Johannesburg - The WEC aims to strengthen the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to enable young entrepreneurs to become the future job creators in Africa.
Unemployment among the youth in South Africa is rife, with millions of youngsters without a job or any form of income.
This was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which made employment opportunities even more scarce.
This is evident in the Statistics South Africa report, which revealed that in the first quarter of 2021, the youth accounted for 60% of the total unemployment in the country.
The report also showed that 46.3% of those aged between 15-43 are unemployed, and over 63% aged 15-24 are also without employment.
In addition, 40% of graduates aged 15-24, and 15% of graduates aged 25-34 are unemployed, and 32.4% of youth aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training.
These harrowing statistics have prompted The University of the Witwatersrand to establish the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic (WEC), which was officially launched in Johannesburg on Friday.
The university believes that entrepreneurship is vital in addressing youth unemployment as the youth population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050, bringing unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Young entrepreneurs are one of the country's best hopes in solving the jobs crisis,” Dr Rob Venter, Project Leader for the WEC and Senior Lecturer in Management in the Wits School of Business Sciences, said.
He added that setting up the WEC was even more crucial as the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report highlighted that South Africa’s Total Entrepreneurial Activity is behind the average of other economies with a GDP per capita of less than $20,000 (about R317 497).
“One reason is that entrepreneurship, as a career trajectory, has historically received little support at university level,” Venter explained.
He said that the WEC aims to strengthen the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to enable young entrepreneurs to become the future job creators and the drivers of economic development in Africa.
“To achieve this, experiential learning and evidence-based management, together with a structured mentorship programme, will help develop senior commerce students to become clinicians who will provide professional and quality business advice to entrepreneurs within the University community and general public,” said Venter.
“In doing so, the students will develop business acumen and improve their overall employability.”
Venter added that the WEC would also bring together academic staff, alumni, volunteers, and entrepreneurial business leaders, to develop a culture of and appreciation for entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to employment while at the same time providing support to budding entrepreneurs in surrounding communities.
Wits has also partnered with The University of Edinburgh in the UK for the WEC project, as well as other ecosystem players, including the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the Africa Circular Economy Network.
The Clinic, which will be based in the Wits School of Business Science, is one of 24 projects in Africa that successfully bid for funding from the inaugural Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, a new initiative developed by the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships programme.
“This initiative seeks to support the development of Africa-UK partnerships that can build institutional capacity for universities to develop entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in selected African countries,” said Venter.
Meanwhile, the WEC also aims to encourage and develop enterprises that are centred on grand challenges.
This includes entrepreneurial opportunities that address challenges related to climate change, and the circular economy will be encouraged, Venter said.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University Professor Zeblon Vilakazi added that universities have a pivotal role to play in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship for the good of the world.
“That is why, in celebrating its centenary this year, Wits has identified catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship as one of eight strategic priority areas for the next 100 years,” he said.
“Wits’ origins are bed-rocked in the entrepreneurial spirit of the mining revolution in South Africa.”
“A hundred years ago, it was this spirit flaming the need for higher education and training that led to the establishment of the University in 1922.”
Vilakazi said that during Wits’ centenary year, the university was returning to its roots by “creating space, offering knowledge, and commitment to help foster entrepreneurship that is desperately needed for the country to address burgeoning poverty and unemployment levels.”
He explained that the WEC is one of the first initiatives aligned with Wits’ recently approved Strategic Plan for Innovation.
“As part of this strategic plan, Wits has set up the Wits Innovation Centre (WIC) that will coordinate all innovation-related activities at the university.”
A R50 million endowment was also received to establish the Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation.
Wits’ Director for Innovation Strategy, Professor Barry Dwolatzky, added that “the WIC and WEC are both part of a key drive to create an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset at Wits as we enter our second century”.