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  • Writer's pictureDirk Reber

The Rise of Social Enterprises: Why do young Asians prefer them over NGOs?


New horizons seem to appear for young Asians interested in social impact.

Talking to young Asians in the realm of social impact leaves no doubt: a noticeable shift has occurred when it comes to choosing their career paths. A significant and increasing number of young people actively pursuing opportunities to create social and environmental impact are veering away from traditional Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and gravitating towards social enterprises.


But how did this shift come about? Why does the young generation prefer social enterprises over NGOs? Why should social enterprises be better suited/more impactful, useful than NGOs, which have been working since decades for the common good? Or does this structure simply provide a cover to hide egocentric and profit-oriented values under the term social enterprise? In addressing these questions, this article focusses on two main aspects: on the one hand, a pronounced change in values in contrast to previous generations, and on the other, an expressed need for empowerment and ownership.


Firstly, it appears that young Asians are living a fundamental shift in values and priorities from previous generations. For them, creating social and environmental impact matters. In comparison to their parents’ generation, they have grown up in the digital age with easy access to information and issues of global relevance through internet usage and social media. This exposure has heightened their awareness of social, environmental, and humanitarian challenges. As a result, many young Asians have been inspired by contemporary role models who have dedicated their lives to socially impactful work. These role models serve as examples of how one can make a significant difference in the world.



A significant value shift from previous generations also influences the world of work.

Simultaneously, communication and peer influence are increasing, encouraging young people to form networks and communities with peers who share their values and aspirations. These connections can strengthen and reinforce their commitment to social values and impact. At the same time, their educational opportunities are plentiful and include courses and programs that emphasize social impact, sustainability, and ethics. Within many Asian societies, new and transformed social norms are evolving, that, for younger generations, often have more to do with social and environmental responsibility than the sheer accumulation of wealth. Therefore, driven by the desire for purpose and fulfillment, young individuals are often seeking more than just financial success in their careers. At the same time, they are aware of the ongoing environmental crisis, and are keen to take action and ensure a sustainable future for themselves.


Secondly, young Asians are increasingly seeking empowerment and ownership in their professional doings. In line with this shift in values, many of them feel more empowered to make a difference. They believe that their voices and actions matter, and they are willing to engage in activism to bring about change. At the same time, they seek to take ownership of projects and initiatives: to have opportunities to lead, to take risks, to innovate, and to fail. This fosters a sense of responsibility, enabling young Asians to be active participants in driving social change, with a special commitment to addressing local issues and promoting community development.


While there is a growing interest in creating social impact among young people, the pathways to achieving this impact are diverse. Some may choose careers in NGOs or the public sector, while others may engage in volunteer work, or advocate for policy changes. This diversity in approaches reflects the multifaceted nature of social impact and the myriad ways in which young people can contribute to positive change in their communities and the world. Nevertheless, the tendency to launch an own initiative, to set up an own social enterprise, or to get engaged with other liked-minded people in initiatives and social entrepreneurship is significantly increasing.

Phases of social enterprise development, oftentimes start-ups, are more in line with behaviors of young generations.

There are several driving factors behind this development, among others:



  • Self-Reliance and Sustainability: Social enterprises have a distinct advantage in terms of self-reliance and sustainability. They generate revenue through their products or services, which reduces their reliance on external funding sources. For many young Asians, the prospect of building a self-sustaining organization is appealing. In contrast, NGOs are often dependent on grants and donations, making them vulnerable to fluctuations in funding.


  • Flexibility and Adaptability: The rapidly changing landscape of social issues requires adaptable and flexible solutions. Social enterprises are better equipped to pivot, scale, and adapt to evolving needs. They can quickly respond to emerging challenges by adjusting their products or services. This flexibility appeals to young Asians who want to make a dynamic and meaningful impact in an ever-changing world.


  • Market-Oriented Solutions: Social enterprises are inherently market-oriented. They must provide products or services that are not only socially or environmentally beneficial but also in demand by consumers. This market-driven approach encourages the development of practical, efficient, and sustainable solutions. For young Asians, this focus on relevance and effectiveness is more attractive than traditional NGO models.


  • Empowerment and Ownership: Social enterprises often empower young individuals to take ownership of projects and initiatives. In contrast, working for NGOs may, at times, feel more bureaucratic and hierarchical, thereby limiting individual agency.


  • Social Impact and Profit Alignment: Another compelling reason why young Asians are drawn to social enterprises is the alignment between social impact and profit. They appreciate the idea that doing good and making a profit are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they see it as a powerful way to drive sustainable change. Social enterprises inherently balance the dual objectives of financial viability and societal benefit.


  • Technological Advancements: The digital age has made it easier for young Asians to access information, connect with like-minded individuals, and learn about innovative social enterprises. They witness the impact of these organizations in real-time, which makes them more appealing. Additionally, technology has opened opportunities for social enterprises to scale and reach a wider audience, which aligns with the aspirations of young Asians.


  • Local Relevance: Social enterprises often have a strong focus on community and grassroots solutions, which resonate with this desire for local relevance. NGOs, while important, may sometimes be perceived as more top-down and disconnected from local needs.


  • Measurable Impact: Young Asians value the ability to measure and quantify the impact of their work. Social enterprises are often equipped with better metrics and key performance indicators that allow for the measurement of their success in clear and tangible terms. This appeals to the data-driven mindset of many young individuals.


The variety of factors making social enterprises attractive to young people is often still interlinked.

Overall, the trend of young Asians choosing social enterprises over traditional NGOs is a reflection of their evolving values, aspirations, and the changing nature of social impact work. The entrepreneurial spirit, self-reliance, innovation, and alignment with profit motives are all factors that make social enterprises an attractive career choice for them. While NGOs continue to play a vital role in addressing global issues, the rise of social enterprises among young Asians suggests a promising future where innovative and sustainable solutions are at the forefront of driving positive change. As more young individuals opt for this path, the social enterprise sector in Asia is poised for significant growth and transformation.

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