The True Value of Homegrown Entrepreneurs

This past month has been an insightful journey here at The RealStart Trust, starting with the first phase of our Entrepreneurship Programme. It’s great to get the theory down, but as all well know, the real learning starts when you get practical.

Walking with the students as they critically engage with perceptions around their own skills and dreams, business and the opportunities in their communities, has not only brought some valuable insight to the table, but also raised interesting questions.

Questions of creating true value, finding motivation and bringing people together. From making bow-ties, headbands and sling bags from scraps of material, to interviewing business owners from various nationalities in their communities, the students are being challenged to step outside their comfort zone and discover their entrepreneurial abilities.

I must admit, when giving the first homework assignment to our students to identify a gap in the market in their community, I was expecting easy answers. Selling a straight forward product to make a quick buck. However, the feedback was surprising and thought provoking. Without exception, each business idea had its roots in addressing a social need.

Although the business models may still need some work, this is an inspiring testimony to a new generation of youth that are aware of the needs around them and are willing to work towards building a better future in South Africa. This is not just a nice-to-hear reflection from one youth development programme, I believe this is an urgent call for all in South Africa to actively focus on nurturing and equipping the youth of our nation. I also believe that a mere programme is never enough, we are called to get our hands dirty through relationship to truly see lives change.

Reading the Huffington Post article, The Solution to Unemployment? Turning Job Seekers into Job Creators by Sunnie Groeneveld this morning, the reality of a worldwide call to action struck me harder than my Monday morning caffeine fix.

I think we should be wary to take a cookie cutter approach to applying entrepreneurial lessons learnt in a first world context to the dynamic, and sometimes unpredictable, South African context, but the golden thread appears to run true through all continents. Worldwide there is an unemployment crisis and the need to critically engage with the entrepreneurial climate of your country and community is as big in America and Greece, as it is in George and Gugulethu.

Groeneveld refers to Peter Vogel’s book Generation Jobless? Although the book is still on my next-to-read list, the article already gave me a good bite to chew on. Entrepreneurship is not only an answer to youth unemployment, but it can be an exciting, challenging and innovative answer to all unemployment. Groeneveld draws three specific reasons for the importance of youth entrepreneurship development from Vogel’s book:

  • Entrepreneurship creates employment opportunities for those that start the businesses as well as those that they employ, particularly because young entrepreneurs are more prone to hiring other young people.
  • Entrepreneurship helps develop new skills and professional experience that, in turn, can enhance general employability.
  • Entrepreneurship revitalises local communities through new products and services and keeps otherwise young and idle people occupied, which is always better than not having anything to do, leaving them feeling useless and without hope.

The words that personally stand out to me are ‘feeling useless and without hope’. May we fight against the hopelessness that so often knocks at our door in South Africa. Although international books and articles offer valuable insight and knowledge to draw from in this fight, we here at RealStart believe strongly in the power of homegrown stories.

Everyday stories of hope, hard work, community and growth. Through this blog series we will share some of the proudly South African stories that are inspiring our students to becoming change agents, but we also invite you to share the stories that are inspiring you too.

Simple testimonies of ground level entrepreneurial success to big impact organisational best practices. We are excited to share and discover with you to build a hopeful community, working together to enable youth and change the nation.

Share your story below or on Twitter (@realstart) using the hashtag #HomegrownEntrepreneur.


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