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ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE AND THE YOUTH

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In a linguistic sense, the global village existed long ago. ‘Fiasco’ is an Italian word; ‘karaoke’ is Japanese. But we use them as they are – words not difficult to pronounce. But how on earth did the English-speaking world choose ‘entrepreneur’? More than a bit of a mouthful, even for the French who invented it. But let’s not worry about that. What is important is to accept and embrace the word and the culture.


A core of big business is hugely valuable for an economy. It produces and it employs. But nearly all countries depend as much, if not more, on the growth of small, medium and micro-scale enterprises – called SMMEs or MSMEs. From large to small scale, growth relies on there being a strong and vibrant entrepreneurial culture. But let us focus on the SMME world – especially the youth – an issue highly relevant to this country.


Influence


Culture is an attitude, an understanding. It influences the way people think and behave. Where there is a strong traditional culture, tradition plays a very important part in daily life. Similarly, a sporting culture gives sport a highly-valued place in that society and in individual thought. What about entrepreneurial culture? Thinking and day-dreaming about being in business; and ideally from an early age. That would be hugely beneficial in emerging economies, like ours, that have not inherited a momentum from centuries of industry and wealth.


An entrepreneurial culture should start when a person is young but most youngsters haven’t a millilitre of entrepreneurial blood in their body. Toys, food, sport, chat, music, TV – those are what come naturally. So how do you create it? Well, just like the question – how do you tie a knot or fold a sweater – there is no one way to do it. But I suggest the following mutually-reinforcing thrusts that can create an enduring entrepreneurial culture. The first is self-motivation, and secondly, we should add family and institutional support. Let’s deal with self-motivation first. Two main drivers can create it – desire and need. The desire will be there if young people feel it’s ‘cool’ and socially stylish to talk about, and especially producing goods or providing services of value. Wanting that, as much as wanting material things themselves such as clothes, music and cars. And especially the smartphone! And not afraid to start small.


Billionaire


A famous  entrepreneur started buying small items and selling them at car boot sales when he was 16. He started small and became a billionaire and chairman of a leading British football club. That attracts a very apt expression – ‘from little acorns grow big oak trees’. Start small and your experience gained and the natural creativity it spawns will guide you into growth. I like to capture that in a mantra – ‘activity generates creativity’. But remember the ancient Chinese saying – ‘in the journey of a thousand miles, the first step is the biggest’.


Let me offer our young people a question – what’s a cool subject that you like to talk about with your friends? Is it (a) what you can start producing in the way of goods and services of value? What the market wants and how you can fill the gaps? Or is it (b) – what you would like to possess in material terms? Most people dream of having material possessions, so if (b) also gives rise to (a), then all is well and good. But in the absence of an entrepreneurial culture, the dreams usually stop at (b). And you look for a job in an employed position. But where there is already high unemployment that is not the solution. We have a 50 per cent unemployment figure among our youth. That’s a red flag waving at us.


There are country groups in the world where the entrepreneurial culture is strong. They live, eat and breathe business. And, as a result, they produce. That deals with desire. What about self-motivation from need? It can drive effort or it can allow submission. You forge ahead or give up.  In my youth I played a lot of squash. I couldn’t afford to buy the towelling grips for my rackets. So I made my own, then introduced improvements and ended up selling them. I didn’t make much money but it spawned new ideas.


Two additional and useful mantras: ‘Make to live, and live to make’, and ‘work is not work when you are creating things’. I’m sharing thoughts and ideas. Here’s one – form yourselves a group of six unemployed with very little cash, and dedicate three hours to identifying something you can make, or a service you can provide, that pays. Trust me – you will dream something up. You make a start and that activity will generate creativity and guide you to improvement.


In most societies, self-motivation may not be enough. That is where family and institutional support have a vital contribution to make; for a kick-start. Do we spend time encouraging our children to make and grow things? It is also essential to continually strengthen the inclusion of entrepreneurship in the educational curriculum, supported by the excellent services of agencies like Junior Achievement and Enactus. Reinforced by the skills of Technoserve. The intensive mentoring and monitoring in SEDCO’s incubator scheme can have a significant impact but we need participant numbers in thousands, not hundreds.  


Let us hear publicly and regularly about the impact of those schemes and of the financing from the Youth Enterprise Fund and other sources. The youth are our society of tomorrow, resourcing their needs is a top priority. Enhancement of the entrepreneurial culture across the board has to be a major output of the Post - COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy.








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