Promoting an Entrepreneural Culture in Kenya

823 views Published on 15th November 2010

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Key points

1. Students can be introduced to an entrepreneurial way of life through voluntary clubs like Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), which brings students and private sector leaders together on consulting projects and founding small businesses in local communities.

2. For entrepreneurship to grow in Kenya, the government should work to increase the flow of information through improved education and literacy programs.

3. The government and the private sector should work together to put in place measures that foster mobility between universities and the private sector in order to transfer knowledge and ideas, facilitate the entry of new participants with innovative ideas, and foster a culture that encourages risk-taking and accepts failure as permissible social and individual norms.

Introduction

“Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy. Usually they do not bring about the change themselves. But – and this defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” – Peter Drucker

One of the inherent characteristics of the concept of entrepreneurship that hampers research on the subject is that scholars have yet to accept a single definition. One of the first individuals to recognize its importance in economic theory was Richard Cantillon, who wrote, “The farmer is an entrepreneur who promises to pay the landowner, for his farm or land, a fixed sum of money without assurance for the profit he will derive from his enterprise.” Other analysts have focused their research on the traits and personal characteristics of entrepreneurs in an attempt to understand and explain entrepreneurship.  In his research on the psychological traits of an entrepreneur, McClelland attempts to explain entrepreneurship by the need for achievement. Other studies have noted other characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, like internal locus of control, low aversion to risk taking, aggressiveness, ambition, optimism, desire for autonomy, personal values, and need for power. From these diverse explanations for entrepreneurship, the role of an entrepreneur can thus be derived.

From the start, whether an individual engages in entrepreneurship purely for profit or to promote social value, the fact is that the multiplier effects resulting from his activities will be highly beneficial to the economy and society. Entrepreneurs are present in all settings worldwide. Cultural explanations for a lack of entrepreneurship often overlook what all people have in common – namely, an interest in profit and improving their general situations.  Underdeveloped nations do not lack entrepreneurship.  Rather, entrepreneurial activities exist, but are not directed toward productive ends conducive to economic progress.

Youth and Entrepreneurship

My interest is in directing entrepreneurship activities towards progressive ends. During my studies at the University of Nairobi (UoN), I was a member of the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a partnership between business and higher education with a view of preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders to create a better world for all. SIFE teams focus on improving the quality of life and standard of living through projects that teach market economics, financial literacy, business ethics, entrepreneurship, success skills, environmental sustainability, and project sustainability.

One of the SIFE consulting projects that l participated in was the Kibera Media House project. This involved reviving a community media house in Kibera and helping to set up a publication, Kibera Journal. When we first came into the picture, the media house had been badly hurt by incessant wrangling within the administration, untrained journalists, lack of funds, and donor interference. After a few reconnaissance visits where we familiarized ourselves with the background of the Kibera Media House, we sourced for well trained journalists from Kibera and introduced them to the SIFE pillars. We then helped them develop a business model that would ensure the sustainability of the Kibera Journal once we pulled out of the project. Finally, we connected them with different business organizations that would be willing to partner with them. Kibera Journal was launched in May 2007 amid much pomp and fanfare. Our hard work paid off as Kibera Journal managed to get Radio Simba to buy advertising space worth 250,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $3,100) for the upcoming editions of the journal. Three years later, Kibera Journal is still operating strongly. In this particular project, we enhanced the flow of information in the community while enabling members of the media to earn a fair and sustainable salary. We played a part in raising standards of living in Kibera. Most importantly, this project set me firmly on the path to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship as a whole contributes to social wealth by creating new markets, new industries, new technology, new institutional forms, new jobs, and net increases in real productivity. The jobs created through entrepreneurial activities in turn lead to an equitable distribution of income that culminates in higher standards of living for the populace. In this way, the resources available to the government will likewise increase and hence enable it to offer social services like hospitals and schools, develop infrastructure, and keep law and order. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Project, a comparative international study assessing entrepreneurship’s importance to economies worldwide, concluded that the correlation between the level of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth is greater than 70 percent and all nations with high levels of entrepreneurial activity have above-average rates of economic growth.   

With this in mind, it would be prudent to see how we can promote entrepreneurship among the populace so as to tap into the benefits that will accrue from this approach. The SIFE initiative is a step in this direction, as it seeks to promote entrepreneurship as an alternative to formal employment. An important aspect of the SIFE program is that it promotes a culture of entrepreneurship. By having university students lead the projects, SIFE’s model helps students to understand the tenets of entrepreneurship, inculcates a spirit of (social) entrepreneurship in them, and opens the option of entrepreneurship over formal employment. This is especially important for a country like Kenya, where over 65 percent of the population is under the age of 25, 2.5 million of whom are unemployed. Many analysts consider Kenya’s high levels of unemployed youth to constitute a “ticking time bomb” as a projected increase in their numbers could spark a people’s revolution.

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By Ben Rolex Ngosiane

The author  is an aspiring entrepreneur who was greatly influenced by the SIFE movement during his time at the University of Nairobi. The projects and programmes that he initiated and participated in instilled the spirit of entrepreneurship in him and led him to try his hand at business after his studies. At the moment, he runs Msengoni Homestays, a homestay service company which seeks to promote homestays as the ideal choice of accommodation and intercultural experience in East Africa.

This essay was a winner in the Center for International Private Enterprise's (CIPE) 2010 International Youth Essay Contest. For more information on the essay contest and to read the rest of the winning essays please visit www.cipe.org/essay


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