Is entrepreneurship the answer to youth unemployment in Africa?

 

In the recent past, Africa has tapped into entrepreneurship as the solution to the problems that the Continent faces. Arguments supporting the idea that entrepreneurs can ignite economic growth in Africa have become prevalent. Kenya is widely recognized as a leader in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. This has led to Kenya becoming known as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Africa.

It is widely believed that the government is promoting entrepreneurship as an alternative to formal employment for the youth. The result is that we are seeing many more young people being interested in entrepreneurship, with formal employment taking a back seat as a possible option for careers. The high levels of unemployment in Kenya and Africa in general, have supported the drive by many young people towards entrepreneurship. So could we have hit the jackpot? Could entrepreneurship be the long awaited solution to Africa’s problems? Are we on the right track by making entrepreneurship a key part of Africa’s economies?

A couple of weeks ago, some of the Lapid Leaders got into a heated debate that attempted to answer these questions. We talked to various entrepreneurs to evaluate the various theories that were being floated in this debate. The end result was that we had an answer to these questions; a yes and no, entrepreneurship could be the jackpot but in the current state it definitely is not.

We are currently reading a highly acclaimed book, ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. Many of the points raised by Eric support the answers we came up with after the debate; that entrepreneurship could be the answer but it could also easily be that it’s not.

The Lean Startup

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One of the Lapid Leaders making a presentation on their business idea

Eric begins the book by busting several prevalent myths. Some of the myths he talks about extensively, are around what causes a startup to fail. He shares the thoughts he had after his first startup failed, “It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. In magazines and newspapers, in blockbuster movies and on countless blogs, we hear the mantra of the successful entrepreneurs: through determination, brilliance, great timing and above all, a great product, you too can become a great entrepreneur. There is a mythmaking industry hard at work to sell us that story, but I have come to believe that the story is false…”

Eric goes ahead to elaborate why this is a myth. He says, “Entrepreneurship is a kind of management. No you didn’t read that wrong. Lately it seems that one is cool, innovative and exciting and the other is dull, serious, and bland. It is time to look past these preconceptions.” We believe that this statement is the reason that entrepreneurship as it currently is being practiced in Africa, is not the solution. If the current practices continue, we will inevitably get to a time when entrepreneurship will be considered to have been a failed ‘experiment’. Unfortunately the problem is not entrepreneurship; the problem is that entrepreneurship is a kind of management, and yet we are telling young people to become entrepreneurs but not teaching them to be managers.

The lean startup principles are about sustainable businesses, which what management is all about. They advocate running frequent experiments, building measuring and learning. These are all management principles. This may explain why many entrepreneurs who have been involved in formal employment in the past, often make better entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately the mindset among many young people who take up entrepreneurship immediately after college term these processes as boring. This could easily result in the failure of more startups in Africa than is necessary.

Collaborate

Lapid Leaders holding a brainstorming session at iHub

The Lapid Leaders Entrepreneurship Experience was developed by people with a background in Management Consulting. The result is that the Experience focuses on building businesses using some of the principles outlined in the Lean Startup Model. As a result, the Experience is a combination of Leadership Experience and Entrepreneurship Experience. We believe that great enterprises are only build by people with leadership and management experience.  The Experience therefore focuses on building the Lapid Entrepreneurs into individuals who measure progress, individuals who set up milestones and most importantly individuals who know how to prioritize; all of which are management principles that have made the Lean Startup Movement very successful.

Kenyans might have the same level of skill (if not more) as any other country that has succeeded in developing the startups environment. However, for many of us, a prevalent culture of indiscipline and the absence of management skills robs us of our competitive advantage. Sign up for the next cohort of Lapid Leaders and begin the journey towards building not just a business, but a sustainable business.

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