Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Entrepreneurship training gives youth false hope

Published:Thursday | September 18, 2014 | 9:00 AM

It appears we have somehow concluded that merely training someone to become an entrepreneur will empower poor people to provide for their family and inevitably lessen/eradicate the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Jamaica. As a result, many organisations are enthralled to 'train' the country's next entrepreneur.

I've lost count of the vast number of initiatives - many of which seem mediocre at best - targeting some the poorest Jamaicans as a sort of solution to their desperate situation. The attention in this regard is most welcome and timely, but it is such a ridiculous and cruel thing to suggest that people should consider creating their own employment in an economy that seems hardly supportive of their entrepreneurial ventures.

Considering that the Global Entrepre-neurship Monitor (GEM) (2011) notes "Jamaicans are very entrepreneurial", this fad begs the question on whether training is what is critical or if support for start-ups and ongoing technical assistance are more pertinent.

It would be good to know how many young people 'trained' over the last five years have started a business and those who are still operating one. Any good training programme should be monitoring the efficacy of its initiative. I bet not many have, perhaps with the exception of those who were fortunate to enrol in a training programme that included a grant - however small - upon 'successful' completion. I will spare myself the inconvenience to contemplate the possibilities.

PARADING IN PRETENCE

Undoubtedly, the conclusion will be that they didn't try hard enough or they made very poor decisions and the organisation didn't have the resources to monitor their progress. On top of that, we will parade in our pretence as if getting a $50,000 loan for a very small start-up isn't more difficult than accessing a loan for the hottest holiday party.

The false hope being fed to the poor is chilling. Systematic changes by both the Government and private sector, especially for something as simple as access to capital, is dire. Otherwise, our efforts are futile and wasting scarce resources. Banks, in particular, must do much more to support micro, medium and small business enterprises, including start-ups with access to capital.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), said in 2009 that "entrepreneurship and education are two … extraordinary opportunities that need to be leveraged and interconnected if we are to develop the human capital required for building the societies of the future". However, while training is imperative, we must appreciate entrepreneurs aren't created overnight. People don't automatically become successful business owners merely by being 'trained' and left alone. And they certainly do not because they want to be one, have an idea or the capital they need.

Yes, entrepreneurs, as WEF (2011) submits, "are important drivers of economic and social progress and change. Much of our daily lives is greatly influenced by entrepreneurial companies". I, therefore, subscribe to the view that countries like ours must "continue to increase their efforts … to promote the starting and growing of … entrepreneurial companies".

Notwithstanding, we must realise that not all of us can or will be a business owner, especially if support is limited. So let's quit while we are at it. The truth is, some of us - especially those with low-risk appetite like me - will have to be an employee; maybe for the rest of our lives.

NO REASON FOR SHAME

There is absolutely no need to make people think this is such a shameful thing and guilt people into thinking they are unambitious if they have no interest in being a business owner. What for? To preoccupy ourselves with feelings of worthlessness because we are inept at making our business ideas a reality? Or for us to foolishly invest in ideas that are not in any way offering a product that is uniquely positioned to create a niche and be profitable? And to force us to target an awfully saturated segment of the market by offering the same ol' products and services?

It's frightening so many of us have voluntarily enlisted ourselves to actively promote entrepreneurship training yet do so little to ensure our young people who are being trained and encouraged to be entrepreneurs will not have the support they need. The likelihood of many of them becoming an entrepreneur is impossible because the status quo is undisturbed. They won't even have the wherewithal to fail at owning a stall or a patty shop.

Let's just be honest about what is possible and support those who are working to address these issues.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.