In rural Bihar, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be unemployed, with over 19.1% of those with a diploma/certificate and over 25% of graduates unemployed according to data from the Labour Ministry from 2013-14. The problem that Project Potential seeks to solve is to help create responsible employment for young adults from rural Bihar, which will benefit the local community and economy. More specifically, Project Potential’s main mission is to foster an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in rural India to solve the youth unemployment crisis. What a big task lay ahead of us!
But what does all of that really mean? How can entrepreneurship solve the youth unemployment crisis? What is the definition of entrepreneurship and how can it be further defined for the rural context? These are just a few of the questions that I began to tackle as I worked on a report for Project Potential that would help in the selection process of the organization’s new pilot program. Defining entrepreneurship is not an easy task since the definition has been diluted and misconstrued to mean things as simple as owning and managing a small business; in the rural development sector it’s much more than this. In order to choose a definition of entrepreneurship that would make sense in the context of Bihar, entrepreneurship has to be defined as an enterprise that both improves the quality of life for individuals, families and communities, and will aid in sustaining a healthy economy and environment.
Many define entrepreneurs to be inherently risk takers. But for rural youth in Bihar, an area overcome with unemployment, there is a great need for a stable income that can provide for one’s family. So again, how do we define and teach entrepreneurship in this setting? We must be broad and elaborate in our definition, as well as diverse in the populations that we teach so that all youth can decide for themselves whether to become entrepreneurial. Perhaps the best definition might be an all encompassing one: “a force that mobilises other resources to meet unmet demands”, “the ability to create and build something from practically nothing”, “the process of creating value by pulling together a unique package of resources to exploit an opportunity”. It combines definitions of entrepreneurship by Jones and Sakong (1980); Timmons (1989); and Stevenson et al. (1985).
Perhaps the most important question is: who gets to be an entrepreneur? Are they mostly women? Are they mostly women of color? Are they poor? Are they young? This is a question that has been running through my mind – almost eating me alive – for the past four weeks. Project Potential, a small team of eight, is here in the middle of a tea garden in rural Bihar, sometimes without electricity or water, hoping that any youth between the ages of 21-30 who are willing to explore the possibility would become just that – an entrepreneur. We will run a six-week pilot program in Partnership with Udhyam Organization. This pilot will first train and encourage 40 youth with the mindset of an entrepreneur and then select youth who would like to continue and support them with with funding, mentorship, and professional connections, in the form of an incubator. It was through research and defining “entrepreneur” and “incubator” that I began to think through these seemingly trivial details.
I allowed myself to envision an enterprise. This “fireball from the Bronx” (which is how people often like to refer to me) can indeed create an enterprise. I tried to think through ideas of enterprises and I questioned myself often: “That won’t work”, “I don’t know how to do that”, “It will fail because I will fail”, “My idea sucked, what the hell kind of skills do I even have – my Bronx failed me”. But then I stopped myself. If this is how I question myself, what do I expect that Project Potential students to think? Our youth tackle barriers to simply get a job – in a state that has failed them – and they lack the industries in Bihar to work. According to the annual survey of industries, there exist only 1.5% of industries for a state that holds 8% of India’s population. Youth who might not know the word entrepreneur, youth who lack self-belief and confidence to start ideas on their own, or a lack of a supportive environment, and perhaps inactive or overworked banks and government agencies.
No, this post isn’t about me. But it’s about how internalized identities halt you so how they have halted youth in Bihar to grow to their fullest potential. As a woman, as a person of color, as a first-generation American, I believe that not even my rich nation cared about me. In turn, how can I expect to believe this for our kids here in rural Bihar? It’s important to note that not every youth will feel this way and who am I to project my feelings but how can I begin to push our youth and ultimately this community. Slipping into the shoes of the youth I work with here isn’t the end goal – in fact it’s far from it. I can ask them: “what do you want, what do you need?” If I’m asking my youth to have the audacity to believe that they can indeed change India, change Bihar, change themselves in the way they would like, to advocate for themselves, then I must get into the ride too. I can be an entrepreneur. Should I be? Should you? That’s another blog post. I will believe and push our kids to have the audacity to be an entrepreneur, because I have the audacity to believe in the potential of each and every one of them. Project Potential is here working with local youth so that youth’s innovative ideas can change Bihar, because we believe all Bihar youth can be a catalyst of change for one another and their community.
Youth Unemployment Scenario Volume II (2013-2014).” Youth Unemployment Scenario, vol. 2 (2013-2014). Retrieved from: http://labourbureaunew.gov.in/
“Status of Education and Vocational Training in India 2004-2005.” National Sample Survey Organization Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Government of India, December 2006. Retrieved from: mospi.nic.in/sites/default/
Jones, Leroy, and Il SaKong (1980). “Government, Business, and Entrepreneurship in Economic Development: The Korean Case”. Studies in the Modernization of the Republic of Korea, 1945-97. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, pp. 190-207.
Stevenson, Howard H., et al. (2006). New Business Ventures and the Entrepreneur. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Irwin McGraw-Hill.
Timmons, Jeffry A. (1989). The Entrepreneurial Mind. Andover, MA: Brick House.
Petrin, T. (1994). “Entrepreneurship as an Economic Force in Rural Development”. Keynote paper presented at the Seventh FAO/REU International Rural Development Summer School, Herrsching, Germany, 8 – 14 September 1994.