This article is written to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week (‘GEW’), a global movement which celebrates existing entrepreneurs and inspires aspiring entrepreneurs and nascent entrepreneurs to “unleash their ideas and take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey”.
Celebrating entrepreneurs, inspiring the next generation – The Global Entrepreneurship Week in perspective
Entrepreneurship is back in fashion. And for good reason.
Entrepreneurs and Africa
Entrepreneurship has a crucial role to play in powering Africa’s prosperity. As the most sustainable job creation vehicle there is, entrepreneurship provides us with a big opportunity to reduce dangerously high youth unemployment and combat negative effects of over urbanisation – allowing us ultimately to preserve national security, peace and stability.
It is no surprise then that entrepreneurship is in vogue. There have been many calls across different platforms for us to nurture and encourage entrepreneurship and there is a proliferation of courses available in our colleges and universities on the subject.
Unfortunately, too many of those institutions teach entrepreneurship like the liberal arts. Students learn concepts and take examinations that test their retained knowledge. There is hardly any skill transfer.
Entrepreneurs – born or made?
An age-old debate in entrepreneurship literature is whether you can teach anyone to become an entrepreneur. The vast majority of the entrepreneurs I have interviewed (for my book ‘Kuenyehia On Entrepreneurship’ and for the ‘Celebrating Entrepreneurship’ column I write for Graphic Business) argue that the answer is no, you cannot teach anyone to become an entrepreneur.
And I agree. Entrepreneurship cannot be taught in the same way you might teach a subject like English or mathematics.
This leads to another disturbing question: if entrepreneurship cannot be taught, how can we raise the army of entrepreneurs that we so badly need to fuel prosperity and thereby preserve national harmony and security?
The answer is a lot simpler than the question would suggest.
First, although entrepreneurship – like creativity – cannot be taught, nascent entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs (‘wannabepreneurs’) can be taught certain business fundamentals that will increase the odds of success and reduce the odds of failure.
An entrepreneur who has even a basic understanding of accounting, finance and human resource management, for example, is more likely to succeed than one who doesn’t. All things being equal.
Second, and more importantly, ‘inspiration’ is a more effective tool than teaching ever could be in the realm of entrepreneurship. You can teach someone to drive a car or read a balance sheet, but you can only inspire someone to become an entrepreneur.
In my experience in the classroom, I have discovered that the most effective way of inspiring my students to go on to become entrepreneurs and encourage existing entrepreneurs to expand their horizons is to share real-life case studies of local entrepreneurs.
Local case studies
As context is so important in entrepreneurship, local case studies are vital.
That’s where the challenge comes in. While I can find hundreds of case studies and books on titans like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Richard Branson, there are scant offerings – if any – on our own icons such as Esther Ocloo, Mark Cofie, Kwabena Darko, Kofi Amoabeng, Herman Chinery-Hesse, Edward Effah, Sam Jonah, Patrick Awuah, Kwaku Ofosu Bediako and Adelaide Ahwireng.
Also, to my knowledge, there is not a single Ghanaian institution systematically documenting and telling the inspiring stories of our amazing entrepreneurs.
As inspirational as Richard Branson and Virgin’s story may be, for example, that story might have been a bit different if he had to operate in the same conditions as our local entrepreneurs do.
In the classroom setting, simultaneous with such inspiration, must be a focus on encouraging students to experiment, within the relatively safe environment of the classroom, to test their entrepreneurial ideas and to potentially launch enterprises under the direction of instructors. To be successful at this, these institutions of learning must invest in incubators.
The other way you inspire ‘wannabepreneurs’ and nascent entrepreneurs and encourage entrepreneurs generally to move further up the entrepreneurial ladder is to celebrate entrepreneurs generally. That, again, is where we have a massive challenge.
It is not by coincidence that in the United States, probably the most entrepreneurial nation in the world, there’s no shortage of books, movies, magazines, TV shows and blogs devoted to celebrating entrepreneurs. They tell and retell the stories of their entrepreneurial journeys. These stories are told of the good, the bad and the ugly – and everyone else in between.
One of my students at Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) told me, on the first day of our ‘Foundations of Entrepreneurship’ class, that she didn’t think she could become an entrepreneur.
Yet, shortly after graduating from GIMPA the very same student went on to set up a successful business. When I caught up with her recently, she told me that the real catalyst for her was hearing a speaker I had invited to class. The speaker came from her hometown and was also a single mother raising three kids by three different men. And she was young and operating in an industry dominated by middle-aged men.
My student told me: “After learning about [the speaker’s] journey and seeing how similar we were, I was 100 per cent convinced that I could also do the same. But until then, I never thought I could be an entrepreneur”.