Can social enterprises be an option to address youth unemployment? A multidisciplinary approach for an urgent global problem.

Youth[1] constitutes today’s foundation of tomorrow’s economies and societies. However, young people are also the group most affected by unemployment. Representing only 25 percent of the world’s working age population, they account for almost one-half of global unemployment (Betcherman et al., 2007). According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), in 2012 there were 75 million unemployed youth between 15 to 24 years around the world (ILO, 2012).

In some cases, young people are getting involved in criminal activities, as an alternative for an employment-based income. According to Ibrahim (2006), youth’s principal motivation to become involved in illegal activities is due to their disenchantment with mass poverty and unemployment. Drawing from the field of Psychology, Gidley explains that much of youth’s hopelessness is linked to the lack of agency and opportunities for action (2001). When they perceive that they cannot control their fates, they feel disenchanted.

Youth studies identify community as playing a key role in reaching an optimal youth development. Community youth development (CYD) framework –which combines youth development and community development theories— offers an important avenue for research as it provides youth with opportunities for action through the interaction and betterment of their communities (Villaruel et al., 2003; Pitman et al., 2003, among others). However, research in this area does not consider youth’s need for monetary income and employment experience.

On this matter, entrepreneurship has been identified as a viable alternative to integrate youth into the labour market and break self-reinforcing cycles of poverty (see more in Chinguta, 2002; Light, 1979;Singh, 2008, among others). Likewise, the social economy has been recognized for its capacity to integrate marginalized populations. Social enterprises’ characteristics such as serving members’ and community’s needs, aiming at people’s emancipation, provide a starting point to link them with community youth development framework, which also share these goals.

In this sense, I argue that youth entrepreneurship in the social economy could be a tool for youth and community development since social economy initiatives have the twofold dimension of serving member’s needs and community’s needs. Also, youth social enterprises could provide a space for youth emancipation, offering a real life practice in which youth can live challenging and supportive experiences. However, not much is known about social enterprises’ entrepreneurial processes when carry out by young people.

From a research perspective, current youth studies have usually been framed within a single discipline. For example, youth entrepreneurship covers some economic elements in the current economic business model, but ignores youth’s human development phase. Meanwhile, community youth development literature emphasizes youth programs without responding to adolescents’ needs, especially the ones from low-income families who require paid employment experience. Therefore, I argue that a single academic field alone is not sufficient to address such a complex phenomenon. There is a need to analyze youth entrepreneurship in the social economy from a trans-disciplinary approach that could provide new elements that are somehow neglected by separate disciplines.

Thus, taking a multidisciplinary approach, this research aims to perform a comparative study of youth entrepreneurship in the social economy in México and Québec, drawing on elements from community youth development, social enterprises, social entrepreneurship and youth entrepreneurship. The main objective is to provide a model of successful youth entrepreneurship in the social economy. Other objectives include, first, to understand and contrast the processes and elements that prepared youth entrepreneurs in a developing and in developed context. Secondly, it seeks to provide a model that explains the construction of youth social capital in the framework of social enterprise creation. Thirdly, it aims to delve into an understanding of the impact that public policies and non-governmental organizations have in the consolidation or constraint of youth social enterprises.

 Regarding methodology, I plan to follow grounded theory. Thus, after an integrative literature review, I will perform deep interviews in six successful youth social enterprises (three in Mexico and three in Quebec). In each location, I plan to include one case where its founders are from low-income families, since I would like to contrast their motivations and journeys undergone to found their ventures.

There is a significant gap in knowledge of how youth social enterprises are created and if they have a positive impact in youth development. Thus, by taking a multidisciplinary and integrative approach, I aim to contribute to theory generation that could help to explain the creation of youth social enterprises and to evaluate their effect in the lives of its members. Likewise, the proposed research ambitions to provide an alternative for the economic integration of young people. In this way, besides the theoretical contributions this research also pretends to make a social contribution.

[1] For this research proposal youth is defined as the age group from 15 to 35 years old.



Betcherman, G.; Godfrey, M.; Puerto, S.; Rother, F.; Stavreska A. (2007). A Review of Interventions to Support Young Workers: Findings of the Youth Employment Inventory. Retrieved from:

Chinguta, F. (2002). Youth Entrepreneurship: Meeting the Key Policy Challenges. England: Wolfson College, Oxford University.

Gidley, J. (2001). An intervention targeting hopelessness in adolescents by promoting positive future images. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 11(1), 51-64.

International Labour Organization (2012). Global Employment Trend for Youth, Special issue on the impact of the global economic crisis on youth. Retrieved from–en/index.htm

Ibrahim, M. (2006), “An Empirical Survey of Children and Youth in Organised Armed Violence in Nigeria: Egbesu Boys, OPC, and Bakassi Boys as a Case”. Centre for Democracy and Development. Retrieved from:, on July 2013.

Light, I. (1979). Disadvantaged minorities in self-employment. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 20(1-2), 31-45.

Singh, R. P., Knox, E. L., & Crump, M. E. S. (2008). Opportunity recognition differences between black and white nascent entrepreneurs: A test of bhave’s model. Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 13(1), 59-75.

Pittman, K., Irby, M., Tolman, J., Yohalem, N., & Ferber, T. (2003). Preventing Problems, Promoting Development, Encouraging Engagement: Competing Priorities or Inseparable Goals?. Based upon Pittman, K. & Irby, M. (1996). Preventing Problems or Promoting Development? Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment, Impact Strategies, Inc. Retrieved from:

Villarruel, F., Perkins, D., Borden, L. & Keith, J. (2003). Community youth development: Programs, policies, and practices. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.


Foto-ErikaErika Licón grew up in a small agricultural town on the Mexican Pacific coast called Cihuatlán. Since an early age, she has been involved with many volunteer and leadership activities. She has an extensive working experience in social development projects, as well as, in in the private industry. In addition, she has a good understanding of several cultures and languages.
Erika obtained her bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering at the Institute of Technology and Higher Education of Monterrey (Mexico), and her masters degree in International Economic Relations and Cooperation for Development at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico). Currently, she pursues her doctorate in an individualized and multidisciplinary program at Concordia University, where she works under the supervision of Professor Margie Mendell. For her PhD, she decided to integrate her multidisciplinary education, work and volunteering experience to address an urgent global problem, youth unemployment.


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