Most of us have, at some point, dreamed of being our own bosses.The allure of setting your own rules, following your passions, and driving your own success is undoubtedly appealing. Only a small number of us, however, ever end up pursuing that dream. While there are any number of reasons for that, at least one of them is that most of us don’t know where to start.
“Why wasn’t I taught this in school?” is the common refrain. And it’s a fair one too because, outside of the odd market day, most of us weren’t taught anything about entrepreneurship at school or university. It’s also something that urgently needs to change if Africa is to address its substantial youth unemployment problem.
“Africa’s youth should be one of its greatest resources,” says Nolizwe Mhlaba, Community and Project Manager at The Anzisha Prize, an organisation born out of a partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs fundamentally and significantly in Africa. “They are increasingly well-educated, connected, and are reaching maturity at a time when other populations around the world are aging and shrinking. Unfortunately, far too many young people around the continent end up leaving school or university without any real career prospects.”
With youth unemployment rates above 40% in both Nigeria and South Africa, it’s clear that a radical shift is needed. The best way to do that is to encourage entrepreneurship from the day a child enters the formal schooling system to the day they graduate. Entrepreneurs are, after all, drivers of economic growth, job creation, and even social change.
No cookie-cutter factories for African Zuckerbergs;
But how should education systems adapt to that need? After all, you can’t jump straight in and try to teach primary school children about things like elevator pitches, term sheets, and burn rate. It can be difficult enough for degreed adults to wrap their heads around those concepts.
A good place to start is to understand what we mean by entrepreneurship in education. As a 2015 OECD paper notes, there are two competing understandings. The first centres on the narrow definition of entrepreneurship as someone starting their own business. The second, meanwhile, operates from a much broader base. In this understanding, entrepreneurship encapsulates “making students more creative, opportunity-oriented, initiative-taking and innovative, adhering to a wide definition of entrepreneurship relevant to all walks in life”.
While Africa obviously needs more out-and-out entrepreneurs, the second approach is much more likely to produce the outcomes that the continent needs.
“The last thing we want is a situation where the education system becomes a factory, producing cookie-cutter African versions of Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos,” says Mhlaba. “We also need people who can work with (and for) entrepreneurs, create policies that support entrepreneurialism, and who can find innovative solutions to the continent’s most pressing problems.”
Adapting this model to the education system means giving educators the tools they need to teach ‘through’ entrepreneurship, rather than teaching ‘about’ or ‘for’ entrepreneurship. That means integrating entrepreneurial thinking into other subjects across the curriculum and connecting entrepreneurial characteristics, processes, and outcomes to more general subjects.
“Using this approach, entrepreneurship becomes a habit for learners rather than a specific subject,” says Mhlaba.
You can’t put a price on good policy;
While there are numerous organisations across the continent working to equip young people with these entrepreneurial skills, they can only achieve so much without effective government policy and implementation. “Governments across the continent have stressed the importance of fostering youth entrepreneurship,” says Mhlaba. “In fact, it was a central pillar of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation Address. But they need to follow that sentiment up with informed policy.”
“It’s also critical,” she adds, “that educators be able to implement that policy, no matter what level they teach at. Fail to get that right and the policy won’t get widespread buy-in and will eventually collapse.”
Here, at least, some progress is being made. In South Africa, the Basic Education Department has run its E3 (Entrepreneurship, Employability and Education) initiative since 2018. The initiative aims to use “project-based learning methodologies to unlock an entrepreneurial mindset.” The country is also set to roll out entrepreneurship hubs at its Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to support graduates looking to move into self-employment.
There is still a long way to go, however. A report released earlier this year by the Alliance for African Partnership found that African higher education institutions are still overly focused on preparing young people to work in the formal sector, leaving “little space for innovation or creativity.”
Change begins at home
As Mhlaba points out, however, parents and guardians can still help prepare young people for entrepreneurship while we wait for the policy building blocks to be put in place. For many of these parents, this would mean educating themselves on how best to work with young people to prepare them for entrepreneurial careers.
“At the Anzisha Prize, for example, we work with parents, guardians and teachers to help them understand how best to nurture and raise entrepreneurial young people to enable their transitions from school to entrepreneurship as a career,” says Mhlaba. “We also provide educational resources and training to these parents and encourage them to use some of our books including Think Like A Parent: Act Like A Coach – a practical guide for parents on how to coach and support entrepreneurship in young people.”
These kinds of initiatives help build a fully entrepreneurial ecosystem and ensure that, even when every school child feels confident that they could be their own boss, they have the best possible chance of doing so.