The Power of Youth: It’s time to stop idealising entrepreneurship

My name is Idalia and I am a young Mexican woman and entrepreneur. As a member of Youthwise, I have had the opportunity to speak up for many young entrepreneurs and advocate for improving the prospects available to young people during and post-pandemic. Banner image: Shutterstock/Yaw Niel

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The OECD's Power of Youth series showcases the perspectives and experiences of young people who are shaping the future. Exploring topics from gender equality and education to climate and careers, the series gives a voice to young advocates and activists who we met in different events, as well as members of Youthwise, the OECD's youth advisory board. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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I am often asked why and when I decided to become an entrepreneur. The truth is, it just sort of happened. Ideas started to come to mind about the product and the need for it in a specific niche market, and little by little the whole thing started to take form including a logo, a brand, a motto. 

At university, many professors encouraged us to think about innovation and business creation. They taught us about all the advantages and responsibilities that come with owning a business such as being responsible with your tasks and employees, forming a team with people that can bring up different perspectives and expertise, innovating within the industry as much as you can and aiming to make an impact on society. However, there are important aspects of entrepreneurship that they did not speak about, ones I had to learn on my own.

Nobody mentioned the long hours that you need to dedicate to your idea to make sure it grows. It is definitely not the 9 to 5 standard schedule but luckily, you get so passionate about your project that the long hours become less of a problem and more something you end up enjoying. Unfortunately, if out of control, they can become a health issue, both physically and mentally. The social and financial pressure to be successful, to make it to the end of the month, while not having a stable income creates a high stress environment that affects you emotionally and that can even lead to heart conditions or other types of physical illness. 

Another aspect nobody mentioned is that you end up in an economic position similar to working in the informal economy. In my experience in Mexico, even when the business is registered, taxes paid, income declared, along with all the other formalities, you still do not have access to good public healthcare (unless you pay for private health insurance) nor qualify for financial or housing aids. 

Only 4.8% of employed men and 3.9% of employed women were registered for borrowing money with the purpose of opening or growing a business in Mexico. The percentage is so low because being young with a non-fixed income makes it close to impossible to get a loan from a traditional financial institution. 

This means that the majority of entrepreneurs fund their projects with their own money, making entrepreneurship a type of luxury. Channeling your savings into a business might be possible for some but may also mean sacrificing buying a house or starting a family.

Furthermore, 13.2% of young women and 12.1% of young men in Mexico are considered self-employed which means they cannot count on the support of large companies and their safety nets. In some countries it goes as high as 16.8%.

As self-employed/entrepreneurs we need to establish our own support system to ensure quality healthcare, financial services and housing. Another aspect that is often overlooked is that most employees do not have to worry about filling their own taxes, having a cell phone, computer or even a car, or having day care for their children. All of this is often provided in-house, but as entrepreneurs, we rarely see this kind of support. Another example is that most entrepreneurs have to stay in the family home for a longer period of time, increasing the feeling of not being successful and triggering mental health issues, such as depression.   

In terms of inspiration and support developing my business, I was very fortunate to have had two university professors who became close friends and mentors to me and to whom I could always reach out for brainstorming and a fresh point of view. Dealing with many kinds of issues that a business encounter on a daily basis forces you into a routine and vicious cycle. In this situation, having someone to act as a mentor and care about your success while maintaining an honest and unbiased opinion was very enriching. Sadly, not every entrepreneur gets this kind of help, and this is something I want us to change.

Read the OECD Policy Brief on Recent Developments in Youth Entrepreneurship that explores the scale and nature of entrepreneurship activities undertaken by youth, and describes the main barriers faced.

I firmly believe that we should stop idealising entrepreneurship. Youth entrepreneurs deal with many obstacles that do not contribute to success but make entrepreneurship rather difficult and precarious. 

Entrepreneurship brings innovation to industries, it creates new jobs and generates more competition within the service/product line that encourages every other company to do better. For this reason, many policy makers believe that entrepreneurship is key to solving many economic issues, but they still do not offer the proper aid for entrepreneurs to succeed and fully participate in the solutions our societies need. 

Read the OECD policy paper Young people’s concerns during COVID-19: Results from risks that matter 2020 that provides cross-national information on young people’s concerns, perceived vulnerabilities and policy preferences.

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

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Idalia Ziehl

Member, OECD Youthwise

Born and raised in Mexico City, I am an international business graduate and entrepreneur, founder and owner of a five-year-old equestrian equipment company. I am a nature lover and horse rider, keen on culture and history as well as cross-cultural relations.