Karim Harji – Becoming Visible 2011 – Increased Opportunities for Youth in Social Finance

Get used to this name, Karim Harji.  You'll be hearing and seeing a lot more of him in the years to come.  Karim is a leading example of a group of emerging leaders in the 'social finance' community in Canada.  Aside from being a Senior Manager of Partnerships and Social Impact at Bill Young's Social Capital Partners, Karim is a regular blog columnist, presenter, thinker and actor in what more and more people are calling impact investing – mobilizing resources from all sectors to achieve social and economic justice and ecological resilience. 

Aside from his daily work Karim is committed to spreading the word about this emerging field and to stimulating discussion and debate.  To that end he co-founded, socialfinance.ca

He has a rich background.  His international work experience includes human rights at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), micro-finance in Pakistan, and community health in Kenya. Karim is actively engaged in the Canadian social innovation/finance/enterprise sector through his work with the Social Venture Exchange, Social Venture Partners Toronto, and Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada.

He sent this response to Becoming Visible from Kenya.  I encourage you to follow the links in his essay to see how thoughtfully our emerging leaders are tackling our tough social and environmental issues.

Increasing the Involvement of Young People in Social Finance

2010 saw several important developments in social finance in Canada and
internationally, much of which has been blogged about and discussed at
socialfinance.ca. In 2011, I would like to see more opportunities for young people to take their interest in social finance to the next level, so that they can actually build a meaningful career in this area.
There are already lots of ways to make a difference. There are literally hundreds of nonprofits that would benefit from the expertise and insight that young people can bring at multiple levels within their organizations. To attract the best talent, many large corporations are offering young people the opportunity to creatively integrate social value in a more holistic manner into their operational and strategic decisions. Canada's non-profit sector – among the largest in the world – continues to attract young professionals keen to make a difference. And a new generation of young social entrepreneurs are intent on proving that you can both make money and change the world for the better.
So what is missing? Allowing more young people to be exposed to the areas of social finance, social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, social innovation, and a host of related topics, will bode well for the good of our communities and planet. Generally speaking, I believe that my generation (Gen Y, if in fact we can even be represented as a homogenous group) iskeen to blend their values into their work. No longer is it true that the first part of one's career must be spent on making lots of money, and the latter half devoted to giving it away. Mark Zuckerberg affirmed that recently, but it is also a truism for those of us that do not have the luxury of owning (and donating) Facebook stock!
We need several things to happen if we are to create pathways for young people to be more deliberately engaged in this important work:
1. Education: there is an increasing demand for education, particularly
around social entrepreneurship. Virtually every highly-ranked international university has developed courses or curriculum, often developed directly to address demand from existing students, or to attract the top talent for future years. I teach one of the few courses on social entrepreneurship in Canada at the Schulich School of Business. There needs to be more options for young people to learn about these issues at their schools, colleges and universities.
2. Internships: learning about these areas is important, but gaining a level of hands-on experience can be invaluable. A good way to do this is by
offering internships for young people to learn about how to influence social
or environmental change, while bringing new perspectives and skills to
these initiatives. The key challenges are, for these organizations to
"package" their internships to make them relevant to their immediate
(operational or strategic)  needs, while balancing the learning expectations
of interns. Many international NGOs have successful (and different)
approaches to do this (see Recognition below) – one that provided a
springboard for me into the world of micro-finance was the Fellowship in
International Microfinance and Microenterprise.

3. Mentorship: there is simply too much knowledge that is still not being
transferred deliberately to the next generation of social entrepreneurs,
community activists, non-profit managers, and their peers. A lot of young
people still do not have the opportunity to access, and contribute to,
important conversations that they have a rightful place in. This is slowly
changing, as many of these conversations are being facilitated online,
transcending the online-offline divide. Securing connections and face time
with today's leaders will continue to be a challenge for young people, and
this may involve more of these leaders setting aside this time to foster
such exchanges.
4. Funding: simply put, more money needs to be directed to young people
and the organizations that they are spawning all across Canada.
Organizations like the Canadian Youth Business Foundation combine
funding with business support and mentoring, but we need more of this.
Flexible funding – and we're not talking about a lot of money here – needs
to be targeted at those ventures that have a proven idea or track record,
as well as to those ideas that may be far-fetched. A certain degree of
unreasonableness is a trait of many successful entrepreneurs, and so we
should be comfortable in allowing tenacious young people to experiment
as they nurture their ideas, and fund them accordingly. 
5. Recognition: There are numerous ways we can recognize the efforts of
young people and thereby enable them to tap into the relevant resources,
networks, and opportunities to propel them and their ventures. A plethora
of international initiatives are doing just this: the Acumen Fund Fellowship, Echoing Green, and The Unreasonable Institute. Ashoka continues to be a leader in recognizing social entrepreneurs, and we certainly appreciate inspiring role models like Aaron Pereira and Anil Patel.

And finally, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of patience and
resilience – qualities that may not be at the top of the list for keen change-makers. Al's work on several fronts (including the RDSP, and the Social Finance Task Force) is a testament to the fact that meaningful and lasting social change takes much time, effort, and collaboration. Sowing the seeds today for social change tomorrow requires us to till diligently, strategically, and constantly. And there are lots of young people raring to do so, if they are linked to the right opportunities and resources. This will be uncomfortable for some established organizations and seasoned practitioners (and even downright risky), but it is certainly an investment worth betting on. 
Here's to seeing some of those investments in 2011!


You can download the complete collection of responses to Becoming Visible here: Download Becoming Visible.  Or by clicking the Becoming Visible Category on the right hand side of your screen.

Please share and distribute to your friends and through your various networks, websites etc.  I think you will agree – these are too good to keep to ourselves.

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