Youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems in the world. Its impact is particularly evident in Europe, where in November youth unemployment rates hit 23.7 percent in the European Union, and a whopping 57.6 percent in Greece and 56.5 percent in Spain. I believe youth entrepreneurship education can bring these horrible unemployment rates down.
Our organization, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), is supporting programs in Europe to do just that. NFTE Belgium, NFTE Germany and our programs in France, Ireland, Austria and England, are helping European youth carve their own paths out of poverty and unemployment by creating and operating their own small businesses. In the process, these at-risk youth develop skills and an understanding of how business works, that make them more employable.
Unemployment has proven to be a dangerously destabilizing force in Europe, and modern day France is no exception. Over the past decade the country has suffered through a series of youth riots that have shaken its societal foundations. While the 2005 riots were the most serious and most widespread -- leading to the declaration of a national state of emergency -- smaller riots such as the August 2012 Amiens riot are an example of what can happen anytime anywhere in France when youth and police clash, even over something as minor as a traffic violation. With 150,000 young people dropping out of school without a degree on an annual basis, many fear that the current 24.9 percent youth unemployment rate will continue to rise, raising the possibility that unemployed youth may turn to violence and radicalism.
I flew to Paris in December for the inaugural business plan competition of Réseau Étincelle, the umbrella group running NFTE programs in France, led by Sylvain Breuzard and Lena Bondue (Co-Founder of NFTE Belgium) who, with Olivier Vigneron, has co-founded the youth entrepreneurship movement in France. Vigneron is our top entrepreneurship teacher in France and Breuzard is CEO of the successful consulting and IT French firm Norsys, and was chairman of CJD, Young Business Leaders from 2002 to 2004. I was shown around and hosted by Lena, one of the top entrepreneurship educators in the world.
At the inaugural event in Paris, I attended the presentation of some wonderful business plans by ten French entrepreneurship students. Their businesses included gardening, painting and repair services. They presented in teams of two and, although I don't speak French, I had a translator and could tell that the presentations were outstanding. The judges asked intense questions, and the young presenters answered with poise and obvious pride in their creations. They understood their markets and they nailed their financial statements.
After the presentations, I sat with the students and interviewed them. One of the young entrepreneurs said he "was creating a business in order to help with the unemployment problem in Europe." I was touched by his motivation. An immigrant from the Middle East, he lived in the suburbs of Paris, where the unemployment problem among youth, particularly minorities, is very apparent. "Are you optimistic about the future?" I asked. "Yes, I am," he said showing me a sketch of a logo he had done for his business and explaining his economics of one unit in great detail.
The vision of Réseau Etincelle, inspired by the experience of NFTE, is to provide French at-risk youth, entrepreneurship training that will help them develop self-confidence, find their talents and discover the business world. We already have over 1000 volunteers involved. The program is off to a great start. It has held 22 training sessions and over 200 young people have graduated with completed business plans. The program has raised almost $300,000 for 2012 and plans to double its reach by 2014.
Below are some photos from the event. I hope they will inspire all of us to help spread the word - youth entrepreneurship education can directly address unemployment and political unrest and violence around the world.