Kizito Okechukwu, the co-chairperson of GEN Africa. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - Entrepreneurs are undoubtedly the engine of any country’s economy. 

Yet they’re not born, but rather made by the contingencies of their environment, one which is characterised by the agents of socialisation and plays an impactful role in developing the next generation of start-ups.

The government, religious entities, local communities and, most importantly, family and especially schools, are all crucial to developing sustainable future entrepreneurs. 

They should help mould young, innovative minds into becoming valuable, contributory members of society by equipping them with the supportive knowledge, skills, resilience and confidence they need in the early stages of development in order to start and grow a business.

With this is mind, entrepreneurship education is now becoming more and more important in the global economy.

Many years ago, entrepreneurship education might not have been taken seriously, but there is no doubt that it has always existed in some form or another, often in a subtle way.

For example, in the 1990s, when I was in high school, my parents gave me energy drinks, snacks and food. I liked a different type of snack that was sold in the school canteen, and I recall selling my own snack to a classmate and using the money to buy what I wanted, rather than what my parents gave me. Unbeknown to me, I was educating myself in entrepreneurship. Today, in many schools, young people buy and sell various products with each other.

According to Erasmus, Loedoff, Mda and Nel (2006), entrepreneurship education is a structured formal conveyance of entrepreneurial competencies, which in turn refers to the concepts, skills and mental awareness used by individuals during the process of starting and developing their growth-orientated business ventures.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman advocates for inspiring young people to create the companies that will provide long-lasting employment for the country’s citizens. Because the jobs on which the 65-year-old Friedman’s own generation relied are no longer available, he advocates for having students graduate high school “innovation-ready”, meaning that along with their certificates, they receive the critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills that will help them invent their own careers.

I believe his theory holds true for, and in, any country. Over the years, we have been a big advocate of entrepreneurial education, going to various township schools with some of our experts, who apply the design thinking methodology in prompting a different kind of thinking among pupils.

With the European Commission’s entrepreneurship initiatives, schools are becoming more and more responsible for developing what is both a mind-set and a skill. Erasmus+ projects play a part by making sure that educational staff are equipped with the knowledge, teaching materials and methodologies they need.

The Perspective Project has created Europe-wide models of entrepreneurship education, so that teachers of all subjects can make it part of their teaching. Maria Brizi, co-ordinator of the Perspective Project, says European funding has allowed them to introduce new approaches, promoting entrepreneurship as a set of skills, knowledge and attitudes that will support pupils to be creative, responsive and successful in whatever activity they undertake, regardless of their career choices.

Competencies

The Youth Employment Service mobility project has allowed a Croatian school to develop a new programme for teaching entrepreneurship by developing the competencies of its whole educational team, from the headmaster to the school librarian, including maths, language or craft teachers.

As we know, our continent is home to a large number of young people, and it simply doesn’t have jobs for them all, making youth unemployment a major concern. Some countries, like Nigeria and Kenya, are tackling this problem by equipping children with entrepreneurial skills while they’re still at school.

These include essential foundational knowledge, such as emotional intelligence and risk-taking; it also develops their appreciation for self-employment opportunities. This means that if they find themselves in a situation where they are unemployed, they don’t give up and succumb to self-pity. Instead, they are able to use their skills to create new opportunities as entrepreneurs.

South Africa is also playing its part.

Addressing the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in 2017, then-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, now President of South Africa, said: “There is much more we can do. Entrepreneurship must be part of the school curriculum, so that young people must, from an early age, be encouraged to be problem-solvers.”

He added that the inclusion would also ensure that more job creators, rather than job-seekers, were developed and that entrepreneurship would be seen as a viable career option.

The Gauteng Department of Education, through its MEC Panyaza Lesufi, is also advocating the entrepreneurial mindset agenda in various Gauteng schools. I have also heard Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu on various platforms at which she advocated for entrepreneurial education in schools.

Recently, the Chartwell Leadership Primary school in South Africa, led by principal Simon White, hosted a number of schoolteachers, learners and ecosystem stakeholders. These included the Department of Basic Education, the director-general of Small Business Development, as well as other champions of entrepreneurial education, such as Junior Achievement South Africa and Primestars.

Held at the 22 on Sloane start-up campus, the two-day workshop focused on what the future skills force would look like. It was impressive to witness many bright South Africa young minds presenting their various innovative ideas - proof that Africa remains a bedrock of innovation.

Adding official testimony to the above is the recent prestigious award received by five schoolgirls representing Africa at the World Technovation Challenge, held in Silicon Valley, US, the global birthplace and home of innovation.

Competition

Amid fierce competition from the US, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China, the team, led by Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu, took the gold medal for their mobile app called the FD-Detector, which they developed to help tackle the challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. Now known as “Africa’s Golden Girls”, the team comprised Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye.

The true value of entrepreneurship education is that it benefits students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Sure, inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship won’t instantly wipe away youth unemployment.

But it can reduce unemployment by giving young people the skills they need to create their own businesses and generate work for themselves.

I believe that South Africa and Nigeria are powerfully poised to revolutionise and champion Africa’s entrepreneurial education agenda, alongside all their continental counterparts.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT