Briton Adam Bradford and American Jordan Swain found each other via an entrepreneurship hashtag on Instagram
Young entrepreneurs click and go global straight away
These millennial business partners met online and decided to set up a business before they ever met in real life.
This summer they have embarked on a world tour to talk and learn about social entrepreneurship, which has seen them visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and say they plan to be millionaires soon.
Briton Adam Bradford, 24, and American Jordan Swain, 26, found each other via an entrepreneurship hashtag on Instagram while both were visiting Chicago two years ago and set up a Skype. “We scheduled 30 minutes and ended up on the phone three hours,” says Mr Swain. “We both knew inherently we were bound to do something great together.”
Social entrepreneurs are looking to solve problems that neither government, non-profit organisations or traditional businesses can, he adds. “You solve them by looking beyond traditional profit to social impact, and investing profits back into social problems, proving the business is sustainable and viable to shareholders and that it is making a difference to society.”
This year, Bradford Swain began trading, part non-profit foundation and part social entrepreneurship agency. Now on a year-long global tour encompassing countries on six continents, from Kenya to Brazil and Bangladesh to Japan, the worldly duo also plan for the business to operate as a travel agency.
They ambitiously describe the firm as a “21st-century hybrid organisation” that helps entrepreneurs, activists and social leaders reach “exponential action”.
Young these social entrepreneurs may be but they have a combined 22 years of experience in running their own businesses - and are not too proud to say that some have failed or hit “ground zero”, with Mr Bradford admitting he came close to bankruptcy three times before he turned 18.
Mr Bradford - who has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism - won a place at an enterprise academy run by Peter Jones, the multimillionaire who is one of the judges on the UK TV show Dragons’ Den. He went on to form an IT social enterprise and has since supported more than 1,000 young people in setting up community projects, social enterprises and campaigns for social good.
Mr Swain is a model, actor, the global creative director of fashion production company Art of Swain and the founder of Parajin Media, which publishes the fashion lifestyle magazine Vanichi.
The pair quickly targeted the UAE as a centre for social enterprise interest after visiting the US, UK and France. They spent time at the GlassQube co-working space in Abu Dhabi and spoke at the entrepreneurship space Impact Hub in Dubai before heading to Amman for a fortnight, returning to Dubai for a second talk at Impact Hub in mid-August. They also planned to visit Morocco on their tour, and potentially Oman, too.
“You think the UAE does not have social problems but it does - they are just different,” says Mr Bradford. “The sustainability of the economy cannot be solved by traditional thinking. There is 30 per cent youth unemployment in the region, according to the Arab Youth Survey this year, and we want to see what we can do to get under the skin of these countries. For us to bring in a disruptive, forward-thinking, entrepreneurial mindset … this is why the region is of interest.”
The Government of the UAE, he adds, is “very aware” it needs to embrace youth and do things differently to keep the region “economically viable”. That means it needs a “bottom-up” approach, getting people on the ground “to agree that traditional industries might start to change and fade”.
It is a difficult conversation to have with such a diverse cultural mix, he adds, which is why it is taking longer than in the “ripe markets” of the UK and US.
According to the Confederation for British Industry, 50 per cent of the UK workforce will be freelance or self-employed by 2020. A quarter of young people interested in setting up a business want to establish a social entrepreneurship, says the UK social entrepreneur support network UnLtd - and are significantly more likely to do so than the general population.
Globally, the younger generation “inherited a world full of promises” says Mr Swain – the belief that a good education would lead to a good job and retiring on a full pension. “They had to quickly, harshly, realise it wasn’t true,” he adds. “The older, more archaic systems aren’t even working for baby boomers.”
Social entrepreneurship is particularly ripe for Generation Z (those born from around 1995), he believes, and there are “more similarities than differences” in this age group, generating more opportunities for “unique” businesses.
At just a few months old, Bradford Swain is already working with Teachability in Chicago to help autistic people get into work, with the UK government on social media for young people and with a mobile network and travel operator in the Caribbean and Central America to turn more young people into entrepreneurs.
Social entrepreneurship may be a new phenomenon but it is “taking the world by storm”, says Mr Swain, as more millennials and Generation Zs set up new firms. The duo is keen to get out there and see the global landscape, adds Mr Bradford – “practising what we preach, because you can’t do it from an armchair”.
Rather than racking up air miles, he says, they are treating their world tour as a year to be low-cost digital nomads, using Airbnb to keep costs down.
“We want to change the world - the whole world,” Mr Swain says.
“And we want to be millionaires. It will happen. We never say anything and it not happen.”