Youth Unemployment: Developing youth entrepreneurs in a disruptor economy

A breakout session at the Trialogue Business in Society Virtual Conference 2020, looking at if and how South African youth can be developed into entrepreneurs, was moderated by Dr Taddy Blecher of the Maharishi Institute. Speakers Eldrid Jordaan (GovChat), S’onqoba Vuba (FutureProofSA) and Nelly Mofokeng (JASA, formerly Junior Achievement South Africa) discussed the characteristics, skills and teaching mechanisms required to inculcate a culture of entrepreneurship in young South Africans.

Developing entrepreneurs

All the speakers, and 97% of participating audience members as demonstrated through the online quick poll, believe that entrepreneurs can be developed. According to Vuba, who is a Commissioner on the Presidential Commission for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the characteristics of an entrepreneur are teachable and include:

  • Opportunity awareness
  • Tenacity
  • Resilience
  • A need for achievement
  • Self-efficiency
  • Leadership

She indicated that it is the way that young people are taught that needs interrogation, with the most effective method being through experiential learning. This sentiment was echoed by Dr Blecher as he referenced the work that he and the Maharishi Institute are doing through the E3 initiative with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which uses student-centred learning (including the use of projects and games), and by Mofokeng in the methodologies that JASA uses in their programmes.

Vuba also highlighted that the effort spent on developing young people into entrepreneurs is always appropriate because entrepreneurial thinking, behaviours and skills are relevant whether a learner chooses an entrepreneurial path or the path of employment: “These are characteristics and skills required by everyone considering the rapidly changing world we find ourselves in.”

Entrepreneurship is not the easy route

 Eldrid Jordaan spoke very candidly about his difficult personal entrepreneurial journey, which eventually culminated in what is now the extremely successful GovChat, South Africa’s largest online civic engagement platform. Jordaan spoke passionately about how every entrepreneurial story involves a lot of hardship; ultimately, he believes there is no substitute for hard work and the learning that comes from failure. He had this advice for entrepreneurs:

  • Follow your passion and your purpose
  • Do not chase money – if you do, you will very quickly be disappointed
  • It is a lonely journey, so you need to find the right partner and marry the right person!
  • Don’t give up, stay focused and stay resilient

A question from the audience directed at Nelly Mofokeng asked for a comment on the effect of the education system on the outcomes and impact that JASA is trying to achieve with its young beneficiaries, within the context of the work that JASA has been doing to nurture entrepreneurship in young people for decades. Mofokeng indicated that JASA has had a long and good relationship with the DBE and has found them to be particularly supportive during the challenging Covid-19 period. She said that it was very encouraging to see the DBE move to incorporate experiential learning, entrepreneurship and coding into the curriculum because the seeds for these initiatives need to be planted at an early age. In her opinion, this will require a collaborative effort from all social partners such as corporates, non-profits and government.

Dr Blecher agreed and spoke passionately about the supportive role that corporate South Africa has and continues to play in these initiatives, as well as the need to acknowledge and praise government: “We are all so quick to slate our government. We are quick to say how bad they are, how terrible they are and so on. For nine years I have been working with government, since 2011. In the beginning I refused to work with them when I was asked to chair this panel (E3 National Chairperson) but what an incredible journey it has been. Of course, you are going to find people that you don’t want to work with, but I couldn’t have met harder working, more passionate, more committed, amazing great South Africans who give their lives day and night for this country.”

A parting message for those working with young entrepreneurs

 The final message summarising the conversation came from Dr Blecher as he reemphasised that initiatives working with young people need to be teaching youth that an entrepreneurial journey is about sacrifice, hard work and passion. He reiterated that success will come through consistently developing entrepreneurial characteristics in young people while simultaneously getting them to believe that they can achieve anything and get anywhere they want to. “The biggest gift we can give our youth is to teach them to not take the easy route. It can’t be through handouts; it’s not going to be through grants. It is going to be through becoming the great human beings they actually already are.”

Written by Kelly Brownell