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The importance of teaching social entrepreneurship in schools


17 January 2022 at 2:09 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
“Our goal is to work with 1.5 million young people by 2025. Can you imagine what could happen if two per cent go on to create something?” 


Nikki Stefanoff | 17 January 2022 at 2:09 pm


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The importance of teaching social entrepreneurship in schools
17 January 2022 at 2:09 pm

“Our goal is to work with 1.5 million young people by 2025. Can you imagine what could happen if even just two per cent go on to create something?” 

Even before the global pandemic drove us to rethink the way we do our jobs, the future of work and education has always been a hot topic. 

As the world made its shift online, making some traditional jobs obsolete in the process, it became apparent that the skills being taught to our young people might need to shift too. 

And with the global challenges we, and future generations, continue to face, educators have started to wonder if we should be teaching skills needed to make a positive impact on both people and planet.

Research suggests that we do. 

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report found that 63 per cent of all future jobs will require some form of intensive enterprise skills, a finding backed up by research from the Foundation of Young Australians who discovered that young people with enterprise skills are 17 months ahead of their peers in gaining full-time employment. 

Yet, these enterprise skills aren’t being automatically taught in Australian schools, which is where Young Change Agents step in. 

Young Change Agents and the Australian curriculum

Co-founded by Margaret O’Brien, and The Atlassian Foundation’s Jonathan Srikanthan, Young Change Agents (YCA) is a not-for-profit social enterprise teaching young people the importance of social entrepreneurship. The organisation does this through a series of programs delivered either directly into schools or through personal development training given to teachers. 

O’Brien is YCA’s CEO and explains that YCA’s core program is explorer, a 2.5-day hackathon-style workshop that walks teams of students through identifying problems in their community before working together to ideate, validate, prototype and pitch a social enterprise idea to a judging panel. O’Brien says to see it in action is “magic.”

“Getting [young people] to sit in the space of finding a problem and really thinking deeply about what they want to change by putting purpose first is a fantastic introduction to social entrepreneurship,” she said. 

“YCA maps its programs to different parts of the curriculum, [such as] commerce, design and technology, geography, maths, art and English. That’s the beauty of the Australian curriculum, it’s really like a framework, and teachers can teach within that framework. So there is some flexibility to what they teach.”

Schools already have subjects such as civics and citizenship on their timetables and Catholic schools are teaching around service and values, so the concept of social enterprise isn’t brand new. However, the team at YCA is taking the concept and demonstrating how to turn it into something tangible. 

“For us, it’s not just about the programs, it’s about taking schools through progression. We’re looking to give people proper scaffolded learning [about social entrepreneurship] from year five all the way through high school,” O’Brien said. 

“The reality at the moment is that young people are lucky to have one [social entrepreneurship] program during their time at school, however, we’re talking to a lot of schools about embedding it throughout a student’s school life. But at least for now, young people are getting an opportunity to be aware of social enterprise and gain more knowledge around it.” 

The importance of entrepreneurial learning during COVID

Since O’Brien launched YCA’s pilot program in 2016 the rise in demand for the organisation’s programs has grown from 50 schools a year in the early days to 1,000 schools experiencing a YCA program in 2021. 

The biggest rise in demand for YCA’s services came during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 – a time when the organisation doubled its program delivery. 

With the lockdowns causing so much uncertainty in the lives of Australia’s young people, O’Brien and her team were prompted to talk to a lot of schools about how entrepreneurial learning could give students a sense of control. 

“We started running a coronavirus design challenge with schools. We would say to young people, well, you might not be able to create the vaccine, but what you can do is think about all the challenges in your community that have resulted due to COVID,” O’Brien said. 

“So that might be loneliness, it might be that it’s really affecting you that you can’t go to people’s birthday parties, or it might be around hygiene. [We showed them] that you can take any of these challenges, reframe them and turn them into opportunities, through social entrepreneurship, to create impact in the world.”

Changing the trajectory of the sector

O’Brien is passionate about the role schools can play in encouraging students to think about impact in a different way, particularly when it comes to business. And the more schools can engage students in social entrepreneurship and show them how it can impact the world around them, the better it is for the future of the social sector. 

“In 2021, we worked with almost 45,000 young people and our goal is to work with 1.5 million young people by 2025. Can you imagine what could happen if even just two per cent go on to create something?” O’Brien said.

“They could be the next Thank You or the next Who Gives a Crap or Jigsaw. You know, all these businesses were started by just one or two people. Even if they don’t start a business [they have the knowledge to] instead go into a company and agitate for change with, say, social procurement. 

“We’re not trying to teach them that social enterprise is the only way to do good, what we’re saying is that there are different models out there and [we] help them understand that business doesn’t need to be done one way.”

Find out more about Young Change Agents here.


Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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