The challenges to youth Entrepreneurs are REAL; solutions?

In the wake of the recently published unemployment figures, and the tight conditions in the economy, entrepreneurship will be relied on more to provide much needed financial activity in South Africa.

The B-BBEE codes of good practice and policy documents such as the National Development Plan put great emphasis on upskilling South Africans and even more emphasis is placed on entrepreneurship. Formation of bodies such the SAVCA, The South African Venture Capital Association, demonstrate South Africa’s embrace of these new ideals and their support of this mode of employment creation.

The production of high quality new businesses will improve infrastructure through innovation in the respective industries in South Africa, will create employment and will create new markets in the country. Entrepreneurial development would act as a catalyst for much needed growth in this young economy. With all these advantages to entrepreneurship, how does South Africa find and produce the best entrepreneurs?

The rise of young entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg has put the spotlight on the youth and has posed the question of the readiness of South African youth to be high quality entrepreneurs.  Although prizes such as Anzisha Prize(a prestigious prize which platforms the top youth entrepreneurs across Africa) have showcased a number of South African youths producing exemplary products and services, there remain a large number of youth in our country who are highly challenged. This article will focus on LEAP’s work in assisting youth entrepreneurs, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, start their own businesses

The challenge to produce young entrepreneurs is caused partly by the South African economic landscape and the lack of skills in South Africa. The BBBEE codes of good practice places an emphasis on growing black-owned SME’s. However, many of these entrepreneurs, mostly from poor backgrounds, have very little context for what high quality entrepreneurship truly entails. The township landscape in South Africa is marred with poverty and lack of opportunities. The prevalent model of entrepreneurship in these townships is spaza-shops, car washes and car mechanics. There are a number of success stories, but in order to create growth in the economy and employment, a groundswell of successful businesses must be created. Many of the entrepreneurs, run enterprises which are still at the survival stage.

The truth is that many entrepreneurs from poor landscapes do not have role models for excellent entrepreneurship and thus can’t replicate and add to a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. This deficiency has far reaching, negative impact on youth entrepreneurship. The high school education system has also been unable to produce learners who are proactive and who think entrepreneurially. Many learners prefer to go to college or university. Although this could result in a solid career-path, it often does not necessarily inspire new venture creation

Furthermore, the lack of support system produces a lack of confidence in their skills. At LEAP, We have noted that many of the entrepreneurs were not confident enough in their offering and this affected their ability to sell themselves. Furthermore, because of their lack of confidence, they were unable to fully take advantage of offerings made to them, even when they were free of charge. Mentorship interventions also produced tangible returns much later as many of the mentors are from markedly better backgrounds and this culture-clash caused barriers .Their background also highlighted lack of skills to perform what would have been very basic business skills such a generating a quotation and invoice. The youth entrepreneurs also had vast social issues that hindered them from pursuing entrepreneurship.  The social issues included some of these youths being breadwinners in their families and the ever present black-tax. The pressure to feed their families made the encouragement to start their own ventures all the more difficult.  A large number of the youth preferred finding employment, even if they were low paying and with few opportunities, because of the pressures of feeding their families.

Initiatives to start resource centres are in great demand to help youths to gain confidence and gain skills in bassline skills in entrepreneurship.

The challenge to our youth is so real. Understanding these challenges is so important to find the solutions. Confidence is scarce and the lack of privilege often manifests itself in unseen ways. There are so many opportunities to create focused and intentional solutions. The challenge and the privilege is now to find those solutions and implement them in meaningful ways.

To contribute in this conversation please comment below.


Author: Kealeboga Mokolobate