The Globe and Mail and WE Charity are partners on a range of content and initiatives, including WE Day at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sept. 20. This story is part of a special report on the organization and the event.
Asalah Youssef doesn’t think a person should be denied certain health services, such as private counselling, because they can’t afford it. The 15-year-old also believes there are many business owners and providers of these services who agree with her.
Now, with the help of the WE Incubation Hub, a centre in Toronto that specializes in providing support to young social entrepreneurs, Ms. Youssef is in the process of designing a smartphone app, called The Radical and Revolutionary Place (R&R Place), that will allow low-income people to access service providers willing to offer their services at a reduced rate.
“The focus is on services that aren’t supported by the government,” explains Ms. Youssef. “So things like counselling, dental care, optometry, physiotherapy and those kinds of therapies that can be expensive and hard to access and that are a necessity for some.”
Described as a Groupon for social responsibility, Ms. Youssef’s idea caught the attention of the WE Incubation Hub’s social entrepreneurship program, which provides young people with mentorship, leadership skills and potential investors to which they may not otherwise have access. Since then, the R&R Place idea has morphed into a business concept that she has successfully pitched to several investors.
“It’s a place where socially conscious businesses can offer their products, services or experience at a discounted rate for low-income Canadians,” explains the high-school student. “Our site will be trust-based, so that if you’re visiting the site, you are identifying as low income and asking for help [with this access].”
Young people interested in social change, like Ms. Youssef, are where the business world is going, according to Erin Blanding, director of global program innovation at WE. It’s why the incubator wants to get in at the first stages of fostering these entrepreneurs.
The WE Incubation Hub was developed several years ago by WE, formerly known as Free the Children, a charitable organization founded more than 20 years ago by social entrepreneurs Craig and Marc Kielburger.
“We’ve had a long history of supporting and empowering young people and giving them the resources and skills for them to make a difference in their community ... so this was the logical next step for us,” explains Ms. Blanding.
However, the notion that young people can make a profitable business that is first and foremost about doing social good has not always been a popular one. But proving that young people have the ability to change the world is why the WE Incubation Hub exists in the first place, explains Ms. Blanding.
“One of the key features that we’ve focused on is removing barriers that prevent some young entrepreneurs from making that difference because of their age or position in society,” she adds.
A 2016 poll conducted in more than 45 countries by Thomson Reuters Foundation reported Canada as the second-best country for social entrepreneurs, just behind the United States, based on funding and resources like mentorship and technology.
“It’s the way the economy is going and we are dedicated to preparing youth for the jobs of tomorrow,” says Mark Beckles, senior director of youth strategy and innovation at Royal Bank of Canada, the financial sponsor of WE Incubation Hub.
For him, developing skills in innovation and entrepreneurship are a big part of preparation needed for the future of work.
“Canada’s future prosperity depends on getting this right, so we believe that a partnership with WE and helping social entrepreneurs is delivering on those commitments,” explains Mr. Beckles.
As for Ms. Youssef, while the end game is the development of an app, right now the young entrepreneur will be focused on creating a related website because “it’s more accessible than an app."
It’s going to take time, but she hopes her product will be available for consumer use by next year.
“The social entrepreneurship program,” she says, "helped me develop my business plan in a huge way and helped me have a clear vision of where I wanted this to go, the confidence to pitch my ideas successfully and the support I will need to make this a possibility.”