From the Young World to Your World

Welcome to the spot where technology, demographics, globalization and entrepreneurship converge. It’s a pretty busy intersection. Over the past decade, data and mobile networks have been spreading fastest in the parts of the world with the youngest populations: South Asia, Latin America and Africa. The combination has empowered a new global generation that is reinventing entrepreneurship with mind-blowing innovations, sophisticated new market strategies, and network-ready organizational models.

How will the next billion Netizens change the Web and the world? What can we learn from them? And how does their rise change the game in emerging markets? That’s my beat, and I’ll be exploring it on this blog for Fast Company.

I’m the author of a new book called Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up, just published by John Wiley & Sons, which explores this exciting new trend in the global economy with analysis, case studies and executive guidance. It follows up on my earlier book, Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap, which looked at the impact of next-generation workforce in the developed world. In real life, I’m a futurist and consultant in Seattle, with clients principally in the high-tech and software industry. I’ve been working on these issues since the early 2000’s as an independent scholar and researcher.

While researching Young World Rising, I had the chance to meet young entrepreneurs on five continents, all working on organizations based on networks and knowledge economy business models. Despite the vast differences in cultural background and local circumstances, these entrepreneurs shared certain approaches and norms that result, I believe, from their common membership in the global “Net Generation.”

One of the most pronounced characteristics of these Young world entrepreneurs is the propensity to blend social and commercial missions within the same organization – not as some self-conscious attempt at corporate social responsibility or explicitly social entrepreneurship, but as an organic part of their operating model. The entrepreneurs I studied recognize that the financial prosperity of their ventures cannot be separated from the larger social, political and economic environments in which they operate. Consequently, they spend a lot of discretionary effort and investment in activities like workforce development, infrastructure capacity-building, and advocacy for entrepreneurship and entrepreneur-friendly policies to build up their local ecosystems to the point where it can sustain their future growth.

This was true from the largest businesses, like India’s Infosys Technologies, which makes an extraordinary investment in broad-based recruitment and training, to the very smallest, such as Syntactics, a Philippines-based IT services company that runs an award-winning mentorship program to refine the graduates of local tech training programs into world-class talent.

Some of these companies exhibit a real genius for finding market-based solutions to big social problems in their environments – solutions which align government, private, and non-government organizations in new and productive ways. mPedigree, based in the West African nation of Ghana, has found a way to combat counterfeit medications by capitalizing on the rapid spread of cell phones with very basic text-messaging capabilities. Government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and telecoms all have something to gain from mPedigree’s success, which allowed it to clear away barriers and make headway against a problem that larger institutions were unable to solve.

Here in the US, we have become so accustomed to large, effective companies and governments solving these sorts of problems that our own innovation muscles have become a bit atrophied from disuse. Now, as it appears that the institutions which once seemed so benign and competent are not only unable to solve, but are actually the cause of, many of our worst problems, perhaps there is something we can learn from the hardscrabble innovators of the Young World.

The trends that are driving the rise of the Young World are long term and durable – perhaps more so than the dynamics currently dragging down the economies of the OECD countries. I hope to explore those issues, successes and challenges in future blogs here at Dispatches from the Young World.

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