Voices from the Field: Breaking Down Barriers to Economic Opportunity

[Editor's note: This article was written by Emily Bosland, project manager at Ashoka Changemakers®.]

How can innovative, market-based solutions generate economic opportunity and sustainable jobs?

In an effort to answer this question, Ashoka’s Changemakers® is speaking with leading social entrepreneurs in a quest to better understand why connecting qualified—yet unemployed—people to available jobs is still a significant problem around the world.

As outlined in a recent blog post, there are myriad barriers to economic development and job creation. Ashoka Fellows and social entrepreneurs from around the world are breaking down these barriers by improving access to markets, recreating systems of resource allocation, and enhancing the spread of information to include the world’s most disadvantaged populations in a more integrated economy.

In our conversations with experts in the field, restricted access to markets has been identified as a significant barrier to economic opportunity. Many local producers don’t have access to international markets to sell their goods or services. Additionally, qualified candidates are often geographically isolated from employers seeking specific skills.

Samasource, for example, uses the Internet to connect people living in poverty to multinational companies and government programs, attacking both the supply and demand challenge. Founder Leila C. Janah remarked, “As the market-maker, this distributed workforce provides capable people with jobs, not outreach or charity,” thus creating an efficient, sustainable market that supports continued economic gains.

Social entrepreneur, Tiago Dalvi’s organization, Solidarium, is focused on “building a scalable business model to support the huge number of producers in Brazil.” Solidarium integrates “a network of designers to create new products that are aligned with market demands” and connects these local producers “to the market by distributing to major retailers.”

“By connecting local producers, we can produce the same product by multiple producers and thus, increase production capacity,” creating a highly scalable model that engages a large network of Brazilian entrepreneurs through innovative partnerships with major companies such as Wal-Mart.

Conversations with social entrepreneurs and innovators also revealed that one of the most pervasive, yet subtle, barriers to employment is restrictive cultural norms. Lana Hijazi, co-founder of Souktel, explained that even though women in Palestine are encouraged to go to college, they “have to move to where the jobs are in cities, but their families won’t let them move out or live alone.” Even with access to education, women still struggle to find employment. Souktel’s creative use of an SMS platform starts to tear down this barrier by “giving women a safe way to search for work from the comfort of their homes, or from anywhere they wish.”

In Pakistan, girls often drop out of school when they become more productive at other jobs like household work or carpet weaving. “One big trend we’re working to change is young girls – and boys – choosing work over education. Most developing countries face this challenge. We want families to see education as empowerment,” said Saba Gul, founder of BLISS. BLISS is redesigning skills training for young women by incorporating a trade-based class into the traditional curricula, in addition to offering students a small financial incentive for staying in school. Gul anticipates that by demonstrating the direct link between education and sustainable income generation, BLISS will shift families’ perception of the value of education.

In some cultures, the mindset towards entrepreneurship prevents people—particularly youth—from pursuing entrepreneurial careers, which often have a multiplier effect of creating more jobs.

Natalia Santos, executive coordinator of Brazilian organization, Rede Jovem, explained that not everyone’s an entrepreneur, so a “one-size fits all” approach to entrepreneurial job creation doesn’t work.

“We don’t create entrepreneurs, but we help them build their businesses, if that’s what they really want to do. If a person doesn’t want to be an entrepreneur, you won’t convince them to become one. You can’t impose this idea. The challenge with connecting youth to opportunities is often as much interest as it is availability of opportunities ... If youth believe they’re part of the social change process they’ll recruit other interested youth.”

Although both restricted access to markets and cultural norms can prove barriers to job creation, social innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world are already working to tackle these issues. Do you know initiatives that are overcoming restrictive cultural norms to Powering Economic Opportunity? Submit an idea or nominate an initiative today!

REMINDER: Tuesday May 17th, @Changemakers will be hosting a #SocEntChat to discuss some of these barriers and innovations to creating market-based solutions to generating economic opportunity. Join the conversation on Twitter from 3PM to 5PM EDT!

 

Photo courtesy of teachandlearn (cc)

Follow Emily on Twitter