The role of children and young people in sustainable entrepreneurship

When we’re talking about sustainability, we’re talking about future generations. We’re talking about the future of our kids, of the children growing up in a world where material scarcity is an everyday challenge. In a way you can say that the most important stakeholder of a sustainable organization are the children and young people of today.

This realization led to a new series of articles on the Guardian last week, discussing wether or not companies should engage young people in their operational management (and if so, how?) .

“Because they are not bound by the constraints of corporate life, and have no knowledge of company structures, awareness of production capabilities and the like, children and young people are able to see opportunity where adults see issues, see solutions where we see problems and, crucially, make connections that we would never have thought possible.”

The full series on giving children a voice in business can be found here, I would like to highlight the article “Putting youth creativity at the heart of business decision-making. In this article, Tim Smedley, shows a very inspiring example of how three companies effectively formalized the role of young people in the heart of their strategic management by creating youth advisory boards.

“A youth panel needs to be involved in decision-making, not just be a focus group to ask consumer questions to. A youth panel is kind of the next level… it’s saying we actually trust them to help us make bigger, better decisions because they bring a fresh perspective.”

Change management versus disruptive change

Although a youth advisory board is an extremely inspiring way to formalize the role of children, it’s still about giving advice to a company. It’s still pretty non-committal from the business side of it (it’s quite a big commitment for young people to take up a role in any advisory board, whether it’s for school, youth organization or a company). If implemented properly, these advisory boards could eventually lead to a path of change management, but change management rarely leads to disruptive change.

It’s my believe that with change management we could do a lot less worse, but less bad is not the same as good. Or, as John R. Ehrenfeld stated in his book Sustainability by Design:

“Reducing unsustainability, although critical, will not create sustainability”

We need more than just change management, we need disruptive change. And let’s face it, 99,9% of the entrepreneurs in this world are not creative, or able to think in a disruptive way. This in itself is not a big problem, as Max Planck once said:

“A new idea does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

But there’s a problem: the next generation isn’t growing up with these new ideas. They’re being schooled by the entrepreneurs of today, in the ways these entrepreneurs were schooled, and about theories that these entrepreneurs learned by the entrepreneurs before them. Don’t get me wrong, I believe experience is extremely valuable, but it can also be blinding. The moment someone ‘with businesss-experience’ tells you what works and what doesn’t, creativity gets killed.

I would love to create some sort of training for young people. Not to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong, but to learn them how to look at what they learn in a critical way. To believe the things that fit their believes, and first discard things that don’t, and later on show their teachers why their truth didn’t work in the new context that was created. Not a training that focusses on hard skills, but on the soft skills of creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurship.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

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