Cultivating Entrepreneurial Skills in Our Children

Being able to make money is a talent that will serve children well when they grow up. But what turns a child into an entrepreneur?
By Jeanne Maclay-Mayers

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Entrepreneurship is a buzzword of our time. Economists are hoping that entrepreneurs will pull South Africa’s economy up by its bootstraps and help unemployment vanish. Schools encourage market days to nurture business talent, and parents are pleased when their offspring display entrepreneurial tendencies – even when those parents themselves hold safe and secure jobs. It seems we all recognise that being able to make money is a talent that will serve children well when they grow up. But what turns a child into an entrepreneur?
 
Common sense would lead one to suppose that it is a mixture of natural aptitude and environmental exposure. This seems to be the recipe in the case of 13-year-old Daniël Steyn. Daniël, who runs Skadulaan Theatre from his family home in Stellenbosch, was inspired by his uncle, Barrie Terblanche, an entrepreneur and co-author of the book Starting Your Own Business in South Africa. Daniël’s ambitions are also assisted by the fact that his mother, Ronel, is involved in consulting for small businesses. However, Ronel feels that Daniël, rather than being inspired to become an entrepreneur in particular, is inspired by his passions for cooking and entertainment, and “takes an entrepreneurial approach to these passions”.
 
Daniël’s first venture was a clown-and-stilt performance at a car park, where he enjoyed receiving the donations of passers-by. This was followed by a neighbourhood talent show in his garage. Daniël then sold cleverly packaged condensed-milk treats at the weekly market days at his school, Laerskool Eikestad. He made a 50 percent profit on his popular product line. Skadulaan Theatre, Daniël’s latest enterprise, holds talent shows and music-quiz evenings, as well as forwarding itself as a recording studio and a production house (see skadulaantheatre.synthasite.com).  
 
Unfortunately – whether his skills come from nature or nurture, or the lucky coincidence of both – Daniël is not typical of young South Africans.
 
Encouraging Entrepreneurship
 
Linda McClure, MD of Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA), observes that, “At the moment, most young people will go into business because they think they can’t do anything else. They aren’t seeing it as a choice; that it’s a career option.” She says that when learners are asked whether they would prefer to get a job or start their own business, the majority still say, “I’d rather just get a job.” Many believe being an employee is more secure.
 
JASA is an organisation that is rolling out entrepreneurship programmes in many schools that leave learners feeling, “I can start a business and I can make money”. This is particularly relevant in the present economy when the stable life of the employee seems more and more a thing of the past.
 
SA Teen Entrepreneur is another organisation that is focusing on stimulating entrepreneurship. It recently held a Teen Biz Building Boot Camp in Cape Town, where Peter Greenwall, through his highly engaging interactive musical comedy presentation, encouraged teens to come up with their own business ideas based on their experiences, talents, passions, fears and frustrations (see teenentrepreneur.co.za). The ideas produced ranged from an innovative use of a shopping trolley to teen dating scenarios.
 
Greenwall is confident that the ideas can be turned into thriving businesses. He says SA Teen Entrepreneur is teaming up with various organisations and experts to “mentor, coach and get start-up capital”. In 2011 it will establish a Teen Entrepreneur Centre that will coordinate these activities. However, JASA and SA Teen Entrepreneur don’t have the funds to reach all the young people in our country, and in most cases it is the Economics and Management Sciences (EMS) teachers who must support children’s blossoming business talents. 
 
The Grade 7 EMS curriculum, for example, requires learners to participate in a joint venture that produces goods or a service; run a business event based on a questionnaire they have designed; and advertise their business venture. It is no surprise then that market days are commonly held at South African primary schools so that learners can achieve these goals.
 
When Grove Primary in Claremont, Cape Town, held a market day the teachers wanted to make sure that the learners got fully involved in the design process and focused on a particular target market, so they asked learners in the higher grades to make products to sell to the Grade 1s. Each learner then made a product that used their specific talents. For example, Tamia Morgan made colouring-in books by drawing pictures designed to appeal to the Grade 1s, and thoroughly enjoyed unleashing her creativity.
 
However, according to education consultant Alexandra Pinnock, although the school curriculum in theory provides for entrepreneurship, the true essence of it is not addressed in most South African schools. For Pinnock, entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged as a culture and a way of thinking, but many teachers are so focused on end-of-year marks that there’s little time for nurturing creative thinkers. This suggests that parents have a big role to play if they want their children to acquire an entrepreneurial mindset.
 
Home-schooling mom Lisa-Marie Young was caught by surprise when her daughter, Jessica (10 years old), received an order for a cake from her hobby website (kidzcakes.co.za). But she has supported her daughter wholeheartedly as Jessica has embraced such opportunities and extended her business to include make-your-own-cupcake activities at the neighbourhood market. Now Jessica even makes icing embellishments for resale at a local baking shop. Through all these activities Jessica has earned enough money to buy herself a laptop, which she now uses to maintain her website – and she has inspired her younger brother Nicholas to think of business ideas of his own.
 
Parents wanting their own children to become entrepreneurial should encourage them to use their natural talents, start small and then grow their business, adapt to what their market wants and persevere in the face of setbacks.
 
Parents may also need to consider offering funding for start-up capital, and be prepared for returns to not necessarily follow after the first venture. 
 
While children often think of business ventures in terms of making goods to sell, they can offer services instead. Rosalind Resnick, CEO of Axxess Business Consulting, a New York consulting firm that advises start-ups and small businesses, notes in an article she wrote for blog.entrepreneur.com that service businesses require less capital and often earn more of a profit. She suggests children might engage in dog-walking, lawn-mowing and poop-scooping around the neighbourhood, or could teach members of the older generation about new technology such as Facebook, “social-media consulting” as she calls it.  
 
The Age Issue
 
When my stepson Chris was eight I encouraged him to make and sell origami mobiles, as he clearly had a talent he could use. Chris sold one for R50 and I was delighted, but then he got bored – to my dismay at the time. Chris loved the challenge of making a new paper creature, but he didn’t want to churn out Japanese swans like a one-child production line – and he shouldn’t have to.
 
This made me wonder what age was suitable to start encouraging children to engage in business activities, and when it was too soon to intrude upon a person’s childhood in such a way.
 
Cape Town play therapist and child counsellor Tessa Eadie is all for supporting children’s entrepreneurial ventures when they are self-driven, but thinks that the process is just as important as the product. For Eadie, entrepreneurial activities provide an opportunity for children to think about their passions, as well as enhancing their emotional development and building self-esteem. Moreover, she believes that entrepreneurial activities “make the link between effort and reward tangible” and “provide one more level on which children can engage with their environment and tune in to the feedback they receive”.
 
Lydia Zingoni, director of SA Teen Entrepreneur, thinks that children should be encouraged to convert their talents and passions into businesses as soon as possible, as long as they are protected by appropriate support structures. While the traditional definition of entrepreneurship is the combining of natural and human resources to create a profit, for Zingoni entrepreneurship “is more of a mindset than merely a desire to make and sell goods and services”. She says that entrepreneurship encompasses constant curiosity, a desire to solve problems, to see life differently, to find and follow your passion, and to wonder about how you can make positive changes in society.
 
Zingoni believes that both children and teenagers should “be encouraged to have a sense of social responsibility for their communities” and she sees social entrepreneurship as key in most parts of South Africa. Clearly, for her, making children into entrepreneurs does not involve creating materialistic profit-seekers but creative individuals who solve problems both for themselves and those around them, which is why developing entrepreneurial skills is appropriate from a young age. Peter Greenwall adds, “The entrepreneurial mindset... is a positive mindset that makes you never give up on finding solutions to daily and universal problems... Luckily the world is full of problems, so we are never without inspiration!”

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