South Africa’s celebrations of Youth Month are muted by the stark fact that youth unemployment is at its highest rate ever. Against this backdrop, inclusive entrepreneurship may provide the answer for sustainable job creation and social change, says Nontando Mthethwa of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
Picture an entrepreneur, and chances are the image you conjure up falls into one of two camps. On the one hand, there’s a the ‘elite’ entrepreneur; the business owner who was fortunate to have access to a range of contacts and resources capable of bringing their disruptive idea to life. Contrasting sharply with this stereotype is the small business owner who never had any intention of establishing a start-up, but was driven to do so out of desperation; a fallout from long-term unemployment.
It’s a sad reality that, in South Africa, many of the entrepreneurs we see fall into the second category. Entrepreneurship still ranks far behind other professions when it comes to career choices, and many of the country’s young people simply don’t consider starting a business as an occupation – either because it doesn’t occur to them, or because they don’t believe it’s a viable option.
It doesn’t help that many of the examples of successful entrepreneurs we see are international, which means they won’t have experienced the same kind of challenges we’re bound to encounter as South Africans.
How do we address the misperceptions around entrepreneurship? By promoting inclusive entrepreneurship; emphasizing the fact that just because your background is different to that of, say, Richard Branson or Uber founder Travis Kalanick doesn’t mean that this is a sphere off limits to you.
Fostering inclusive entrepreneurship means breaking down barriers, so that more people are able to engage with the ideas and concept related to entrepreneurship. Doing this requires input from a range of stakeholders, so that we are able to reach people wherever they are. It’s a question of relevance: while there are some would-be entrepreneurs who are lucky enough to be able to spend hours on their tablet, Googling resources and concepts, others who are no less well equipped in terms of skill and resources to become business owners don’t enjoy the same level of access. The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation is trying to address this by democratizing entrepreneurship education through the Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge; an online game that teaches the principles of entrepreneurship and which can be played by primary and high school learners, as well as students in vocational colleges, around the country. This is in addition to our programmes (Scholarship, Fellowship and Association) which target learners at different levels, offering a wide range of interventions for social and academic support, including targeted entrepreneurial learning activities augmented by mentorship. We’re also working to extend our programmes to learners at schools in rural and marginalized societies, so that these opportunities not only become available to a more diverse audience (thus increasing the diversity of our pool of potential entrepreneurs), but are also representative of the country’s demographics.
What’s important to note is that the beneficiaries of these programmes may not go on to become entrepreneurs – but, even if they don’t, they will have acquired the skills that help them to flourish in an environment that is characterized by uncertainty. Their entrepreneurial flair and outlook will serve them well in any circumstances, whether they opt to apply these qualities in a corporate setting or in their own business.
Either way, they will be equipped to disrupt – and that’s important, because we at the Foundation believe that one of the key roles of entrepreneurship is to find ways to solve societal challenges. That’s why we think that, more than asking children what they want to be when they grow up, we should ask what problems they would like to fix. Inclusive entrepreneurship is about giving them the skills they need to identify these problems, then create solutions.
That’s why the ripple effects of inclusive entrepreneurship are so significant. Sure, it’s encouraging to see an individual able to support themselves, rather than relying on a salary. But how much more exciting is it to see those individuals able to create jobs for others and uplift their communities? This is why the Foundation has chosen to focus on fostering high impact entrepreneurship, setting a goal of supporting entrepreneurs who create 500 ventures, 10 of which have a value of R1 billon, and creating 30 000 jobs by 2030.
It’s an audacious goal, we admit – which is why we encourage participation from other members of our ecosystem. We acknowledge that each member of the entrepreneurship-building community has a role to play, and by harnessing each other’s strengths, we can amplify them. Collaboration is key.
By coming together in this manner, we believe that we will be able to see entrepreneurship move out of the realm of the extraordinary; a career reserved for the mavericks and the risk-takers, to become a considered choice for many. In this way, we see entrepreneurship making a significant contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as Agenda 2063, which seeks to create a framework for the socio-economic transformation of Africa.
The challenge now is to take the legislation and policies which lay the foundation for a flourishing entrepreneurial culture and implement them – an undertaking which requires input from both the private and public sectors – so that our economy can finally see the advantages of inclusive entrepreneurship.