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Blogs and Op-Eds by the Youth Co:lab team and contributors from our extensive network of changemakers. 

  • Writer's pictureYouth Co:Lab

Social entrepreneurship, a pathway to leave no Indigenous person behind

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

By Marte Hellema, Youth Co:Lab

Indigenous communities are among the most marginalized and vulnerable in Asia and the Pacific. The COVID 19 pandemic has further exacerbated this. But their stories do not end there. Increasingly Indigenous Peoples, especially youth, are becoming actively involved in addressing the greatest challenges of our times. Many of them are taking the route of social entrepreneurship to make their dreams a reality and ensure no one is left behind. A challenging journey, in which they should get all the support they need.

When it comes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the progress in Asia and the Pacific is uneven. Important gains have been made over the last few decades: people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, and opportunities ranging from education, access to employment and basic services have been provided to many.

However, inequality remains significant, both between and within countries. Progress has often been made amongst those groups that are easiest to reach, leaving many of the poorest and most vulnerable behind. And the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the inequality gap further.

To be able to fully prosper as a region, it is paramount that vulnerable and marginalized communities are given the tools and means to thrive. In Asia and the Pacific this means the need to prioritize Indigenous Peoples.

Asia and the Pacific is home to more than two-thirds of the global population of Indigenous Peoples. An estimated 260 million people comprise 2,000 civilizations and languages. Many of them, similar to other indigenous communities around the world, find themselves among the poorest of the poor. While they comprise 6 per cent of the global population, they represent 15 per cent of those who live in extreme poverty. Indigenous youth are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and abuses, because of their age and the intersectional nature of discrimination experienced by Indigenous Peoples.

However, they are not merely victims. Indigenous Peoples, especially youth, are taking on the task of addressing key challenges in their communities and are making sure no one is left behind. Entrepreneurship offers them an opportunity to do so.

Increasingly, startups are choosing social entrepreneurship as their preferred business model. This comes with great benefits for their communities. Not only do these businesses have addressing key sustainable development challenges as their main purpose, their primary beneficiaries tend to be marginalized and disadvantaged groups. They provide these groups with employment or other forms of meaningful engagement.

One such example is Aretes Style, a “(..) a start-up brand that aims to craft hope and peace among Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Philippines by providing alternative livelihood while revitalizing Mranaw culture through creating handicrafts out of Langkit, a traditional weave.”

Young Indigenous Peoples, like Jal Mustari, the founder of Aretes Style, are setting up businesses to contribute to addressing social issues and accelerating sustainable development. They are combining new and innovative ways of doing business with the use and preservation of traditional cultures and knowledge systems. They do so in a range of different ways, including by reviving traditional handicraft techniques, promoting cultural heritage, applying ancient knowledge to modern problems, and promoting the perception of Indigenous Peoples as agents of their own destiny.

DemiLaut, for example, is a youth-led startup from Malaysia that supports traditional fishing communities by combining traditional knowledge with modern day technologies.

“(..) we created Pemukat Noh, a net-hauling device that also tracks the number of fish caught by the fisherpeople, adding a timestamp and location, effectively digitalizing traditional fishing to improve efficiency, avoid overfishing and guarantee the freshness of the catch that reaches the markets.”

These inspiring young leaders will be key in unlocking Indigenous Peoples’ potential as leaders of the future of the Asia-Pacific region. Mobilizing their wealth of knowledge through social entrepreneurship is vital for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

That is why as Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, we prioritize the inclusion of indigenous young social entrepreneurs from Asia and the Pacific in our efforts, projects, and programmes.

“Our vision [is] to support Ladakhi farmers, promote organic farming and preserve Indigenous cultures,” said Thinles Norboo co-founder of Ladakh Basket.

One of the initiatives to do so was the Regional Dialogue on Indigenous Youth Social Entrepreneurship, which was held in January 2020 and brought together 20 youth-led initiatives from across Asia and the Pacific.

Since then, Youth Co:Lab has been offering dedicated support to young indigenous-led social enterprises through the Springboard Programme, as well as providing showcasing opportunities through the World Indigenous Forum.

Like DOCHAA from Nepal, who were supported by Youth Co:Lab through the Springboard Programme and more recently through help with their crowdfunding efforts and by pairing them up with expert mentors. Such support has helped them in realizing their vision.

“We combine the love [for shoes] with a desire to preserve, continue and promote local art.

DOCHAA celebrates the art, culture and rich traditions of Nepal.”

Together with the Business and Human Right initiative of UNDP and the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, Youth Co:Lab has also launched the Indigenous Youth Empowerment Grant Programme this year, which supports young indigenous innovators with resources to scale their impact.

All of these efforts are aimed at ensuring young indigenous social entrepreneurs can flourish and expand their efforts to make a difference in their communities. That is why for this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Youth Co:Lab is telling the stories of some of these young social entrepreneurs. To demonstrate what can be done if they are given the opportunities and support needed to realize their dreams and aspirations.


Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.

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