow and the ones that do have not been celebrated enough. 

And yet, the problems themselves are a massive opportunity to enable small businesses. For eg. Marketing for MSMEs do not have to be expensive or complicated- they could be as simple as having a name for the business, having a facebook page or just taking orders over Whatsapp. An Udhyam Learning Foundation case study shows that a small change like displaying a menu card at a tea stall led to a jump of Rs 1500 in daily revenue. Therefore, simple solutions to entrepreneurial barriers can create a robust driver for job creation at scale. The time for incremental change has long gone and it is time for something radical for scale. 

At the other end of the spectrum, initiatives like Business Blasters that took Entrepreneurship Mindset Curriculum (EMC) to all government schools in Delhi are the kind of scale thinking that reimagines the potential of the youth. 3.5 lakh students were given Rs. 2000 each to tinker, innovate and come up with business ideas and the most promising ones were pitched to investors. Imagine a sophisticated Shark Tank kind of idea democratized for demographies whose potential is waiting to be tapped. We need many more such interventions to transform a problematic situation to one which will lead to a true shining India.

A recent study showed that unemployed youth are moving on from the earlier angst to be happily distracted in a world of cheap data and limitless online content. How then can we curate content that will inspire entrepreneurial aspirations? Josh Talks, a large content creator for tier 2-3 cities, is creating inspiring content in regional languages and has a subscriber base of 16 million registering 75 million monthly views. Sheroes has created the largest social network for women offering the space to engage, learn and grow. There are plenty of opportunities for communities to channel entrepreneurial aspirations and fuel growth. 

However, for a country-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem and for making entrepreneurship a top 5 career choice for Indians, we need to see different interventions at the grassroots: What will it take for entrepreneurship to take the centerstage like popular sports; to have young children participate in entrepreneurship challenges and learn to innovate and solve large problems and become the country’s job creators?

Reimagining the potential of the missing middle in entrepreneurship through a youth lens needs sweeping efforts. It involves creating entrepreneurial aspiration, mentors, models, skilling and access. Be impatient with the status quo and instill an entrepreneurial mindset which is also about 21st century skills and modern values- where the disenfranchised youth are channeled in the right direction and where mass entrepreneurship redeems the India story. 

(The writer is Chief Operating Officer, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME)) 


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