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Creating successful entrepreneurs will unlock Africa’s financial future

Africa is on the cusp of a workforce of highly-motivated entrepreneurs. This rising tide comes as the continent’s population is surging towards being the world’s largest workforce by 2030. With exponential population growth shrinking available opportunities, as well as shifting patterns in the labour market, many youth have had to create a niche and become entrepreneurs.

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is seeing many traditionally manual roles being superseded by automation and Artificial Intelligence. This drastic change is happening across the globe as nations embrace technological advancements. This has repercussions for those coming to the end of their schooldays and is poised to enter the workforce. They will have the distinction of being amongst the last to have been educated into the notion that the education system delivers a job. This forthcoming swathe of entrepreneurs proffers a double edged sword, as there are most definitely positives, but it comes with a huge dose of reality too.

On the plus side, entrepreneurship creates pathways for young Africans to lead in their communities. It holds the promise of creativity to generate self-employment and create jobs. Entrepreneurship generates new solutions that turn policies into engines for wealth creation, not just poverty reduction. The shared value that lies in wealth creation is the lubricant required for engines of transformation.

Unfortunately, the skills and the aptitudes for entrepreneurship are still not being taught at scale to Africa’s youth. Low financial literacy levels for young people make financial systems a stumbling block instead of a leverage. Despite its promises, entrepreneurship cannot substitute itself to education and training. Too many young people become entrepreneurs by default, held back by many ills that public-private systems can address. But on the ground, there are positive noises amongst the young people of Africa, who believe it can be a successful career path, despite the obvious hinderances.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and Youth Business International report compiled by the World Economic Forum (Bonnici, Francois, 2015) found that as many as 60 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in Africa are “highly optimistic” about the availability of business opportunities, and confident in their skills and knowledge to start businesses of their own.

Yet the skills and education are lacking in translating that enthusiasm into tangible outcomes. Our focus on the formal economy when African economies are vastly informal leaves us one too many blind spots to drive transformation at scale.

Scale requires systems and people. However, the same WEF report states that about a third of young entrepreneurs in Africa with nascent businesses are driven to entrepreneurship by necessity. Because these young people become entrepreneurs without a basic educational grounding in enterprise creation, their businesses have low success rates.

Addressing systemic limitations such as access to quality education and relevant skills for where we are and where we need to go is a missing link. An important pre-requisite is a collective appreciation for what entrepreneurship is, as its current permutation is often glossy with an emphasis on urban technology.

This challenge presents an opportunity to create the support systems that can enhance the chances for success and encourage many more young people to consider entrepreneurship in the future.

In Zimbabwe, a young entrepreneur and Junior Achievement (JA) alumnus, Rudo Mazhandu, found a market need and created her own soap making business, bolstered by the combination of her formal education and entrepreneurship training from JA, which provided her with the knowledge to grow her business.

Rudo may have gone into entrepreneurship out of necessity, but the training she received enabled her to turn opportunity into a pathway for wealth creation.

Entrepreneurship should be demystified at all levels of African society and the skills for it to grow encouraged and built. Africa’s educational systems need to be redesigned to position youth to embrace entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should be a choice for the continent’s transformation.

Wealth creation requires a mindset shift so that entrepreneurship becomes the norm rather than the exception.

By Elizabeth Bintliff (The Nerve)