For decades, entrepreneurship has been viewed as something risky and mysterious that only a few lucky mavericks could master. This perception has been fuelled by a public reverence for successful individuals, who seem to have had no formal training to which their entrepreneurial success could be attributed. Some educational institutions have also shunned or quashed entrepreneurship as a non-discipline, something unteachable and incongruous with traditional discipline-based courses.
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Whilst the significance of entrepreneurship for a country’s economy is rarely disputed, the much-debated question is whether entrepreneurship is an elusive and exclusive “talent” that is inherent in some, or whether it can be taught and therefore extended to a wider segment of the population who will contribute to the growth of its economy. But I believe that entrepreneurship can be taught and that it is a process that begins with rethinking its definition.
“Our perception of entrepreneurship has to echo that of innovation and entrepreneurship” writes author, Peter Drucker, in his assertion that entrepreneurship is not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. “It is a discipline and like any discipline, it can be learned.” The first step is to realise that entrepreneurship is much more than starting a business. It is an innovation and opportunity driven attitude and mindset that is applicable across all areas of activity.
It therefore cannot be oversimplified or categorised as a subject to be done. The application of this understanding is especially crucial when it comes to instilling an entrepreneurial ethos at school level.
The role of educators
Education, its methodologies and content, life orientation tasks, camps, projects, role models etc, should activate an awareness of opportunities and be holistic. They have to be built into every school activity and not planned as another subject on the curriculum.
In this information age, schools should create endless opportunities for activating information through developing children’s ability to have insights which are then converted into permanent habits.
The role of curriculum designers and teachers cannot be stressed enough: Curriculum designers should be paying attention to cultivating, encouraging, and activating the mindsets that are required as prerequisites for business start-up, whilst teachers should develop cross-cutting methodologies that are used in all subjects that then become the creative vehicles for developing entrepreneurial attitudes.
This way, by the time pupils leave school they are prepared to participate entrepreneurially in anything they do. However, this is not an education that remains in the classroom. Parents would be well advised to look for opportunities to foster creativity and new projects with their children.
The role of government
According to Kristie Seawright, Executive director of the Global Economic Monitor, in order for entrepreneurship training to be productive in low-income countries, it needs to be complimented by beneficial government policies, infrastructure, and other basic requirements.
The first stage of instilling entrepreneurship as a culture is by rewarding it socially and financially by society. Whilst the social reward comes from each and everyone one of us celebrating and encouraging entrepreneurial individuals, the financial reward is primarily the government’s responsibility.
In many ways government controls the balance of a country’s risk reward equation, which is a key component in incentivising entrepreneurial activity. A key first action that government must take is to de-stigmatise financial failure. Bankruptcy related laws need to be amended to ensure that one business failure does not mean the end of a person’s career, but rather becomes a learning opportunity for future entrepreneurial success.
Yet there are two sides to this equation and government would be well advised to leverage the rewards on offer for entrepreneurial endeavour – a quick win would be by means of greater taxation concessions for start-up companies.
It is crucial for a developing country such as ours to stimulate and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit to achieve the much-required economic transformation and a stronger presence in the global economy.
There are no lucky individuals who magically acquire entrepreneurial success, just as there are no predictable traits that will give them a competitive entrepreneurial edge. There is no consistent profile of an entrepreneurial individual. Some are extroverted, others the opposite. The only common thread found across entrepreneurs is a deep desire for achievement and a discontent with the current status of a particular context.
In much the same way that a consistent proportion of the population across different countries excels at mathematics, it is likely that a similar proportion of the population are entrepreneurs. It is believed that this proportion is approximately 20%. In South Africa the actual level of entrepeneurship currently sits at 5% which leaves us with a deficit of 15%.
We need to understand why this deficit exists and attempt to unleash the latent entrepreneurial activity that should exist within that 15% .
These individuals do not need to be taught entrepreneurship as much as opened up to the possibility and then to be encouraged to exercise their natural ability in this area.
This does not exclude the remaining 80% of the population group where the question of nurture vs nature and whether entrepreneurship can be taught becomes even more amplified.
Not everyone can be an entrepreneur; however, it is imperative that the skills and attitudes of an entrepreneurial mindset are adopted more widely in response to the increased rate of change in society.