Social enterprises offer ideal career option for young people
Updated 13:52, 21-Oct-2020
Liu Jichen


Editor's note: Liu Jichen is China's first Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals nominated by UN and founder and CEO of Clear Plate. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Business or charity? For a long time, it seems like an "either or" career choice. In recent years, however, a new form of organization has come to the fore – social enterprises that use commercial means to solve social problems to achieve both "righteousness and profit" and to bring together business purposes and public welfare.

For example, Grameen Bank from Bangladesh provides microcredit to poor farmers and Canyou Group, the largest employer of people with disabilities in China, provides IT services to the market by training disabled people with IT skill programs.

Social enterprise work is an ideal career option for many people as it brings passion, expertise and social needs together. From this perspective, my story with social enterprises is both serendipitous and yet seemingly inevitable.

In 2016, when I was the president of the vegetarian society at Tsinghua University, I noticed a campaign abroad called "Leftover Party," which called on people to bring "ugly food" that might otherwise be discarded to the party to cook together. It was meant to encourage people to reduce food waste.

First, I began to pay attention to food waste, then I organized one such event with my classmates at Tsinghua that was attended by hundreds of people and turned out well.

Later, when I was eating at a restaurant near my school, I saw the restaurant kept a card record of customers who cleared food in the plates and then rewarded them accordingly. Thanks to that inspiration, I came up with the "Clear Plate" campaign, using artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce food waste.

After taking a meal, users are invited to take a photo of a clear plate and upload it onto the cloud. Then the photo will be recognized by an AI algorithm and the users rewarded with gift points. The points can be donated to charity programs which can later convert them into cash donations from companies. 

The "Clear Plate" app created by the author.

The "Clear Plate" app created by the author.

I first identified food waste and aimed to record and reward each act of saving food through a smartphone app so that saving food could go from slogan to action. Thanks to the internet and AI, I had the honor to be China's first UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Through this campaign, we hope to inspire everyone to take action against food waste and to contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions to global food security challenges. 

I shaped a three-step process to establish and run a social enterprise: to identify the problem and propose a solution, build a sustainable business model, and then scale up the impact.

The risk of failure in starting a business is often too high, but statistics show that social enterprises are several times more likely to survive than other companies. Although social enterprises are privately owned, they have a certain public profile and are therefore more likely to be supported by the community.

Who is better suited for a social enterprise? There are many factors that determine how well youth and social enterprises can complement each other. Young people of this generation are more likely to choose a career that meets their aspirations.

They are more likely to have access to social resources and have less time cost and more room for trial and error. From my personal experience, they are more likely to improve their skills in the process of developing social enterprises.

No absolute failure can be linked with youth entrepreneurship. Social enterprises are never about winning or losing, and the experience of entrepreneurship is a valuable asset for youngsters.

Moreover, in the future, more entrepreneurial opportunities will come from social innovation, and society needs more social enterprises that use market-based solutions to solve problems that may be ignored by regular businesses. But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities. Why not create a small and well-intended social enterprise that solves social problems?

Youth development and social enterprises can go hand in hand. I am eager to see more young people choosing to start their careers on the path to achieving the UN SDGs.

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