SEEd.Lab champions to unlock youth employment opportunities in Malaysia through digital, technology.

March 21, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR: The younger generation must adapt important skills in setting-up sustainable social enterprise companies or risk facing bleak future due to unemployment that has now amplified by Covid-19 pandemic.

The Social Enterprise Education Lab (SEEd.Lab) programme manager Aidonna Jun Ayub said as at end-2019, the youth unemployment rate continued to spike due to issues such as skills mismatch, quality of education, low-quality jobs and slower hiring trends.

"When Covid-19 hit our shores, it intensified the call to action as we witnessed its severe impact on jobs, incomes and livelihood, crippling the nation's economy," she told The New Straits Times.

Malaysia recorded a 10.5 per cent youth unemployment rate in 2019. In November 2020, the youth unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 24 years increased by 0.4 percentage points to 13.0 per cent.

"For youths aged 15 to 30 years, the rate was at 8.8 per cent, a slight decrease from 8.9 per cent the previous month.

"The numbers may seem small, but unless something is done fast, our younger generation will suffer from the aftermath of Covid-19," Aidonna said.

SEEd.Lab, a programme run by Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), is Malaysia's first 12-month end-to-end social enterprise programme, where sustainable business solutions are shaped by youths, to unlock youth employment opportunities in Malaysia, through the use of digital and technology.

SEEd.Lab also complements efforts under Petronas, such as Sentuhan Kasih by Yayasan Petronas, and the Love Local campaign by Petronas Dagangan Bhd,

which aims to create positive and tangible social impact for the community at large.

Aidonna said Petronas and TCS collaborate as partners, united by their purpose to enrich lives and belief in youth-led solutions to address youth unemployment.

In pursuit of this, Petronas and TCS contribute resources, which help grow and accelerate the journey of the social enterprises incubated within SEEd.Lab.

This includes business and leadership mentoring, technical expertise for solution development, funding for solutions, as well as market testing and commercialisation.

She said the leaders at Petronas and TCS are invested in the growth of SEEd.Lab participants – dubbed SEEd.lings, and their ventures.

Through mentoring and panel sessions with the leaders, SEEd.lings benefit from the ability to interact and learn directly from business leaders.

This is done through feedback, ideas and stimulation of new ways of thinking which are drawn from real business and leadership experiences, she said.

"SEEd.Lab provides end-to-end support to build solutions and businesses from the ground up through mentoring and advisory on leadership, business and technical development.

"The SEEd.lings will also have a safe space to test their products, services and business models where they will be able to iterate and continuously improve their solutions before launching into the market.

"They will have the opportunity to learn and interact with experienced industry leaders to guide them along the way," Aidonna said.

Further, Aidonna said SEEd.Lab also intents to work together with experts and field practitioners in domains such as education, environment, healthcare, to provide invaluable insights.

"We are always on the lookout for partners who share our vision for a better, more sustainable Malaysia.

"SEEd.Lab also hopes to welcome more partners, in both individual and organisational capacities, to get involved in the programme as coaches, advisors and mentors.

"The sharing of expertise and guidance will enrich the SEEd.lings' learning experience and entrepreneurial journey," she said.

She said SEEd.Lab's doors are always open to partners who wish to invest or commit as anchor customers for the solutions developed by the ventures in the programme.

These are especially crucial for their journey in the commercialisation stage, ensuring capability to bring their solutions to market and later sustain as well as scale their businesses.

When asked on the challenges that social entrepreneurs face, Aidonna said securing funding and investments for early-stage start-ups is a challenge, as investors are keener to invest in ones that have commercialised, or have had some traction in the market.

She said as there are funding agencies or grant programmes under initiatives such as Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) that would be tremendously helpful for the early-stage companies, however, it is getting tougher to get these funding due to the large competition in the start-up field.

"Access to business networks and markets is one of the biggest obstacles for these social entrepreneurs.

"Being able to connect to the right people, in the right space, and having the opportunity to convince them to take a chance on the solutions or products would determine the ventures' ability to grow," Aidonna said.