Entrepreneurship is generally a buzz word but it’s also often one associated with hope for many South Africans. Our forward thinkers are looking towards entrepreneurs to pull the country’s economy up by its bootstraps and at least partially solve our unemployment problem. Of course, when we look to nurture our country’s entrepreneurs, we should be casting our eyes downwards…to child level. The question is: how can we encourage more children to become entrepreneurs?

A recent article on this topic in Child Magazine suggests that it is a mixture of natural aptitude and environmental exposure that leads to entrepreneurial interest. Take the eight-year-old daughter of one of our own financial planners for example, who has started growing chillies to sell to her grandmother, who in turn bottles them to sell to a local deli. This is a joint partnership that is thriving, largely through parental encouragement and involvement. Yet, as the article mentions, this kind of early entrepreneurship is hardly typical of South African learners.

Linda McClure, MD of Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA), observes that, ‘At the moment, most young people will end up working in someone else’s business, because they think they can’t do anything else. They aren’t seeing it as a choice; or that it’s a career option.’ She says that when learners are asked whether they could prefer to get a job or start their own business, the majority still say, ‘I’d rather just get a job.’ Many believe being an employee is more secure.

There are many other organisations that encourage children to think like entrepreneurs. In most cases though, the job falls to Economics and Management Sciences (EMS) teachers. Most parents are familiar with school Market Days, which are part of the Grade 7 EMS curriculum. The schools that do this best encourage learners to focus on particular target markets, and make products that use their specific talents. The experience introduces important skills which can develop through the teenage years.

That said, the true essence of entrepreneurship is often overlooked in most South African schools. Says education consultant Alexandra Pinnock: “Entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged as a culture and a way of thinking, but many teachers are so focused on end-of-year marks that there’s little time for nurturing creative thinkers. This suggests that parents have a big role to play if they want their children to acquire an entrepreneurial mindset.”

How to get young entrepreneurial wheels spinning?

We think the key to this lies within the identity of each and every child. What is your child’s talent? What does he or she enjoy doing? Baking? Gardening? Spending time with animals? Blogging? All of these and more can provide foundations for small entrepreneurial businesses. If your child is more of a doer rather than a maker, then perhaps it’s a good idea to look at service businesses, rather than making goods to sell. Children can engage in dog-walking, lawn-mowing, or even teaching the older generation about new technology, such as Facebook and Instagram.

How early should a child be encouraged to be entrepreneurial? When it comes to age, here again we believe that this is child-dependant. Cape Town play therapist and child counsellor Tessa Eadie is all for supporting children’s entrepreneurial ventures when they are self-driven, but thinks that the process is just as important as the product. For Eadie, entrepreneurial activities provide an opportunity for children to think about their passions, as well as enhancing their emotional development and building self-esteem.

Entrepreneurship is as much a mindset as it is an occupation: it encourages curiosity and problem-solving, as well as thinking about how one can make positive changes in society. Especially in South Africa, it can be applied in social rather than purely for profit ways, by encouraging kids to enter social responsibility. Social entrepreneurship in the forms of raising money for charity and volunteering time are valuable activities for young people, which can have positive spin-offs as they grow and develop into young adults.

Want to help nurture a budding entrepreneur? Remember that your children don’t necessarily have to start their businesses the hard way:  i.e. having to scrape together every cent to buy their first stock of ingredients for biscuits. If it’s too difficult for them or if they’ve decided upon (or been encouraged to pursue) a business that doesn’t suit them, they’re likely to give up. You can help them by pointing out the things they enjoy doing and are good at, and by being prepared to provide a little “venture capital” and advice. Be there for support, but let them make mistakes too.

Who knows? You might just have the next Elon Musk on your hands!

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