Op-ed: Entrepreneurship education to reap the potential harvest of a young population

With the second wave of COVID-19 soaring in the background, Global Entrepreneurship Week took place from 16-22 November 2020 celebrating 40,000 activities that involved 20,000 partner organizations and 10 million people in 180 countries. The four overarching themes examined were ecosystems, policy, inclusion and education.

At the continental level, the African Union released earlier this month a policy brief on promoting youth entrepreneurship in Africa. The 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index shows that Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystems score the lowest in terms of startup skills. Hence, the integration of relevant education with entrepreneurship is key to facilitate entrepreneurial skills development. There is a clear call for action to embrace entrepreneurship education into the formal schooling system whether at primary, secondary or tertiary levels and beyond.

To this end, the brief highlighted several programs already in action across the continent. ‘Aflatoun’ programs have been rolled out in 35 African countries offering a range of experiential learning courses for young children and teenagers instigating skills such as self-confidence, savings, financial planning, and budgeting. ‘Injaz Company Program’ has also been operating in 14 countries in the MENA region providing potential entrepreneurs with six to eight-month first hand experience through developing a business plan, launching the business, marketing and selling their product/service and then liquidating their business. Both programs have been deployed in Egypt among others programs that attempt to mainstream entrepreneurship education.

‘ROWAD 2030’ is an Egyptian homegrown program initiated by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Technical Education, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA), the program launched ‘Start Your Future’ campaign. This campaign aspires to raise awareness on entrepreneurship through extra-curricular activities conducted in public schools and universities nationwide. According to Ghada Khalil, the Program Director, the training package has been delivered to more than 300,000 students, 1500 teachers and 200 administrators at preparatory and secondary schools. A special package is being tailored for primary schools.

With support of the ILO, Canada, GIZ, EU, USAID and UNIDO, the Ministry of Education and Technical Education adopted an ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ curriculum to be rolled out to 2,000 technical secondary schools and 1.6 million students annually. The underlying aim of curriculum is to present entrepreneurship as a career option and to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes that are conducive to an entrepreneurial mindset. The students of the technical secondary schools have been participating in a number of competitions allowing them to pitch their business ideas and models. Examples of these competitions include USAID/Workforce Improvement and Skills Enhancement (WISE) funded ‘Fanni Mobtaker’; EU/TVET Egypt Innovation Gate; and the ILO/Canada founded ‘Nawah’ implemented by GEN/Egypt. The latter features as one of the highlights of Global Entrepreneurship Week in Egypt taking place during Egypt Entrepreneurship Summit.

Moving upstream, universities have been a launchpad for SMEs and startups offering consulting services, mentorship programs, co-working spaces, resource libraries, events and lectures. Some higher education institutions have been agile in mobilizing resources to offer startup grants that cover their market research, company registration process, competition analysis, travel expenses and licensing software. The American University in Cairo (AUC) has been ahead of curve in establishing the first university-based startup incubator/accelerator and angel investor network in the MENA region. In five years, the AUC Venture Lab incubated 115 startups generating a revenue of EGP 88 million, raising investments of more than EGP 220 and creating 500 new jobs. In close collaboration with the AUC Venture Lab, AUC Angels has access to vetted and highly scalable startups that have already launched their products or services, demonstrated traction in the market and stand a strong probability of positive return.

With lifelong learning increasingly becoming the new normal, skilling, reskilling and upskilling are essential for building back a better post COVID-19 world. MSMEs have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The pronounced ILO Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) has been tried and tested in more than 100 countries. The toolkit has been already institutionalized at MSMEDA where nine master trainers have been certified and 113 national trainers have been licensed. Rafaat Abbas, General Manager of the Non-Financial Services Central Sector at MSMEDA, indicated that they have availed the training to more than 17,000 young men and women of whom 36 percent started their business. To support MSMEs survival and recovery, the ILO with the support of its International Training Center in Turin developed e-SYIB which is a set of tools designed to deliver the trainings online.

Africa boosts the youngest population around the world. In fact, 65 percent of the young people under the age of 35 years live on the continent. This is clearly a demographic dividend if properly harnessed through availing better opportunities for education, employment, entrepreneurship and engagement. The Africa Youth Month is coming to end in tandem with Thanksgiving (the harvest celebration season). The fruits of this demographic dividend needs to be reaped through embracing education that allows youth to achieve their full potential.

[avatar user=”Amal Mowafy” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file”]Amal Mowafy (93’ & 98’) is the Chief of Party of USAID Scholars Activity implemented by the American University in Cairo. [/avatar]

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