Zimbabwe: There Is Need to Raise New Generation of Entrepreneurs

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Recent reports about how the majority of youth fund borrowers failed to make repayments show a deep lack of true entrepreneurship among our young people today.

Of course there are cases of youths who borrowed out of greed, with no intent of paying back, but I know many simply failed to build the businesses that they envisaged.

Too many aspiring entrepreneurs underestimate what it really takes to build a business.

My discussions with many youths regarding their business plans have shown that many of them have little idea of how the world of business works.

No wonder you find many who apply for the youth loans want to do chicken projects.

This is because that is the only business they have known closely, having seen their parents raising chickens in their front yards and selling them to the neighbours, relatives and church associates, mostly on credit.

With very few straight and successful business owners available and willing to mentor the young people, where are they expected to learn proper business management skills? From the Chinese?

Talk to any high school student and you will find an absence of the entrepreneurial spirit. They are planning to go to college, or even to some dubious Eastern European university just to earn a degree, without caring much about what they will do after graduating.

Don't be surprised to find out that the guy selling you airtime at the street corner is a holder of a degree.

It is rare to hear a young person talking about starting a business. Contrast this with what Ashish Thakkar, the Ugandan billionaire who came to Zimbabwe recently, did.

He left school when he was 15 years old to start a business. He knew what he wanted in life, just like bill Gates and Steve Jobs, natural born entrepreneurs.

Not everyone is a natural born entrepreneur. A Gallup poll a few years ago showed that only about one in a hundred thousand people are natural entrepreneurs.

They know from an early age that building a business is their goal, rather than looking for a job as a career choice. This means the rest of us have to learn to be entrepreneurs. Young people should be encouraged to start learning entrepreneurship while still at school.

This entails learning practical skills in addition to academic education.

If one learns a practical subject or craft, they can employ that in real life and start a business. Nothing should stop young people from running micro business projects in their spare time. It gives them the opportunity to test business ideas and learn business management.

I am surprised that the financiers of the youths projects funds just doled out cash without giving the beneficiaries any training in entrepreneurship and business management. Most of the people used business plans that they downloaded from the internet to apply for the loans.

The financiers did a shoddy job of analysing the business plans without bothering to look at the applicants' business skills set. That is quite irresponsible, especially knowing how it is way easier to spend money rather than to make it.

I appreciate the initiative being taken by Wabaz (Women Alliance of Business Associations in Zimbabwe) in planning to provide mentorship to young women starting in business. This is a crucial element that young people need in order to build sustainable businesses. Experienced business people who have been though thick and thin can provide guidance and mentorship to young people, something that one can never learn from any college or read from any book.

It is known that business is risky. Only one or two in 10 new ventures succeed to become real and profitable businesses. This means the average person will fail nine times before they create a successful business.

It is therefore best to start as early as possible. The sooner one starts, the more time they have to fail and learn before they assume a lot of responsibilities associated with growing up.

The economic environment has changed. The industrial age has passed. Big businesses are scaling down. Small, agile and highly innovative businesses are the drivers of the new economy. This is because they can quickly adapt to meet the needs of informed and highly selective customers.

The days of Henry Ford's "You can have it in any colour you want as long as it is black" are long gone. Customers now know what they want and the internet enables them to get it from anywhere in the world.

These are exciting times for young entrepreneurs. Your business doesn't have to be confined to this country only. You can do business all over the world via the internet. Just recently I flashed a message looking for a freelance graphic designer for one of my projects.

Someone on the internet offered to do it for a very reasonable fee all the way in Mexico. So opportunities are clearly unlimited to get into entrepreneurship now.

I encourage young people today to spend their time reading about business and entrepreneurship. Find your talent and use it to build a business. Learn a lot about business management. Don't think of joining the job lines after school. Think, instead, of how you will create jobs for others.

You will find more resources on entrepreneurship and business on my website http://smebusineslink.com.

Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by email, chichonip@smebusinesslink.com. You can also visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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