OPINION| Why should an entrepreneurial mindset mean something to you?

With South Africa’s unemployment rate for the fourth quarter of 2021 measuring a disturbing 35.3% according to data released from Stats SA, as a nation, we are in deep trouble. In another concerning statistic the Youth Unemployment Rate in South Africa remained unchanged at 66.5%. With a volatile and intense melting pot of so many unemployed people, and particularly unemployed youth, nothing good can result unless we can come together and forge the opportunities that will lead to meaningful, scalable and sustainable job creation.

With a large number of school leavers entering the job market annually, the days of walking into a job immediately are practically non-existent. A mindset shift needs to take place, not on leaving school, but long before that. Never before has the necessity for the creation of a culture of entrepreneurship been quite so critical. We need to appreciate how an entrepreneurial mindset can make a difference in the approach towards earning a living and earning a salary versus becoming a high-impact entrepreneur, establishing a scalable business and actually creating jobs. While we know that there is dignity in work of all kinds, entrepreneurs are the trailblazers with the ability to envision a scenario where they uplift those around them, take others with them and create opportunities to solve uniquely South African problems.

Is “entrepreneurship” the new buzzword that gets bandied about when discussing the hopelessness of the unemployment rate? You would be forgiven for thinking so when evaluating the plethora of organisations involved in entrepreneurial support and development in some shape or form. With more than 340 organisations in this space, why is it that South Africa appears to be lagging behind our African counterparts in terms of our uptake of entrepreneurship? With the lofty goal of attaining “more than 15 million decent jobs for Africa” according to the Jobs Now Coalition on launching the People’s Charter on Jobs in Africa, there is no doubt that efforts have to be redoubled. A concerted attempt must be made to ensure that an entrepreneurial mindset is introduced and nurtured from very early on in the curriculum in schools.

What does this mean practically? To include a brief introduction to entrepreneurship during a life orientation class is not going to provide the necessary impact. Learning through play is a key component for retention and encourages students to approach all areas of the curriculum with a problem-solving mindset. This is the first step towards helping them to think critically and creatively for maximum impact. Experiential learning is a critical component that can empower youths to think differently about the community in which they live and how to solve specific problems that are pertinent to that particular environment. For example, issues experienced by those living in township communities are not the same as those living in upmarket suburbs, but they can provide opportunities for sector-specific solutions. 

One of the key lessons that can and should be learnt from early on is the painful process of risking failure in order to find out what works and what does not. These valuable lessons build resilience and stamina and are exceptionally helpful in developing a durable entrepreneurial mindset. These learnings go a long way to building high-impact entrepreneurs who have the skills, capacity and drive to create businesses that are scalable and have the potential to create additional jobs. There is a marked difference between business owners who carefully protect their current business opportunity compared with high-impact individuals who have an entrepreneurial mindset and explore new horizons. There is a large pool of business owners that while running their own businesses, do not have the capacity to upscale and build their businesses to greater heights. The knack is to identify individuals with an entrepreneurial potential, who can be nurtured and supported to create businesses that add value to society.

A possible answer to remediating some of the issues around supporting entrepreneurship is to adopt a collaborative model with all stakeholders, encompassing government, business and civil society, among others. We cannot afford to be precious about sharing valuable lessons learned, particularly when these can lead to a greater reach and encouragement for those individuals with the potential to forge their own and others’ destinies. When evaluating the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it is clear that a “silo mentality” is counter-productive and does not lend itself to creating an enabling environment for nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the value chain. Some methodologies may complement the strategy while others erode the intent. Care needs to be taken to ensure that these are consolidated to support the goals of the entrepreneur and the ultimate success of the business.

In addition, it is important to inculcate an environment of boundary-free learning. Just because a young person lives in Soweto, without access to many of the amenities of more affluent areas, it does not mean that they cannot capitalise on some of the technologies from places such as the US, China or India, to be adapted for a purely South African context. The advent of the fourth industrial revolution has catapulted us into adopting new technologies and all that this brings, including “future proofing” our youth.

One of the biggest challenges that needs to be overcome is how entrepreneurship is perceived in general. What has to transpire is the awareness of how to build a culture of entrepreneurship and then convert South Africa into an entrepreneurial nation. No mean feat! However, if we garner the learnings from both the accomplishments of high-impact individuals and the failings of those who took the risks, it is our duty to find a way to support the government, uplift our people and create an environment that is open for business – the South African way.

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation has made the democratisation of an entrepreneurial mindset a key focus to ensure that a new generation of entrepreneurial thinkers forge their way to individual and collective success. By facilitating interventions in schools and in tertiary education that encourage young people to consider entrepreneurship as a career opportunity, the foundation is well-positioned  to support collaboration between the various stakeholders throughout the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is only through sharing our collective successes and failures that we can build our intellectual capital, develop scale and then be able to take the entrepreneurial mindset offering to many more underserved communities. 

Entrepreneurship is not for a select few, but rather is innate in all of us. By teaching our young people the merits of an entrepreneurial mindset from a very early age, they will continue to reap the benefits in all aspects of their later life. In fact, from a national and continental perspective, how can we afford not to?

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Nontando Mthethwa
Nontando Mthethwa is head of public affairs and communications at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

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