By Alex Taremwa
The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) recently hosted in Kenya. It was the sixth annual gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages of business development, business leaders, mentors, and high-level government officials, committed to fostering entrepreneurship around the world. I don’t have to mention that H.E Barack Obama, the President of the United States (POTUS), was the co-host alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya but you already know that.
The theses of most of the presentations mainly focused on how the youth can realize their potential and be a pivot for the transformation of Africa, through entrepreneurship. This reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of months ago where I argued that the youths across the African continent have grown in a less innovative society that consumes more than it produces. I added that there is something about the African culture which hinders innovation. This could be a product of our of our education or social culture but I maintain that this trend has to revised.
I am currently reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (a recommendation by my mentor), this amazing biography of a college drop out who went ahead to found one of the world’s most valuable companies, Apple reveals that entrepreneurs are not different people from any of us.
In fact in his presentation, President Obama made it even more elaborate. He said that and I quote that; “Entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future. Entrepreneurship brings down barriers between communities and cultures and builds bridges that help us take on common challenges together. Because one thing that entrepreneurs understand is, is that you don’t have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name in order to have a good idea.”
I have been reminded lately by my Sister who was a contestant in the recent Miss Uganda pageant, of how much talent can be a valuable resource to one’s well being. In fact, for the record, talent and a business idea to me are the same.
It is possible that someone who has a talent and watches it waste away can equally let business go down the drain. It is saddening to realize that our classmates or former classmates, workmates or former classmates, colleagues or even ourselves were once good athletes for our high school teams, rappers, singers in church choirs, masters of ceremonies, writers but due to either circumstance or intention have let go of these skills and settled for learning adopting new ones in the hope of a better pay or future.
Although many contemporary theorists have spoken against journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s discovery that it takes someone 10,000 hours to learn a new skill, I know for a fact that people succeed most at what they were gifted to do rather than what they are trained to become and it is this disturbing paradigm of teaching theory and discouraging practice that has rendered most of the youth in Africa less practical and innovative. This is where we need to center our focus if this trajectory is to continue rising.
It is because of talent that American recording artist of Senegalese origin Akon, managed to pick himself up from the petty crime, the jail terms to running two of the most successful record labels in the United States. Had Akon for example decided not to be a musician, he never would have addressed over 200 global entrepreneurs in the #GES2015 or dinned with the world’s most powerful individuals in Nairobi.
It takes intuition, love and courage to create a business. It takes even more determination to watch it succeed at doing given the challenges that currently exist in our social culture. Recently, Africa has had a technological explosion of innovation in software engineering, mobile networking, mobile banking, media and publishing, internet based applications that brings in millions of dollars in revenue and foreign direct investment despite the challenges in technological infrastructure, market and export trade.
This could have a direct relationship with the development prioritization of the sitting African governments that invest billions of dollars in military and warfare related areas leaving Agriculture, ICT, Education and Trade underfunded. I find it rather disturbing for a government to put before anything tax holiday of foreign businesses but suffocate small medium enterprises in the growing and vibrant informal sectors with innumerable taxes as if forcing them die in their infancy stages.
Supporting local enterprise, promoting intra-territory trade and educating entrepreneurs about financial management, discipline and social capital investment will rid the African continent of patronage to the west and the unemployment problem that is currently blowing out of controllable proportion.