Entrepreneurship starts with education

In this January file photo, 17-year-old Pleasantville Secondary School student Yohance Rivas (seated, left) is surrounded by staff of Term Finance as he begins a scholarship at the company. The budding entrepreneur earned an open one-year internship from CEO Oliver Sabga after the two interacted at a TecYOUth event the previous November. -
In this January file photo, 17-year-old Pleasantville Secondary School student Yohance Rivas (seated, left) is surrounded by staff of Term Finance as he begins a scholarship at the company. The budding entrepreneur earned an open one-year internship from CEO Oliver Sabga after the two interacted at a TecYOUth event the previous November. -


Exploring how hormones can be used to attack certain types of cancer. Developing technology to help astronauts breathe on Mars. Creating machine learning algorithms that use internet of things (IoT) sensors embedded in oil and gas fields to “listen” to what’s happening in reservoirs, pumps and pipes so potential leaks and problems can be detected in real time. These are just some of the innovations created by this year’s Forbes 30 under 30 list, which features top young entrepreneurs dedicated to transforming their respective fields, highlighting creative and bold minds from around the globe who dare to make their ideas and concepts reality – and proof of a profoundly different world of the future.

Now, more than ever, the world needs doers, makers, and cutting-edge thinkers capable of manoeuvring the unprecedented reach of digital technology to tackle global issues and revolutionise industries, transforming the way we do business and operate as a society. How, then, do we aim to produce these kinds of global citizens, if not through a system of education that activates critical thinking skills, prepares young people to cope with failure and adversity, and empowers them to separate from the prevailing cult of the individual and embrace a sense of community and social responsibility?

Entrepreneurship occurs when opportunities and ideas are acted upon and transformed into value – be it financial, social or cultural – for others. The idea of infusing entrepreneurship into education has the potential to produce a myriad of results, including job creation and increased societal resilience, which ultimately leads to economic growth, as well as individual growth, increased school engagement and improved equality. Entrepreneurship can promote economic opportunity and by extension, serve as an agent of social justice.

According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), entrepreneurship in primary and secondary levels of education triggers high levels of student motivation and engagement, resulting in meaningful learning. It warns against the narrow definition of entrepreneurship within the framework of education as teaching students to start their own company/business and instead, reiterates that entrepreneurship is about “making students more creative, opportunity-oriented, proactive and innovative,” adhering to a wide definition of entrepreneurship that is applicable to all walks of life.

In response to the challenges arising out of the current economic crisis, the European Commission has proposed the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, with three areas for immediate intervention: entrepreneurial education and training to support growth and economic creation, the removal of existing administrative barriers and reigniting a culture of entrepreneurship in the region so that a new generation of entrepreneurs will be nurtured. Innovation in the economy is a priority for the European Union and vital to its global competitiveness, so that investment in research and development has been increased, which drives the improvement of goods and services. The EU Youth Strategy prioritises employment and entrepreneurship as one of its policy fields to support its member states in designing measures that foster young people’s entrepreneurship competences.

Finland’s top-ranking education system is founded on an integrative approach that includes working life competence and entrepreneurship among the core components of its national curriculum for basic education, highlighting the importance of learning life skills for participation, involvement and building a sustainable future.

In its bid to become a leading entrepreneurial society, the Danish government launched a strategy for education and training in entrepreneurship, representing a national commitment to support the development of entrepreneurship teaching, and to ensure students receive education and training in entrepreneurship during their formal education. Its broader innovation strategy is driven by societal challenges such as developing climate adaptation solutions and alternative water sources, with education as the driving force to increase innovation capacity.

Israel, world leader for entrepreneurial culture according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2019, boasts a robust innovation ecosystem that is a product of collaboration between the state, venture capital firms, successful entrepreneurs, the education system, business system, incubators and accelerators. Apart from investing heavily in education and building the intellectual capacity of its people, there is a central government agency responsible for fostering innovation in a variety of industries. Big companies work with startups and mentor entrepreneurs, with strong networking and interconnections that promote collaboration and the exchange of ideas. State-supported think tanks mobilise expertise and funding opportunities for innovation projects allow viable startups to flourish.

In the Caribbean, several challenges to entrepreneurship have been identified by the World Bank, the most problematic of which is a lack of appropriate skills among national labour forces (managerial, technical, creative). Across the region, education and training through investments in the provision of suitable skills for in-demand jobs on the labour market should therefore be increased and entrepreneurship competences cultivated.

TT’s extremely low ranking in the GCI’s measures for entrepreneurial culture is evidence of a large competitiveness gap that may be rectified through simultaneously addressing multiple shortfalls in its entrepreneurship ecosystem – barriers such as a lack of access to financing and an outdated regulatory environment (the number one issue in the majority of Caribbean countries).

Since the outbreak of covid19 in TT, existing businesses have been forced to improve their service delivery and undergo digitalisation, while budding entrepreneurs have launched projects to fulfil the needs exacerbated by the pandemic crisis, from food drop services to developing mobile apps such as Quikbox, an order-ahead and fulfilment platform allowing businesses to sell their goods online, to agro-processors offering natural immunity boosting products.

Surren Maharaj, president of the Life Coaching Association of TT, notes that the rise in unemployment has resulted in more people looking for ways to replace lost revenue out of necessity through entrepreneurial ventures. His work with the Cotton Tree Foundation and Youth Business Trinidad and Tobago has concretised his view that mentorship and bridging the knowledge gap are major factors in developing elements of entrepreneurial thinking in young people by fostering a solution-oriented focus.

In TT, stimulating the economy through a more entrepreneurial-focused system warrants the exposure of young people to innovative ideas, inventions and experienced entrepreneurs. It demands an emphasis on critical-thinking skills, increased social and environmental awareness, and creativity and imagination being fostered in schools, along with financial literacy and life skills. Part of building an entrepreneurial spirit is developing resilience, engaging in disruptive thinking, and teaching and instilling an appreciation for sustainability, with a sensitivity to and awareness of existing inequalities so that entrepreneurial engagements serve community development while building financial independence.

For local entrepreneurs, a policy and regulatory framework that embraces technological advances, a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, increased access to financial support in the form of grants/tax breaks, and heavy public sensitisation and community education on sustainability and the importance of supporting local businesses would go a long way toward enabling and empowering the process of value-creation, from idea to execution.

Darcelle Doodnath is an educator specialising in modern foreign language pedagogy.


"Entrepreneurship starts with education"

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