Monday, 25 August 2014

Entrepreneur training for grade 9s in Soweto, and a self-identity for Africans

On Saturday I attended an inspiring event organised by ORT SA and sponsored by Absa, at the Pace Commercial High School in Zola, Soweto. It was the launch of ORT SA's Ready for Life programme, which "will train pupils from Grade 9 through to Grade 11 to enable them to create a sustainable livelihood by teaching them how to run their own business." I was invited by Peta Broomberg when I met her and the CEO Ariellah Rosenberg at their offices to discuss ORT's programmes and their relevance to small business development.

ORT is a very interesting organisation. Its SA website tells us:

"ORT was founded in Tsarist Russia in 1880. The name ‘ORT’ was coined from the acronym of the Russian words Obshestvo Remeslenofo Zemledelcheskofo Truda, meaning The Society for Trades and Agricultural Labour." It was founded by Jews and make no secret of the fact that most of its employees and supporters are Jewish.

ORT SA began life in 1936 and after 1994 stepped up its activities. Today its main function is to innovate, educate and impact individuals, businesses and communities.

Absa have donated R1,5 to fund the Get Ready for Life programme, a not inconsiderable sum. This will fund the training of 300 grade 9 pupils for a year and is an indication of their commitment to supporting entrepreneurship and should be applauded. Seen here above is the head of CSI at Absa Gauteng Anastasia Peters-Francis and Peta Broomberg,  ORT's Youth, Enterprise and Skills Manager.

The programme leaflet states that Ready for Life aims to:
  • inspire and empower young people and to unleash their entrepreneurial potential
  • develop critical entrepreneurial skills at an early age
  • assist students to create a start-up business and to expose them to leaders of the industry
  • establish a community of young entrepreneurial enthusiasts.
The content is based on the Services Seta-approved New Venture Creation course, and the pupils will earn credits towards the completion of that course if they choose to carry on after leaving school.

The highlight of the event for me was the speech by Wandi Nzimande who was there as a role model of what it is like to be an entrepreneur. Wandi and I have known each other for many years, since the early days of the Soweto Festival when he showed his fashion clothing under the brand Loxion Kulcha. More recently he worked at Urban Brew Studios and in July this year was appointed manager of Soweto TV, the first community television station to be launched in SA with backing from Urban Brew.

In a highly entertaining way, Wandi told his life story and peppered it with aphorisms and quotations which really got me, and I am sure the kids, thinking. Here are a few of them:

Nelson Mandela: education is the most powerful weapon to change the world

Oprah Winfrey: it is important to give your all while you still have the chance

Wandi: what is important is what you are doing now; I either win or I learn; if you treat life as a game you have to love if you win and love if you lose. 

And the best of all: Losers focus on what they are going through, winners focus on where they are going.

The trick is always keep going and never give up; be yourself for everyone else is taken.

A do nothing mentality leaves a have nothing reality; positivity is a choice.

The kids lapped it up and so did the parents and other adults present. His message was simple: being an entrepreneur is tough and you have your ups and downs (he lost all his money then had to start again) but in the end you have to believe in yourself and nothing else matters.

This is an important message for young people in South Africa to take on board. On Thursday night after arriving back from Cape Town I listened to a fascinating interview on 702 with Panashe Chigumadzi, founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine. From Zimbabwe, this 23 year-old is brimming with self confidence, highly articulate and knows exactly what she wants from life. She has learned to establish her own identity and not have it imposed on her by others. She spoke at TEDx Johannesburg on September 17th 2013 and it makes for riveting viewing - play the YouTube video here.

It is so hard for most black South Africans to escape the stigma of being on the receiving end of generations of discrimination and forced deprivation. To do so you need self-belief and a support structure that fosters a positive self-identity. This is much easier if you have had a good education and life prospects. For many young people who enter the job market only to find the doors closed, starting a business is sometimes the only option to earn a living. But rather than go down the survivalist route which so many do, in the informal sector, kids need encouragement to start a business that can grow and support not just them and their immediate families but tens or hundreds of employees and their dependents.

It is essential that the Department of Basic Education introduces entrepreneurship into the curriculum and offers pupils opportunities to meet and mix with entrepreneurs, like the Ready for Life programme does. And then start a business and probably see it fail, so doing as Wandi suggested and learn from the experience. The fear of failure is probably one of the most powerful inhibitors to entrepreneurship. We should rather welcome it as this will stimulate people to try harder and more often.

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