Grooming Africa’s future entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship by Honoris United Universities Staff Writer

Africa is the world’s youngest and fastest-growing continent, averaging an impressive 6 percent growth per annum. While the continent has no shortage of challenges, from poverty and environmental issues to youth unemployment – South Africa, for example, has the world’s highest number of out-of-work youths, at 57 percent – entrepreneurship is increasingly seen as offering hope, and a way of harnessing the continent’s untapped potential.

The Regent Business School’s Institute of Entrepreneurship, in Durban, South Africa, is dedicated to this goal. The challenge of creating a new breed of entrepreneurs that will be champions of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and not its victims, has been met by turning global theory into hands-on practice. The Institute is now being redesigned to synergise with the School’s specialist employability unit, called the iLeadLAB, which bridges the gap between theory and its implementation in the real world.

“Entrepreneurship may be the same anywhere in the world, but what is critical for Africa is the youth bulge. It can be construed to be problematic but also an opportunity. Entrepreneurship can help by providing skilling for Africa to become part of 4th Industrial Revolution of the 21st Century,” says Professor Dhiru Soni, Director of Research and Innovation at Regent Business School, a member institution of Honoris United Universities.

By providing real-world experience of cutting-edge technologies at a new Innovation Lab, students demystify the “buzzwords” and develop a deeper understanding of digitisation. By fabricating products with 3-D printing machines, laser cutters, and other new technologies, the students are not only learning “digital” skills, but ones that can be practically be put to use in manufacturing and other industries.

To boost experiential, or “third space”, learning, students are taken through the process of developing new product ideas, identifying product market fit and testing how they will take the product to market. The lab also addresses soft skills training: critical thinking and emotional intelligence to provide the students with a broader range of tools needed to succeed in, and be resilient in, today’s business environment.

Professor Soni calls the lab a “one-stop shop” to educate and mentor entrepreneurs on how to set up and run their business, grooming them to impact tomorrow’s economies and communities.

“We are trying to empower our students with entrepreneurial skills, but more importantly, we’re hoping to empower students to adopt a spirit of entrepreneurship. With entrepreneurial spirit, if you cannot find a job, you will have the necessary skills to be an entrepreneur,” says Professor Soni.

“We want our students to be able to use their skills to innovate and take their rightful place next to youth anywhere in the world.”

The global gig economy is growing at a rapid rate, and in Africa it is estimated that 63 percent of the total labour force engages in some form of self-employment. Entrepreneurial skills also contribute to people being self-employable.

Sustainability is another imperative all entrepreneurs will face. The Institute has integrated this important issue into the core curriculum. Students studying economics, for example, will have aspects of sustainability and the environment included in their sphere of learning, in budgeting or management.

“We found that rather than addressing sustainability on its own, and have a silent effect, we felt the best way is to deal with it as a continuity so students begin to see overall effects of entrepreneurship on the environment,” says Professor Soni. “If our students learn about plastics, for example, and how to innovate to recycle plastic waste into other products, they effectively become ambassadors to reducing plastic use in their community and beyond.”

Sustainability, gender balance, poverty and unemployment – all serious issues with serious consequences.

“Regent Business School is making the effort to address unemployment and other crucial issues and we hope others will follow,” says Professor Soni. “Now we need many more of these kinds of initiatives from the business sector, governments, and non-governmental sectors.”