Global Voices: New entrepreneurs are giving back

Many young business owners are seeking job satisfaction as much as profit

As high schoolers return to guidance councillor’s questions about the future, one trend continues to dominate the workforce — the gig economy.

A growing number of young people are cobbling together contract work, side jobs and short-term employment as university degrees no longer guarantee jobs. When young people do find work, more than a quarter are underemployed.

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A still-slumping economy has put mounting pressure on the job market. Despite this trend, the pressing search for young people isn’t just for a paycheque, but for meaning. One study found that more than half of millennials would take a pay cut for a job that aligns with their personal values.

Combine this desire for meaning with the most educated, most connected and yet least financially successful generation, and you get a new cadre of entrepreneur — one who leverages traditional skills to fulfil unique social needs.

When Katherine Laliberte graduated law school, she achieved what many in her program considered “the be all and end all,” she says — articling at a major firm in litigation and corporate law.

After years of expensive tuition and countless hours in the library, 30-year-old Laliberte felt external pressures from her peers to seek big returns on her big investment. But she wasn’t fighting for justice or advancing causes she cared about.

She quit and started a notary business to help clients navigate the legal system, cornering the market in Toronto’s West End, while looking for a way to give back. That quickly led to pro bono work helping transgender people change their names and get official documents to reflect their personal identity.

Helping her first trans client “live the way she wants to was the most rewarding part,” recalls Laliberte. “I saw how appreciated it was, even though it was a tiny gesture.”

From there, paying and non-paying clients started streaming in as her business, and her impact, continued to thrive. She has plans to expand through subcontractors to offer pro bono services for other clients in need.

Laliberte is not alone in this growing trend.

Luke Anderson, a 39-year-old structural engineer from Stoufville, Ont., left his big firm behind after a mountain-biking accident confined the athlete to an assisted mobility device.

He uses his engineering skills to help create a barrier-free world with the Stopgap Foundation, a non-profit that installs ramps to expand accessibility in Toronto.

At 25, Shannon Lee Simmons took a break from the rat race as an investment manager to start the Barter Babes Project, skills-sharing her financial expertise with young entrepreneurial women.
Since then, she has launched her own financial planning practice, gearing her services to young people and women.

Law school, an engineering degree and a career in financial services still hold allure for many. But as Canada produces more professionals then ever, with fewer jobs to go round, entrepreneurs are carving their own path, finding niche jobs that solve social problems.

Just a generation ago, most workers counted down the hours to clock out of a job with little personal satisfaction.

Now, resourceful young people are putting their skills toward their passion, not just a paycheque.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.

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