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STEVEN ZWANE | Turning the entrepreneurial intentions of youth into action

We can equip underprivileged youngsters with the necessary tools to thrive

Recent data reveals that 98% of underprivileged youth demonstrate high entrepreneurship intention, yet only 11% have successfully transitioned into entrepreneurial ventures
Recent data reveals that 98% of underprivileged youth demonstrate high entrepreneurship intention, yet only 11% have successfully transitioned into entrepreneurial ventures
Image: 123RF

SA stands at a critical juncture where harnessing the entrepreneurial potential of its youth could be a transformative force for economic growth, job creation and social empowerment. However, despite participating in entrepreneurial interventions during their high school years, a staggering gap persists between young people’s  entrepreneurship intentions and their actual actions.

Recent data reveals that 98% of underprivileged youth demonstrate high entrepreneurship intention, yet only 11% have successfully transitioned into entrepreneurial ventures. This disparity demands urgent attention and concerted efforts to address the barriers hindering their path to entrepreneurial action.

The issue at hand is not a lack of entrepreneurial spirit among underprivileged youth. Rather, it is the myriad barriers that hinder their journey from intention to action.

These include:

· Ltd access to finance: Financial constraints pose significant hurdles for aspiring young entrepreneurs, with limited access to start-up capital, loans, or investment opportunities to turn their ideas into reality.

· Entrepreneurship education gap: Despite participating in entrepreneurial interventions, the lack of comprehensive entrepreneurship education often leaves young people ill-equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and practical experiences to navigate the entrepreneurial landscape effectively.

· Institutional constraints: Cumbersome regulations, bureaucratic red tape and a lack of supportive policies hamper entrepreneurial initiatives, creating additional barriers for underprivileged youth who lack the necessary resources and connections to navigate these obstacles.

· Sociocultural factors: Deep-seated societal norms, limited role models and gender biases hinder underprivileged youth, especially young women, from pursuing entrepreneurship and limit their access to supportive networks.

Addressing these barriers is of paramount importance for SAs future. Entrepreneurship has the potential to drive inclusive economic growth, create jobs and uplift communities. By empowering underprivileged youth to transition from intention to entrepreneurial action, we can unlock a wellspring of innovation, resilience and economic opportunity. The current gap not only perpetuates inequalities but also stifles the transformative power that these young entrepreneurs hold, hindering the nations progress and leaving potential untapped.

Fortunately, SA possesses significant opportunities to effect change and bridge this gap. First we need comprehensive entrepreneurship education: We can equip underprivileged youth with the necessary tools to thrive as entrepreneurs by scaling up entrepreneurship education programmes, focusing on practical skills, mentoring and ensuring access to industry networks.

The need for accessible financing solutions cannot be overemphasised. Developing tailored financial support mechanisms, including microfinance initiatives, venture capital funds, and government-backed loan programmes, can alleviate the financial barriers that hinder entrepreneurial action.

Policy reform and institutional support are paramount. Streamlining regulatory frameworks, reducing bureaucratic hurdles and fostering an enabling environment through supportive policies can nurture an ecosystem where underprivileged youth can thrive as entrepreneurs.

And as with many people who succeed in life, we need to cultivate supportive networks for the youth. Building networks and mentorship programmes that connect underprivileged youth with experienced entrepreneurs, successful role models and supportive communities can provide the guidance, encouragement and resources needed to overcome barriers and fuel their entrepreneurial journey.

Thriving countries such as Finland and Singapore have demonstrated successful approaches in bridging the intention-action gap among underprivileged youth. Finlands education system emphasises entrepreneurship education from an early age, integrating practical experiences and mentorship programmes. Singapore, on the other hand, has established comprehensive support structures, including financing schemes, incubators and networks that provide crucial resources and guidance to young entrepreneurs. By adopting and adapting best practices from these countries, SA can create a supportive ecosystem that facilitates the transition from intention to action.

In SA, organisations such as Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator have been instrumental in supporting underprivileged youth in their entrepreneurial endeavours. Harambee connects young job seekers with training, mentorship and work opportunities, empowering them to develop the skills and confidence needed for entrepreneurial action.

Same for junior achievement SA and Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship development. Nonprofit organisations advocating for entrepreneurship behaviour. They have been operationalising entrepreneurial intention and entrepreneurial action by involving high school students in a real new-business context. Students take an entrepreneurial initiative from ideation to proof of concept, to production and sales, all in one semester. Hands-on programmes such as these suggest that nonprofit and their volunteers are devoting substantive attention to developing students entrepreneurial intentions, and in doing so are working to close the intention-action entrepreneurial gap.

Through initiatives like Harambee Youth Employment, Junior Achievement SA and Youth Leadership for Enterprise Development, young individuals have been able to break free from the barriers, start their own businesses and contribute to the economy while creating employment opportunities for others.

The gap between high entrepreneurship intention and low entrepreneurial action among underprivileged youth in SA is a pressing issue that demands our immediate attention. By addressing the barriers hindering their entrepreneurial journey and fostering an ecosystem conducive to their success, we can unlock the transformative power of these young entrepreneurs, fuel economic growth and build a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

As Nelson Mandela famously said, Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Together, let us equip underprivileged youth with the necessary tools, resources, and support to bridge the gap between intention and action.

Zwane holds a PhD from Durham University (UK), is a Nelson Mandela scholar and managing executive: group corporate

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