Entrepreneurship has had limited occupational prevalence within Southern Africa’s historical context. Young people have often been asked the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, most times the person asking would imply that they should look forward to a certain profession such as being a lawyer, soldier or a doctor. However, with the changes that have come about in the world, increased globalization, advances in technology, increased levels of unemployment etc., considering entrepreneurship as a source of livelihood has become more of a necessity than a nice to have. The current narrative is shifting towards encouraging the youth to identify problems they would like to solve, as opposed to asking what profession they aspire to, signaling a significant cultural shift in favor of entrepreneurship.
The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (the ‘Foundation’) upholds the conviction that entrepreneurship serves as a positive agent of change that yields benefits not only for the entrepreneur but also for the surrounding communities. Through businesses, entrepreneurs are able to create employment in their communities and to solve problems of different magnitudes for the people in those communities. Entrepreneurial opportunities abound in addressing challenges such as food scarcity, waste management, and enhancing digital literacy among future generations, with added benefits of financial autonomy and flexible work arrangements for business owners.
Is entrepreneurship a viable career path for everyone?
For eons, people have debated whether entrepreneurs are born or is a skill that can be taught. At the Foundation, while we believe that there are certainly individuals born with a natural affinity for entrepreneurship (think of the standard 1 student who is already trading or selling their lunch box chips), we are also strongly convinced that the entrepreneurial mindset can be taught and developed.
What are the key strategies to foster an entrepreneurial mindset?
The concept of an entrepreneurial mindset extends beyond the conventional scope of starting and managing a business. We are talking about the ability to think like an entrepreneur and to approach challenges you encounter in your day to day with a creative problem solving mentality. Essentially, you would need the following characteristics to develop this mindset:
Be observant – Developing an astute awareness of one’s environment is essential in identifying prevailing issues, assessing consumer preferences, unmet needs, and opportunities for enhancing the quality of life through feasible solutions
Develop curiosity – after you have made observations, start to ask questions. This could be you asking yourself the questions, researching online to find out how other people solve this in other countries or even asking local experts for their opinions. You will be surprised by how open people are to sharing information.
Be a problem solver – learn the ability to come up with solutions to the problems you encounter. Enjoy brainstorming ideas, writing down possible solutions and brainstorming ideas with others. Initially, let go of thinking about why the idea cannot work and just come up with as many ideas as you can. Then start to look at the pros and cons of each solution, i.e., wearing your analytical cap.
Enjoy learning and growing – develop a growth mindset, don’t be afraid to explore things you have no experience in. Learn about a wide variety of things and deepen your knowledge on the topics you are passionate about. Watch Youtube or take a free short course online, you can even ask someone if you can spend time shadowing them so you can learn from them. Ask a lot of questions and try to listen more than you talk.
Engage with entrepreneurial thought leaders for enhanced entrepreneurial insights – Spending time with like minded people, will inspire you to go further in pursuit of your dreams. If you spend time with other entrepreneurial people, you will be able to learn from their accomplishments and their mistakes and have people to bounce your ideas off. A fellow entrepreneur would be able to sympathise with the challenges you face daily and share pointers on how they overcame those challenges.
Proceed with confidence and conviction. – entrepreneurs are driven to take action. Don’t wait for someone to do it or someone to join you. Although it would be great if you can take the entrepreneurship journey with other people, entrepreneurship minded people are hard to find, so don’t be afraid to go at it alone.
Be prepared to fail – some people see failing at something as just failure, while entrepreneurs see an opportunity to learn. Success is often built on multiple failures. Do not worry about what people will say, but focus on your pursuit. Successful entrepreneurs never give up, they fall and rise until they reach their objective.
What can parents/guardians and teachers do to encourage children to be entrepreneurial thinkers?
There’s a lot that one can do to intentionally raise children to think about things with a can do, can solve attitude. Some of these include:
Asking children questions – in traditional African culture, children are expected to spend more time silent as the elders speak. However, we need to help young people develop the ability to analyse concepts and problem solve, by asking them questions about their opinions on various aspects of life and the things that occur around them. As they think about the answers, they develop their thinking abilities and strengthen their ability to articulate their thoughts.
Expose them to different environments – travelling to different places (if you can afford to), spending time with diverse types of people and trying out new things with your children are all great ways you can consider to help them grow their world view and along with it the lens with which they see things. Often, people can’t think creatively beyond what they have been exposed to.
Challenge them to solve problems – Instead of always jumping in to solve the problem for the child, pose the challenge to them and ask them how they think it can be resolved. Let them try to figure things out on their own and involve them in family problem solving such as asking them what side hustle they think the family should start to improve the family finances.
Allan Gray Orbis Foundation is a non-profit organisation that was set up to invest in the education and development of individuals with entrepreneurial potential to build and nurture the future generation of change makers.