Towards a more inclusive future for business
by Andrew Lesa
Andrew Lesa was a finalist in Youth Co:Lab's Survive to Thrive blog competition in 2018. They say social entrepreneurship represents tomorrow's transaction. A combination of business and charity designed to give profit a conscience, or civil society a much-needed cash injection, depending on how your cookie crumbles.
I'm not as sexy as your typical entrepreneur. I didn't set out to get rich on the back of my efforts to change the world. Perhaps, my aim was more sinister. I explored how one might use this new medium to preserve traditional knowledge or heritage and stumbled on a treasure chest. So in the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being an indigenous Polynesian.
Urbanisation is beginning to creep into the most secluded parts of the globe and although it offers many benefits, we can't afford to ignore the dangers. Every two weeks, a native language dies. I wasn't about to wait around for someone else to take action on my behalf. In 2013, I launched a social business in the heart of Polynesia committed to reviving our connection to those who came before us. In the haste to get ahead, we look forward and often forget those who stood behind us. They offer infinite wisdom and valuable lessons that are as relevant today as ever. In the short time that our baby has been afloat, thousands of stories have been shared and many lives inspired. We employ hundreds of people and promote the work of our indigenous artists, linguists, performers, weavers and craft makers. We fund those who paddle our Waka (canoe) to mark the voyage of our ancestors guided only by the stars years before Europeans built their first ships. The spirit of social entrepreneurship is the ability to give those fighting for a cause decent wages. To do what we love or fear most and not have to worry about food or shelter is the key to a life with purpose.
I would be lying if I said the journey was smooth-sailing. Initially, I was told by others that the proposal lacked a strong business case and nobody would touch it. Today, I am affiliated with Thomson Reuters and UNESCO. I have visited over 65 countries to share the potential of just one seed and an incredible team. We were able to relaunch as a global initiative with flowers sprouting in indigenous settings as far as South America and Africa. Looking back, I can't help but wonder if I gave in to all those doubts and critics? Surviving is another word for adapting. If our identities are endangered, we must find new ways to safeguard them. I may not be as rich as other entrepreneurs, but you can't accuse me of doing nothing when time tried to come for my people. That's what gives me the greatest satisfaction. The goal was always to start something and we've done that together. Momentum whispers in my ear. "The best is yet to come". I hope we can lend our success to indigenous projects all over the world. Leadership is a movement and it's never about one person or the first group to start something. It's being able to reverse the damage caused by challenges we used to think were impossible to change. But if one small group can do something, imagine what more groups can accomplish?
If you think about it for just a second, ours is a special generation. There are more young people than in any other period in history. Our countries and regions are interacting on a scale never seen before. Strides in technology and science offer unprecedented opportunities. It's as if we were meant to overcome some of the greatest challenges facing society. To do nothing is a disservice to those who came before us and to those who will come after. I want to be remembered as the boy who didn't do nothing.
I am recommending capital for young people to access in the early stages of their ideas, capacity building and mentoring, governance & strategic planning (especially assistance with evidence of impact, accountability to funding agents, transparency, managing talent, etc), support with scaling up, public relations and networking.
I also want to offer some frank advice. My experience in the sector spans 10 years and in that time I have noticed one common theme across the board. Social entrepreneurs are almost always privileged. They are generally affluent and university-educated which helps with connections to funding, publicity, relationships, etc. If the UNDP and its partners are serious about elevating this space in the Asia Pacific, you need to target underprivileged constituencies such as indigenous groups for a bottom up approach to take root.
We risk contributing to the gross inequality of this region by not prioritising those who need the most assistance with entrepreneurship. If this is indeed the way of the future, now is exactly the time to engage the less fortunate. Equity goes further than equality. It recognises that not all young people start from the same place or enjoy the same advantages when it comes to building a social business from scratch. Those in the right circumstances stand to succeed the most and we've already seen that. So I challenge all of you to spare a thought for why the future of business should be more inclusive because the current model is an epic failure.