Our Perspective

Empowering youth through design thinking

ImgSecond youth dialogue session, Karachi

What do young Pakistani entrepreneurs need to ease their journey to success? How can they contribute to the country’s sustainable development and build a brighter future for themselves? Through design thinking, a revolutionary framework for innovation, we can envisage what can be, and chart out the actions required to achieve that future.

The first requirement is good policy. Design thinking can help us understand how policy support from the government can facilitate start-ups. Whilst Pakistan has a Youth Policy, there is a need for a policy framework that acknowledges youth-led start-ups as economic contributors and addresses the challenges they face. UNDP Pakistan has a crucial role in advocating for the cross-sectoral planning required, engaging with academia and the private sector, and amplifying the voices of  entrepreneurs to strengthen the entrepreneurial eco-system and introduce “start-up packages” for youth entrepreneurs.

A key question is whether Pakistan’s youth are in fact capable of devising innovative solutions to the problems they face. A design thinking approach can be integrated into both academic learning and professional training, helping youth analyse socioeconomic complexities and implement solutions. For example, a young girl living in a social confined space might initiate a home-based business, using her limited resources to generate an income. A young man from Lyari who recognizes the prejudices his community confronts can use innovative thinking to establish a community-based social enterprise to earn a livelihood and help those around him. Young students can receive skills training to develop online applications for job matching. The possibilities are endless.

Women face significant economic exclusion and can benefit immensely from investments in entrepreneurship support. Targeted training, supportive activities and market linkages can have immense benefits for the local economy and women’s empowerment. For example, UNDP’s Youth Employment Project has piloted an initiative with the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA), to empower 390 young women. This provides a best practice that can be replicated with a stronger focus on innovative thinking.

Today’s youth are connected through multiple channels and influence one another strongly. This is an immense advantage, offering ways to share useful knowledge and put it to good use. UNDP can provide youth with a knowledge sharing platform to showcase best practices and create a dialogue that could lead to viable solutions to address youth issues, led by youth. Similar platforms could be developed for all stakeholders in an entrepreneurial ecosystem to share ideas, discuss challenges and devise solutions. Supporting research can fill knowledge gaps and open space for innovation.

Without financial muscle it is difficult for start-ups to survive. This muscle may be harnessed through financial knowledge and assistance and strong links with investors. UNDP can establish linkages between investors and entrepreneurs, strengthen university incubation centres and link youth with available funding such as SDG innovation funds. UNDP can also provide competitive funding awards, mobilize resources and work on a cost-sharing basis to introduce programmes like the Prime Minister’s Youth Loans.

UNDP has extensive experience in engaging youth for socioeconomic betterment. By integrating design thinking into policy advocacy, capacity-building, and resource mobilization, it can help create a culture of entrepreneurship in Pakistan, helping youth devise innovative solutions to address the issues they face.

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