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Let’s develop entrepreneurs

Achiever (Cape Media) 2004 Issue 8

Entrepreneurship is regarded as “a way of thinking, reasoning and acting that is opportunity oriented, holistic in approach and leadership” (Timmons,1999). It is a way of thinking apparently less common to South Africans than to individuals in most other developing and many developed countries.

The results of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, which compare levels of entrepreneurial activity in 37 participating countries, provide some surprising results that should serve as a wake-up call for South Africa in its pursuit of job creation and economic growth.

According to GEM, South Africa ranks lowest of all developing countries in all measures of entrepreneurship and is in the bottom quartile of all participating countries on measures of opportunity entrepreneurship and new firm activity. Both of these are considered critical gauges for economic growth potential, most particularly new firm activity as these enterprises promise to be most effective in creating jobs, employing on average 2.17 people as opposed to “start-up firms” which average 0.8 people.

The strong positive correlation between countries that embrace entrepreneurship and countries that prosper is well known, as is the fact that, as wealth and job creators, entrepreneurs are a must for any competitive and growing economy. Why then does South Africa rank so low?

Both the GEM 2002 and GEM 2003 reports identify education and training as the key factor influencing entrepreneurial activity in South Africa (as opposed to other developing countries where this is not the key limiter of ativity). In South Africa this includes the fact that “schools are not providing adequate instruction in entrepreneurship and economic principles, nor encouraging creativity, self-sufficiency and personal initiative”. GEM goes further to make a number of policy suggestions aimed at ensuring that the education and training requirements for successful entrepreneurship development in South Africa are made. These include that:

Schools should include personal financial management skills (economic and financial literacy) in the curriculum at every grade;
Post-matric qualifications should include an accredited course on entrepreneurial business development including how to write a business plan, basic bookkeeping and marketing;
Business skills development is not the most appropriate training for the informal sector. There should rather be a focus on basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills with a developmental rather than a business focus. Training at this level should be delivered in the community by the relevant NGOs that have proved themselves to be effective, and should receive government support.
Training for the formal sector should focus on administration, financial management and marketing. Training should be more practical, less classroom-based and include follow-up supervision and support.
These findings re-affirm the value of South African Institute for Entrepreneurship’s efforts and activities in support of schools, informal sector businesses and community-based skills training organisations over the past seven years. They also support the suggestion, made in the last issue of Achiever, that a culture of entrepreneurship should be inculcated and nurtured across the board, in all sectors and all educational programmes. A culture of entrepreneurship provides the vehicle for innovation and growth, and creates the jobs necessary to alleviate poverty. As such, encouraging independent, creative and entrepreneurial thinking and creating an enabling environment that supports entrepreneurs in action should be a national imperative.

SAIE’s mission is to develop an entrepreneurial culture and mindset in youth and adults, and to assist in the creation of entrepreneurs. To this end, SAIE develops innovative materials that utilize original, creative methodologies, and trains educators and trainers to convey business skills and uncover entrepreneurship qualities.

Contrary to popular belief, the ability to think and act entrepreneurially is not limited to a select few, but is rather a skill that can be developed in all, given the right learning environment and support. To be entrepreneurial in thought and orientation and to have positive expectations about entrepreneurial possibilities, abilities and careers, requires that creativity, innovation and an entrepreneurial attitude is encouraged throughout life. It includes developing the skills for opportunity recognition, resource gathering, planning, activity initiation and practical business venture implementation.

Entrepreneurship education, that process of providing individuals with the experiences, concepts and skills to identify opportunities that exist, and with the confidence, self-esteem, and knowledge to act to realise the potential of those opportunities, should not, therefore, refer to a once-off university course of study. Rather, it should underpin all education and be pursued with vigour, rather than be stifled by the need for conformity and control.

As an attitude to life and a way of thinking and acting, entrepreneurial skill develops over time and should be nurtured from the very start of a child’s learning, encouraged by continual exposure and reward from parents, the educational system, the media and businesses themselves. Indeed, entrepreneurship should be embedded into the fabric of society with every aspect of public policy encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit and potential of the country. Public honouring and celebration of entrepreneurs as national heros – or “Entreprenheros” as they are known in the institute – would also do an enormous amount to change perceptions and encourage future entrepreneurs amongst the youth. Most critically, our education system, which has largely focused in the past on producing workers who think of life in terms of a good job until they retire, needs to be aligned with the need to produce entrepreneurially minded individuals capable of pursuing self-employment opportunities. All in all, therefore, it is in the realm of education that changes need to manifest if we want to develop and nurture a culture of entrepreneurship.

How rewarding it is, therefore, to see that the Department of Education have now introduced a new subject choice in the National Curriculum Statement for Grades 10-12 viz. Business Studies. As a continuation of the Economic and Management Sciences subject in lower grades, this is an exceptionally positive advancement that could go a long way to addressing the low levels of entrepreneurial activity in South Africa from the bottom up.

The new Business Studies subject choice is defined as “dealing with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values critical for informed, productive, ethical and responsible participation in the formal and informal economic sectors. The subject encompasses business principles, theory and practice that underpin the development of entrepreneurial initiatives, sustainable enterprises and economic growth”. The subject aims to ensure that learners are able:

i. to acquire the essential business knowledge, skills and principles to productively and profitably conduct business in changing business environments;

ii. to create business opportunities, creatively solve problems and take risks,

iii. to apply basic leadership and management skills and principles whilst working with others to accomplish business goals,

iv. to be motivated, self-directed, reflective lifelong learners who responsibly manage themselves and their activities, and

v. to be committed to developing themselves and others through business opportunities and ventures.

Most importantly, the subject aims to ensure that learners are not only better equipped to secure formal employment, but that they are also able to be in a position to pursue sustainable entrepreneurial and self-employment career pathways. As such, the core learning outcome of Business Studies is creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial thought and deed.

The difficulty for educators, however, is that as a new subject choice, many have not been trained in presenting the content of Business Studies as it is now defined. This makes both teaching and assessment difficult. As importantly, there are as yet no training materials that meet the subject’s learning outcomes or that are based on discovery learning principles and outcomes based education.

The South African Institute for Entrepreneurship (SAIE) has more than twenty years of experience both in the South African context and abroad, and has developed and extensively tested its entrepreneurship training materials. The Institute’s BEST (Business Expenses Savings Training) Simulation Tool has been endorsed by the ILO and successfully used in more than 75 countries and across a range of participants – from illiterate and semi-literate skills training programmes and individuals developing their own micro-businesses, to graduates at business schools, corporates involved in employee retrenchment and retraining and small business people developing business plans. At the same time, the BusinessVENTURES schools-based programme materials has operated in more than 4,000 schools around the country for more than 7 years with extremely positive results.

BusinessVENTURES materials for schools are all OBE compliant and include easy assessment mechanisms for effective rating of performance and achievement by educators. They provide the full EMS curriculum for each grade and constitute a holistic solution to educator development in this new learning area, in which most previously trained educators have had no or little exposure. Each programme thus enables educators to be effective, efficient, dynamic facilitators who can impart critical and creative thinking skills and an entrepreneurial frame of mind characterised by opportunity-seeking rather than job-seeking.

These world-class learning materials provide the means of stimulating learning and do not require additional materials development or adaptation of textbooks by educators. Educators are empowered to take the role of a mentor or guide who sends learners to various learning resources, from which learners discover new ideas and ways of thinking by means of experiential, action learning. In this way, the educator is able to interact with learners in order to bring out and develop their natural talents and their capacities for creative and critical thinking. Most importantly, by facilitating learning through doing, educators themselves finally come to understand the principles behind outcomes-based education.