Our Innovation Agenda is MIA. Here’s why that’s a problem.

Our Innovation Agenda is MIA. Here’s why that’s a problem.

It was a massive moment for doers, creators, thinkers and innovators across the country. In 2015 the Australian Prime Minister made a call to arms - to drive an “ideas boom” that would reinvigorate our economy and country. A government commitment to uniting industry, researchers and innovators to secure the nation’s economic future.

The 2017 Budget  holds glimmers of hope toward driving the National Innovation and Science Agenda forward – for the most part however, the key announcements were specifically targeted toward boosting innovation, skills and research in manufacturing.

A gaping omission in the 2017 Budget is support for our young Australian innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers.

Young people like Jordan O’Reilly, the co-founder of Fighting Chance and HireUp, who from the age of 16 has dedicated his life to working with people with disabilities ensuring they gain access to work opportunities and their choice of quality care. Jordan has led disruptive innovation in the disability care sector, working within the newly minted NDIS. Jordan is a part of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) young social entrepreneurs’ ecosystem.

There are 4.3 million young people in Australia today, by 2053 this is predicted to rise to 6.3 million. Our young people are our greatest untapped resource – brimming with ideas to drive change, but few with the support and resources to make these ideas a reality.

An ageing population, shrinking workforce and digital disruption are contributing to a changing Australian economy. Different to years gone by, FYA’s research indicates young people will have an average of 17 different jobs across five careers throughout their lives. Sometimes they will be self-employed, at other times they’ll be working for, or with others.

Recent data from Citi shows that, globally, young people are eager to be job creators, not just job seekers. An astonishing 69% of young people dream of starting their own business. However, over half feel they need more skills and training make their ideas a reality.

There is a well-documented case for entrepreneurship education in schools and universities as well as access to different forms of finance for young Australians to get their venture off the ground.

Australia remains one of the only advanced economies without dedicated youth entrepreneurship initiatives supported by the government. Countries like Canada are leading the way with an integrated program across government, education and industry for over a decade. According to a 2013 Ernst and Young report, the Total Early Stage Entrepreneurial Activity for Australia is 8.7% well below the USA at 13.5% for 18 to 24 year olds.

Our young entrepreneurs have fresh ideas and unfettered thinking – to secure our economic and social prosperity, we need young Australians to be equipped and supported to drive new innovations and business opportunities for themselves and their communities.

Over the past seven years FYA has built Australia’s largest youth entrepreneurship eco-system inspiring 18,000 students to flex their entrepreneurial muscle through $20Boss, a high school challenge which builds the enterprise skills essential to the new work order and growing 200 Young Social Pioneers leading social change projects across the country.

With a focus on innovation and sustainable solutions, Young Social Pioneers builds the business capabilities, social innovation insights and networks required to be a successful young social impact leader. Alumni from the program include Jordan O’Reilly (HireUp), Lucinda Hartley (Codesign), Taj Pabari (FiftySix), Chris Raine (Hello Sunday Morning); and Ally Watson (Code Like a Girl) to name just a few.

At the conclusion of the 2016 Young Social Pioneers incubator program, 94% of pioneers were confident in their ability to run a business or organisation sustainably, 96% of pioneers reported they could make sound business decisions and 91% said they were confident in their ability to resource their project. 92% of the alumni are currently running one or more ventures and 43% employ 5 or more people.  

Beyond the initial Young Social Pioneers incubator program, in the years ahead, our young social entrepreneurs gain access to a range of ongoing opportunities. This includes finance, business and philanthropic networks and influencers, leading research, intensive business mentoring, unique leadership, presentation and pitch opportunities, annual gatherings and awards for young changemakers, and co-working spaces.

By connecting young changemakers through this nationwide program we increase our potential for challenging the status quo, addressing socio-economic inequalities and building a world that future generations want to live in.

Applications for this year’s Young Social Pioneers program are open until next Wednesday 24 May.

Australia wants fresh ideas and new thinking to create a strong future. We can do this by investing in the diversity, ideas and talent of our young people.

FYA CEO, Jan Owen AM is a highly regarded social entrepreneur, innovator, influencer and author who has spent the past 25 years growing Australia’s youth, social enterprise and innovation sectors.