Recently, 26-year-old Egyptian Ahmed Sakr inspired readers around the world with the extraordinary story of his journey to securing a job. Ahmed describes how he pursued various traditional educational paths and degrees, which ultimately led nowhere, until he stumbled upon an announcement of a programme run by Education For Employment-Egypt (EFE-Egypt) that teaches young people employment skills and connects graduates to jobs.

EFE-Egypt is an affiliate of the network of organizations I lead, called Education For Employment (EFE), which is dedicated to addressing the crisis of youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa by providing young unemployed Arab women and men with concrete, practical skills in demand by private sector employers.

After successfully completing the EFE-Egypt programme, Ahmed was hired as a content associate with Souq.com, the largest e-commerce company in the Arab world. His success and the bright future now possible for him stand in stark contrast to the millions of young people who continue to struggle to gain a toehold in the global economy. By some estimates, almost 300 million young people around the globe are not in school or in formal employment.

Similar to other complex global challenges such as climate change, global youth unemployment is an issue that defies unilateral action by single actors – be they government, business or civil society leaders. It is for this reason that the World Economic Forum and the communities it supports, such as the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, are so important. The Forum’s communities not only reshape the global agenda, but they spur the global community to act in response.

In 2012, EFE’s Founder and Chairman Ron Bruder and I were honoured to be named Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by the Schwab Foundation. A year later, I was also asked to chair the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment. During the ensuing months and years, I have witnessed the power of the Forum community to galvanize attention and action.

World Economic Forum events have moved from simply sounding the alarm bells about the growing crisis of youth unemployment to elevating it as a global priority that needs new thinking and leadership to address. The Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this past January is a vivid illustration of how the Forum has put youth unemployment front and centre on the global agenda.

On the first day in Davos, World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab and Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent drew attention to recent research showing that for each percentage point of sustained improvement in global youth employment, worldwide consumption increases by an estimated $72 billion per year. More than an abstract statistic, it demonstrated a theme that many of us firmly believe: we have to begin viewing youth populations as an opportunity and not as a liability. This holds true particularly for businesses – the future employers of today’s youth.

The following day we launched the e-book Education & Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches, which outlines concrete solutions and promising innovations related to education reform and skills acquisition.

But perhaps most strikingly, I had the unique privilege to participate in a session with CEOs of 150 top global companies who had gathered to discuss what businesses can and should do to address youth unemployment. These top corporate executives engaged on the issues – ranging from addressing skill gaps to stimulating entrepreneurship and job creation – with tangible interest and an appropriate sense of urgency, identifying ways their companies can proactively address youth employment in their sectors and communities.

I left Davos feeling optimistic and energized.

Due to the efforts of the Forum and others, companies are ready and willing to address the immediate challenge of youth unemployment to make a difference in the short term. Likewise, governments are working on longer term policies and reforms that will improve structural weaknesses in economies around the world. It will be up to social enterprises to provide critical on-the-ground innovations, advise policy-makers about what works and what can be scaled, and act as an effective bridge-builder between the different sectors.

It is in this spirit that I congratulate the Schwab Foundation’s 2014 awardees. At a time when many bemoan the lack of effective leadership, these social entrepreneurs are setting a new example of values-based leadership, mobilizing public and private sector partners, and advancing scalable, sustainable approaches to the world’s gravest problems.

To the 2014 awardees, I want to say the following: Your voice will be heard, your views respected, and a world of new partnership and collaborative possibilities will emerge. I am confident that your involvement with the Forum will accelerate your progress towards positive change in your own fields, replicating success stories like Ahmed’s for the betterment of the global community.

Author: Jamie McAuliffe is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Education For Employment. He is also a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur and the Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment.

This is part of a series for the launch of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Awardees.

Image: Young men talk on the top of a hill overlooking Cairo during sunset, November 25, 2008. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih