Andrew Rugasira writes on Tackling youth unemployment - Prepaid Africa Editor’s Pick
Rhetoric aside, not all youth can become entrepreneurs. Estimates are that in most countries, only 4% of the population are entrepreneurs, 16% imitators and 80% employed. The key driver, then, is to encourage the 4% to create job opportunities for the 80% and mentor the 16%.
The current debate on youth unemployment in Uganda has largely focused on what the Government is doing or not doing to solve this problem. Rarely do we ask what the youth can do to empower themselves. The Government has an important role to play. But in reality, many of its plans, while appearing impressive on paper, suffer from poor execution; leading to implementation failure. And there is good reason.
Employment problems are complex. Just think of trying to implement a skills development programme, establishing a mentoring, incubation and innovation centre, creating work-based training programmes and many other initiatives to address job creation. These are difficult and complex issues that require highly skilled bureaucrats with strong competences. Yet planning by government agencies tends to be done by a small cadre, ministry officials, development specialists and specific line organisations, with few functional attributes and limited exposure able to deliver change.
Instead, well-meaning initiatives become spheres of patronage and influence-peddling and undermine the very cause they were set out to address. This in turn broadcasts to the youth that hard work, investments and savings are a waste of time; one can get rich quickly through poor ethics, corruption and outright theft.
Back to the 4%. The key to unlocking their entrepreneurial potential lies with them. But this will require a critical shift in the mind-set of our young people; a shift from looking at themselves as victims and instead as the solution. They might not have all the assets they need to get a fair start, but a liberated mind is the key to creating opportunities and driving innovation and change. First order of business, then, must be to immediately arrest and expeditiously bury the “tusaba gavumenti etuyambe” mantra. I would like to paint three pictures that can contribute to the mind-set change.
The Advantage of Insufficient Information
I have five children. Often, I ask them what their ambitions are and what they would like to do when they grow up. From the oldest to the youngest, I am always intrigued by their level of ambition — some want to be doctors, another wants to be a pilot, another a lawyer, another wants to take over my business and run it better than me.
The commonality in their responses is in the scale of their ambition and their lack of fear. Their dreams are not inhibited by too much information about what it will take to be any of those professions. Their ambition is not blunted by too much data, so they can dream big. It is not by accident that as parents, we always encourage our children to dream and think big. Entrepreneurs are, by definition, big thinkers and risk takers at the same time. They see opportunities, then they muster their financial and sweat equity to bring the opportunity to life. Sometimes, too much information at the beginning of the entrepreneur’s journey can generate risk aversion and fear, which in itself can paralyse potentially innovative business ideas.
Nine years ago, I started my coffee business on the mountains of Elgon. I failed there. I then moved to Kasese and there struggled for a long time to gain traction. The terrain was difficult, I had limited capital and limited knowledge, which produced a set of very sobering realities and key lessons for me.
Even in the next phase where I attempted to place a value added coffee product on the supermarket shelves in the UK (the first, for an African owned coffee brand) it took a dozen trips and over two-and-a-half years before we were able launch in Waitrose. If I knew then what I know now, I might have made a different set of choices — who knows!
What is clear is that we must encourage our young people to believe in themselves; they do not have to have all the information, nor see the whole picture at the beginning.
The value of pursuing their dreams despite an incomplete picture is the testimony of the majority of successful business and political entrepreneurs of our time.
Now, do not get me wrong. I am not condoning ignorance; rather, I am subordinating the need to have “all the ducks in a row” to big thinking. If Thomas Edison knew that it would take him 10,000 times before his light bulb could finally work, he probably would have made different choices and so would the man who risked most of his family’s venture capital on the project, a Mr JP Morgan.
About 95% of new businesses fail within the first year of their operation. Why? Because the entrepreneurs just give up. It is too tough, too difficult, too many risks, they presume that there must be a better option – and they could be right. Of all the quotes on courage, my favourite one is by American author Mary Ann Radmacher:
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I will try again tomorrow.” And to paraphrase a famous Chinese proverb, the opposite of the courageous one is the coward, jumping up and down saying it cannot be done, all the while interrupting the one doing it.
Ed’s note: This is only an extract of the entire article - do click through to read his entire thought piece.