Entrepreneurship starts in the classroom

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mtn_logoAuthor: Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, General Manager of the MTN SA Foundation

The latest mid-year population estimates in the Statistics SA report released in July this year found that South Africa is both young and female, with people between the ages of 16 and 34 making up over 20% of the population.

These figures represent a double-edged sword for policy makers.

On the one hand, this means that South Africa has an established workforce of tech-savvy future entrepreneurs and professionals who can harness the power of information and communication technologies (ICT) to translate South Africa’s growth ambitions into reality.

On the other hand, this begs the difficult question of whether the sluggish economy is able to cater for these young people who are on the verge of entering the world of work.  More importantly, we have to ask whether they have the right skills and mind-sets to venture into entrepreneurship, considering the already-high unemployment rate.

Current statistics on youth unemployment in South Africa also paint a grim picture. One in every three people who are economically able are out of work. The social and economic implications of this are devastating.

This places an additional burden on the state to provide a social security net, incubates socio-economic challenges like alcohol and drug abuse, and deprives the economy of income that could be generated by more than 32% of the population.

So how can South Africa Inc. ensure that the pent-up energy of this growing section of the population is properly tapped into for the general wellbeing of society?

How do we ensure that the youth leverage the power of connectivity to create new enterprises and possibly future conglomerates?

It is well documented that small and medium sized businesses have the potential to kick-start economic growth and make a significant dent in the unemployment rate. However, many start-up businesses barely make it past the first year.

According to South Africa Web, small businesses contribute 30% to South Africa’s GDP, absorbing about 70% to 80% of the employed population, but contribute less than 4% to export earnings, which leaves a large margin for growth.

Though statistics on SME failure vary, one of South Africa’s major banks found that, on average, about 50% of all start-up businesses in South Africa fail within 24 months due to the inability and inexperience of their owners.

It is for this reason that the MTN SA Foundation supports initiatives like the Step Up to a Start Up programme, which aims to reverse this trend and inculcate an entrepreneurial mind-set among school going teenagers. This is achieved by giving these young people the practical skills required to start a business and realise their entrepreneurial ambitions.

This year’s programme kicked off with the screening of a movie called: ‘Think Tech, Do Business’ across the country. The movie documents the life of the main character who discovers technology and starts a business that transforms her life and that of her community. The teenagers who attended the screening were given a toolkit designed to assist them to implement the skills learnt by the movie’s lead character.

The initiative is currently in its competition phase – teenagers wanting to participate are tasked with developing a detailed business plan.  The top nine entries will get the opportunity to attend an intensive four-day Entrepreneur Boot Camp, where top entrepreneurship experts will share their knowledge and experience with them.

Since 2014, Step Up to a Start Up has exposed over 60 000 youth to entrepreneurship, paid out over R100 000 in seed funding to businesses that are in development phase, and contributed more than R150 000 towards bursaries to fund further education of the winners.

The entrepreneurial seeds that are planted by initiatives like this have the potential to grow into fully-fledged enterprises that can make a meaningful contribution to job creation and economic growth

Many of the big businesses that define our world today were start-ups at one point. Their growth can be attributed to the inherent flexibility that SMEs have, their ethos of innovation, and their agility to open up new markets.

The Step Up to a Start Up programme is by no means the be all and end all for youth entrepreneurial development in South Africa. It does, however, represent an encouraging step towards fostering entrepreneurship at school level, and showcases what can be achieved when government works together with the private sector towards a common goal.

There is growing evidence that shows that including entrepreneurial training at school level encourages the learners to consider entrepreneurship as a career choice, and prepares them for this.

The European Union commissioned a study to determine the impact of education at high school level. The study looked at the impact of JA Worldwide® (JA-YE in Europe), which is the world’s largest provider of entrepreneurship education programmes in OECD countries.

The study found that students who participated in entrepreneurship focused subjects are more likely to start their own business.  Additionally, their companies tend to be more innovative and more successful than those led by entrepreneurs who don’t have similar educational backgrounds.

It also found that entrepreneurship focused education alumni are at a lower risk of being unemployed. Compared to their peers, they have better jobs and make more money.

“Notably, effects tend to cumulate and lead to acceleration: those who participated in a higher number of entrepreneurship education measures benefited more over time. The positive impact is not restricted to students and alumni. Besides impact on the individual, evidence from the examples reviewed for this study also showed impact on educational institutions, the economy and society,” the report reads.

While it is important to consider best practice globally, with a view of replicating it in South Africa, it is also essential that we strengthen the initiatives that are already in place locally, and develop solutions that are tailored to our socio-economic realities.

The annual Enactus and SAGE programmes are some additional examples of the initiatives that we, at MTN, have also chosen to support. These have given young people from across the country the rare opportunity to showcase their entrepreneurial talent and develop home-grown solutions that contribute to a more sustainable world. These locally developed solutions are then taken into global competitions, exposing these young entrepreneurs to other solutions and possible business connections.

The global telecoms body, GSMA, has found that although internet access is still lagging behind across the continent, ICT has huge potential to facilitate access to economic opportunities and entrepreneurship.

The MTN SA Foundation fully supports this view. It is for this reason that we embarked on a programme of digitising economically marginalised schools across the country.  At the heart of this, it’s really about improving learning outcomes and creating self-reliance in the communities in which we operate.

We are living in world where apps are becoming an everyday part of our existence. Innovations like Air B&B and Uber have shown how connectivity can disrupt the status quo and introduce completely new industries and ecosystems.

When many countries in Europe are faced with ageing populations, Africa and South Africa in particular, are in an enviable position.  This is because we have the desired building blocks, in the form of tech-savvy young people who can take the country and continent forward on a new growth path.

ENDS

ISSUED BY:

Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, MTN SA

Cell: 083 200 6274 / E-mail: Jacquio@mtn.com

Mthokozisi Ndlovu, Public Relations Specialist, MTN SA

Cell: 083 209 2683 / E-mail: Mthokozisi.Ndlovu@mtn.com

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