It Takes a Child to Raise a Village

Kids Can Be Entrepreneurs: do’s and don’ts of engaging children in social enterprise

You’ve likely heard the saying, it takes a village to raise a child. It’s a mantra and philosophy that speaks to the importance of community in the development of children and young people. Schools, sports clubs, arts and cultural organisations, neighbours, friends, extended families all play a role in raising and shaping our children. To grow as equipped, resilient, socially connected, healthy individuals and citizens, children require a village.

Such a statement is, however, lopsided. It leaves us with a set of assumptions about children and young people, in which they are passive consumers. Somehow, when they cease to be kids, they will emerge from their years of being ‘raised’ and magically enter the community as contributors.

Kids are savvy, intelligent, resilient, funny, often outspoken and know what they want. They are usually more willing to take risks than adults. Kids display entrepreneurial traits more readily and consistently than adults.

So, why do we sideline them? Why do we marginalise kids and treat them as empty vessels — only to receive and never to give? I know a 10-year-old who makes more money at a weekend market than her parent does in an entire week. I know a high school student who earns more money than his Principal. We proclaim, “What a freak! What a remarkable child!” But I think it’s more a condition of the innovative nature of kids and how they have been encouraged to develop and express themselves; rather than their ‘freakishness’.

The missing aspect of the statement, it takes a village to raise a child, is that it also takes a child to raise a village.

Our world is grappling with some massive ecological, economic and cultural challenges. Our children face a future that is likely to be far more complex than our own. We require urgent solutions. It makes sense then that our kids play a role in addressing that future sooner rather than later? What if we valued and empowered kids as contributors and change-makers?

Imagine if we actively helped kids to harness their imagination and use business and commerce for good. Imagine kids empowered as young social entrepreneurs to solve local problems through micro-enterprise and directing their profits to support community development initiatives. In the process of developing the Academy for Young Entrepreneurs, we imagined precisely that. We believe that it takes a child to raise a village and have witnessed some remarkable outcomes from this approach.

We have also learnt (often through failure) some of the critical do’s and don’ts of supporting kids to be entrepreneurs. Here are some of them:

DO give children real-world titles and roles
DON’T dumb them down

Maybe you wanted to be a Mouseketeer as a kid (perhaps you’re too young to know what that is). I thought it was ridiculous and demeaning. I wanted to be a musketeer because that seemed to have more legitimacy and value. Kids aspire to have significant roles. Kids aspire to make a difference. If we give them dumbed-down names and titles, we effectively marginalise them and imply that they can’t truly engage in ‘real’ roles until they are ‘grown-up’. Call kids entrepreneurs if they are because it’s an actual word, and we don’t need to get creative with the term.

DO allow children to ideate
DON’T dictate the solution

Whilst predetermined activities such as lamington drives, selling boxes of chocolates or cookies, lap-a-thons, and raffles are helpful for fundraising, it’s essentially child labour. These activities also equip children to be task-driven workers, not innovators and entrepreneurs. Good business is all about problem-solving, and the problem is not simply how to make more money for someone else.

DO teach children sound business practices
DON’T assume they won’t be able to grasp key concepts

I’ve had more intelligent conversations with kids about market differentiation than with many ‘grown-ups’. 10-year-olds can understand value proposition, profit and loss, channels and customer segments — it just needs to be framed in relatable language, experiences, and examples.

DO show children that money can make a difference
DON’T make money the end goal

Money is a means to an end. In a world of profound disparity, in which one per cent of the population holds 99 per cent of the wealth, supporting link we need to rethink what that end might be. If we can help create a generation of young people who can build wealth for a greater good than consumerism or shareholder wealth, we can begin to perceive a much brighter future.

DO encourage entrepreneurial traits in all children
DON’T assume all children are entrepreneurial

Like most things, we can take this too far. Every child isn’t an Oprah Winfrey, Mohammed Yunus, Beyonce Knowles, Anita Roddick, or Richard Branson. We should nurture entrepreneurial traits such as innovation, creativity, resilience and calculated risk-taking in every child. But we shouldn’t expect every child to engage in an entrepreneurial endeavour.

Kids can be entrepreneurs. Provided the opportunities and support, children can describe and be involved in making change. Our villages can address problems and prosper when we empower all our members, including the most vulnerable. Because, to use a cheesy but pertinent cliché and song lyric, the children are our future, and we want them to participate in the best future possible.

Aleem is co-founder of the Academy for Young Entrepreneurs, an initiative that helps kids harness their imagination and use business for good.

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