One of the biggest policy challenges for Europe is the issue of unemployment, in which the COVID19 pandemic and the subsequent policy responses have exacerbated an underlying pan-European issue of young people struggling to find stable and permanent employment. Youth unemployment can be viewed from a life course perspective, in which a young person’s transition from school to work represents their entry into ‘adulthood’, with the target destination of this transitionary period being the target destination the satisfactory integration into the labour market – whatever this looks like on an individual or country-specific basis (Ryan 2001). ). The concept of a satisfactory integration into the labour market has changed over time and space, considering the significant changes in economic structure, labour market structure, technological advancements and societal structures. The ability to enter into particular professions has also changed, with certain roles requiring more advanced qualifications than before due to the growing rates of young people entering and completing further and higher education (Brown et al 2021). Many policy responses to youth unemployment involve active labour market policies (ALMPs), such as subsidised employment opportunities (internships and apprenticeships) and training opportunities (short-courses) (Petreski et al 2021). However, these often fail to consider the complex institutional environments and stagnated career development opportunities that young people have to navigate in their early career.
Due to institutional inefficiencies in aiding young people into employment, many young people are instead seeking to create their own job opportunities by pursuing entrepreneurship as a traditional career alternative, or as a ‘side hustle’ to maximise their income and pursue their personal interests (Green 2013; Dragan et al 2020). Entrepreneurship, and more specifically, youth entrepreneurship, is argued to provide wider societal benefits, such as job creation, increased innovation, raising competitiveness and responsiveness to changing economic opportunities and trends (Green 2013). Further, for a young person, entrepreneurship has the capacity to provide a secure occupation, provide employment opportunities for those within their community, contribute to the economic growth of their local area and increase the diversity of goods and services within a market, as well as potentially contributing to sustainable and socially driven changes within that market (Blanchflower and Oswald 1998). Youth entrepreneurship, and the training and ongoing support of young entrepreneurs, has become a key part in the global development agenda, signified by the 2019 UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs’ commitment to Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the 2020 EU Youth Strategy commitment to encouraging entrepreneurship (UN DESA 2020; European Union 2020). The commitment from large intergovernmental organisations and unions such as the UN and EU, as well as the commitment from individual governments in terms of financing of resources and training for young entrepreneurs, suggest the growing importance of youth entrepreneurship to the economic development, diversification, and growth of countries around the world. As a result, youth entrepreneurship is growing in importance in the international youth unemployment policy agenda and has been prioritised in both Slovenia’s Youth Strategy 2013-2022 and Kosovo’s ‘2021-2025 Programme’, two countries which are the case studies for this research project.
There is a growing emphasis on the importance of digital entrepreneurship for COVID19 recovery and economic development, in which digital entrepreneurship comprises of “the sale of digital products or services across electronic networks”, and typically includes all business activities that use the digital platform (Guthrie, 2014, p. 115). Novel technologies such as mobile and social solutions, social networks, cloud computing and data analytics provide young people with a new range of opportunities for entrepreneurship within the digital economy (Bogdanowicz 2015). The European Commission launched it’s Digital Strategy for the Western Balkans in 2018, with the aim of supporting the transition to a digital economy by investing in digital entrepreneurship and developing more youth digital entrepreneurs, which suggests the importance of digital entrepreneurship in the youth entrepreneurship policy agenda (European Commission 2018). Alongside digital entrepreneurship, there has also been a growing interest in social entrepreneurship, and how these organisations ‘fill the gap’ where the market and governments have failed. Social entrepreneurship can be defined as market and nonmarket activities that can lead to the creation of opportunities inducing social impacts (Hockerts 2007; 2010; 2017). ). In Central and Southeast Europe, there is a growing interest in the role of social enterprises amongst both academics and policymakers, with a rise in social business incubators targeting young entrepreneurs to develop more socially conscious enterprises and to bridge the institutional gaps in the regions post-COVID19 recovery (Miloseska et al 2020). Between these two realms of entrepreneurial behaviour, there is an emerging cross-over of ‘digital-social’ entrepreneurship, which looks at “the reshaping of technology to cope with emerging social issues, and the creation of socio-economic impact” (Battisti 2019; p.135). This has also been defined as “the development of products, processes, and services mediated by technologies or closely linked to technological innovations with social purposes” (Edwards-Schachter and Wallace 2017; p136).
Therefore, this study will focus on the emergence of young digital-social entrepreneurs, exploring the contributing factors to the development of digital-social entrepreneurs and the current barriers to growth and development. Slovenia and Kosovo were chosen as the two comparative case sites due to their economic and political similarities; they are both post-conflict and post-socialist states from the former Yugoslavia, however, they both experienced conflict and transition differently, and are at different points of their economic development and their entrepreneurial eco-systems, economic power and institutional environments differ completely, making an interesting point for comparison. For both countries, youth entrepreneurship, digitalisation and social innovation have emerged in the most recent policy agendas (National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia 2013; Republika e Kosovës 2019). Therefore, focusing on youth digital-social entrepreneurship combines these three significant policy priorities, whilst also contributing to the broader literature in the emerging field of youth digital-social enterprise formation (Battisti 2019).
This research aims to gain a deeper understanding into youth digital-social entrepreneurship, determining the contributing factors to young peoples decision to pursue this form of entrepreneurship, and the ways in which they navigate the business and institutional environment of their respective countries. The overarching research question for this study is “How are young (16-30 years old) digital-social entrepreneurs supported and developed in the post-conflict and post-socialist environments of Slovenia and Kosovo?” This is broken down into the following subsidiary questions:
• What is the current policy and business environment for encouraging digital and social entrepreneurship in Slovenia and Kosovo?
• What are the current support arrangements (e.g., training, mentorship, etc.) for developing youth digital-social entrepreneurs and how do young entrepreneurs engage with and experience them?
• What support do young digital-social entrepreneurs identify as being important for their development and growth as digital-social entrepreneurs?
Research Design and Methodology
This project will utilize a mixed-methods approach, combining a systemic document review of current policy documents relating to youth digital-social entrepreneurship, a quantitative survey of aspiring and current young digital-social entrepreneurs and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with young digital-social entrepreneurs, policymakers, and youth business support providers. The systemic document review will review the existing policy environment regarding entrepreneurship, youth entrepreneurship, digital economy and digitalisation and social entrepreneurship and innovation. The quantitative survey will discuss early experiences of entrepreneurship, development of digital-social businesses, access to support, training and funding for digital-social entrepreneurs and future needs for digital-social entrepreneurs, with the preliminary findings from the survey partially informing the guides for the semi-structured interviews. This survey will be disseminated using the researchers existing network and extended network of youth entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship academics, youth business incubators and non-formal entrepreneurship education providers within both countries, as well as through social media and relevant platforms dedicated to youth entrepreneurs within the region. A target of forty semi-structured interviews will be conducted over the data collection period, using four cities as case-sites, and interviewing ten youth entrepreneurs per city. The preliminary case sites will be Ljubljana and Pristina, as the capital cities and ‘entrepreneurship hubs’ of each country, and two emergent entrepreneurial case sites – Maribor and Prizren, which are considered to be the growing youth digital-social entrepreneurship regions of each country (signified by the growing presence of digital business incubators and social business training programs within each city).