Credit to his country

Alex Shipillo, 20, always felt ‘entrepreneurship’ had a bad name among fellow students in his native Canada.  All too often perceived, among 16-to-25 year olds as the ‘last resort career choice’, he spotted an opportunity to redefine ‘enterprise’ and to demonstrate how the business approach could be socially beneficial – not just for those involved but for the wider community.

Creating challenge

Co-founder of Youth Canada – the country’s leading information resource for High School students – Alex went on to create the Microcredit Competition, in 2008.  Involving High School students across Canada, the competition sets an intensive one week challenge for teams of three to five students to generate as much profit as possible from an initial $100 loan. Teams are encouraged to pursue creative and sometimes unconventional ways of making as much money possible for their charity of choice.  Using his hours working on both projects, Alex successfully fulfilled the Service section of his Gold Award, and, through his Microcredit project, mirrored the aims of the Award - to generate long-term value to the community and in the process, allow participants to discover and exchange essential teamwork skills.

Supported by a financial adviser, teams developed money-raising projects as diverse as bake sales and rock band competitions to more sophisticated activities such as designing t-shirts promoting activism.

The results

In the first year of the Microcredit Competition, $14,500 was raised by 35 schools in over four provinces; the second competition in March 2009 saw 100 secondary schools raising over $40,000 (an increase of 285%) across eight provinces. In 2009, Youth Canada reached every Canadian community – about 450 in all – and by 2010, Alex wants 500 Canadian high schools to get involved, and has set his sights on raising over $200,000.

The Youth Canada website has since expanded to include information on service organisations and youth enrichment opportunities from working in the Canadian Parliament, to seminars for young women in computing science. “It's all the information we wished we had in high school,” Alex says. To date, creating Youth Canada has cost less than $100. Other than modest internet costs, it is entirely volunteer run. The website was recently redesigned through an in-kind donation.

Commenting on Youth Canada, Alex says, “With all this accessibility and freedom, it’s about building the inspiration and saying yes! You can use it and here’s why you should do it and this is how you can use your passion to create this change. Students have the passion! It’s about showing them the vehicle and promise that entrepreneurship holds!” Jenees Jegatheeswaran, a Microcredit Competition participant, sums up her experience; “We made profits through money, teamwork, experience and most of all CARING."

Alex hopes that once young people have engaged in entrepreneurship they will realise that they are capable of using it to make positive social change. He believes the Microcredit Competition is reversing negative perceptions of business and entrepreneurship. Those involved, upon seeing their actions making a positive impact with a business edge, will remain inspired and realise entrepreneurship is indeed a rewarding career path.