What does the youth of ’76 teach us about entrepreneurship?

What does the youth of ’76 teach us about entrepreneurship?

youth-daySouth Africa is no different from the rest of the world in contending with a youth unemployment crisis. We know the stats. We’ve heard the rhetoric. As we remember the bold actions taken by the youth of Soweto, against an oppressive education regime in a now 39-year old uprising, one wonders whether a similar protest is not warranted in the context of our shallow youth entrepreneurship.

The barriers to deepening South Africa’s youth entrepreneurship include the technological divide, restricted access to capital, collateral, business networks and a lack of experience. Global consensus is that successful entrepreneurs have an average age of 35 since it is expected and accepted that, at this age, individuals leverage off life’s experiences, networks and other human resources. However the majority of young people in South Africa are “age constrained” and therefore lack the necessary skills to navigate complex entrepreneurial terrain. So what resources can inexperienced 18 – 34 year olds leverage off in South Africa?

Lesson 1 – Boost your educational qualifications

The students of ’76 knew that a quality, globally-competitive education was critical to their future. Part of the reason that survivalist enterprises do not become high-impact is that they are generally started out of desperation by people who, particularly in a country like South Africa, cannot find alternative employment – hence these enterprises provide only enough income to employ the Founder and one or two other people at best.

The GEM’s recommendations for improving our entrepreneurial climate centre around overhauling the education system with a particular focus on improving uptake and pass rates for Maths and Science and partnering with entrepreneurial role models within communities. Research supports the positive link between education and both the choice to become an entrepreneur and subsequent entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurial skills development programmes, targeted mentorship and financial support also go a long way towards bolstering the chances of survival for young entrepreneurs.

Lesson 2 – Turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones

The students of ’76 knew that they had to take a stand but they were less certain that their actions would result in meaningful change. By vocalising their discontent, they took a leap of faith and, in so doing, garnered international support for their stumbling block. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 392 which condemned both the uprising and the apartheid government. The former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was due to visit South Africa shortly before the riot. He said that the uprisings cast a negative light on the entire country. Youth’s willingness to accept the possibility that a business may fail is a good indicator of entrepreneurial capacity. Contemporary attitudes are complicated by youth’s culture of entitlement and the perpetuation of the “bling bling” road to success by tender-preneurs. It takes years to become an overnight success.

Lesson 3 – Keep looking

The Department of Trade and Industry’s Youth Enterprise Development Strategy (2013-2023) is one example of South Africa’s ongoing efforts to stimulate youth entrepreneurship. The policy instrument intends to provide support schemes for young entrepreneurs with the objective of creating and managing sustainable businesses that are capable of providing decent permanent jobs and employment growth.It is important for young entrepreneurs to stay focussed on the bigger picture and, like the youth of ’76, to keep looking for solutions that will outlive them. The award opportunities below can help in casting the vision further. Happy Youth (Entrepreneurship) Day!

  • R100,000 up for grabs for Social Entrepreneurs in the SEIF award and R10,000 grants from the NYDA. Entries for both close on 30 June 2015

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