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Feature Article of Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Columnist: Fekpe, Charles Kofi

We Have Ghanapreneurs, Not Entrepreneurs

By Charles Kofi FEKPE

So the election dust is finally settling and it seems Ghanaians are eager to move on.

One major success Ghana has chalked in the last 7 years or so, is this – Ghanaians, by themselves, have awoken to the spirit of entrepreneurship and for some of us, this is the only hope we have in the future of this great nation – the ability to believe that we can do, and do it.
The world calls them “Entrepreneurs,” but for lack any word fitting enough, I’ll call them “Ghanapreneurs.” Over the last few years, these crop of mostly young Ghanaians have come to the realisations that (a) Their own future is in their hands (b) they do have what it takes to make impact and (c ) they can’t hold on any longer for governments to act. It is quite a shame that throughout the just ended presidential debates, none of Ghana’s presidential aspirants took any recognition of these Ghanapreneurs. Perhaps, none of them sees their potential. Yet sadly, it is these very people who have a track record of making great nations what they are today. It won’t change.

I fear that our new governments (whoever they will be after things settle) will continue to ignore these group of people to the detriment of the nation as a whole, so I feel frustratingly obliged to say to our leaders – DON’T! Let’s face it, Ghanapreneurs cannot merely succeed on the ticket of their raw talents and brute determination – they need support, and that’s exactly what I am hopeful the government will provide.
If politicians are looking for reasons why my suggestions in this article are economically, financially and politically excellent value for money, then here is a simple one to consider: (i) One of your top priorities is to get as many Ghanaians out of poverty (ii) it costs a lot less to support a Ghanaian entrepreneur, than it will cost you to get him out of poverty with his hands folded (iii) Entrepreneurs, once established can be mostly self-sustaining, generate jobs and see good reason to support their local development hence taking some burden of government funding and (iv) They generate good revenue to the State and hence a return on investment for government.

So what exactly do I suggest the government should do?:

1. Set up a dedicated Entrepreneurs unit in the government to lead the entire process strategically and operationally. I am referring to a unit that will deliberately and systematically ensure that over the next 4 – 10 years it:
• Drives a forceful campaign for Ghanaians to believe in their own ability, to be daring to try start-up businesses and ventures and to dare put their education or non-educated abilities to work. It should become a national responsibility to try.
• Have a fully functional database of easily assessable material and properly skilled staff, who can take any desirous Ghanaian and empower them with the basic knowledge they need to make choices between options best suited to them, gain confidence and make viable decisions on how to start up a business or venture with minimal failures. In fact this department should be measured with the yardstick of how many successful start-ups they have been able to engineer in any timeframe.

2. Government then needs to incentivise people to become more enterprising. In other words, government should make it rewarding for being an entrepreneur, for being able to think out of the box, for being able to add value to one’s self and others – we are talking about special Tax breaks for entrepreneurs. In fact, if Government wanted to make it a bit more exciting, it can create tax incentives for other larger businesses which support registered entrepreneurs. This is a somewhat strategic move in my opinion because this way, the business environment becomes self-sustaining, in that bigger businesses are making their profits by serving individuals and tax gains from serving entrepreneurs, whereas entrepreneurs on the other hand are getting maximum support from bigger businesses which is very valuable to their growth – in the end, everybody is a winner.

3. Thirdly, and not in any order of importance, the government should consider introducing a full-steam Entrepreneurship course into every university degree. Don’t misunderstand me. I know currently, elements of this subject area are included as compulsory modules by some tertiary. What I am suggesting is that they are done across board, intentionally structured and with a precise objective – in other words, the government must first decide what objectives it wants to achieve with students coming out of tertiary school and who have studied Entrepreneurship; and based on that, a course outline strategically designed to ensure that anyone going through such a module will satisfy the national level objectives. Now that’s how to tie education to National development.
Think about it, currently, our educational system (especially at tertiary level) is unconsciously structured in such a way that when students come out of Tertiary school, and based on the way they have been taught, gaining employment is their best option of survival – if for various obvious reasons, that option becomes unavailable, such students are rendered incapable. Should we blame them? Not really. Truth is we never equipped them to lead themselves into business or into other innovative uses of their newly acquired knowledge if they don’t find traditional employment.
Apart from proactively infusing Entrepreneur studies into tertiary Curriculum, I also believe a step in the right direction would be for government to force a more active marriage between Academia and Industry. I say force, because left to the two alone, it doesn’t appear they have done a lot so far to actively engage with each other. Government in its unique position has influence over both and can in very politically positive ways, ensure that industry becomes more active in academia and that academia begins to see its two primary objectives as (i) serving industry and (ii) researching into the future to find new areas for industry to explore.
Finally, I’ll be daring and say that our government needs to take the bold step to get the right people to overhaul our educational curriculum and make it fit to primarily serve and progress Ghana – the borrowed educational agenda from foreign countries have only ended up so far making our students well groomed domestics of those foreign ideologies. It is about time we develop curriculum that though internationally marketable, is first and foremost biased towards the peculiar needs of Ghana. Perhaps our governments need to start crafting clear national long term agendas (not thrown away by successive new governments) which can be translated into equally long term educational agendas.

4. My Final suggestions, which I am sure many were looking forward to see is financial support for entrepreneurs. Currently the more pronounced attitude of the financial institutions in Ghana is one that seems to say “come to us when you are successful, and we’ll fund you” or alternatively “we’ll fund you but at killer interest rates”. Both stances show lack of confidence in the entrepreneurial spirit and a total averseness to risk where start-ups are concerned. The corresponding effect then, is that those that would have turned out as prolific entrepreneurs of international calibre will rather not bother starting the process for fear of lack of funding.
Either way, Government has the onus to show the financial sector that he (government) believes and has confidence in the potential of Ghana’s entrepreneurs and therefore, they (financial institutions) should do too. Factually, financial institutions in every country primarily gain their foremost confidence about sectors to invest in by looking at the government’s own confidence in those very sectors. In the years bygone when government reposed its confidence in cocoa, as Ghana’s passport to success, financial institutions didn’t have any problem supporting the sector – they were leaning on government confidence. The same was repeated for gold over the last two decades and now oil. If the government shows confidence, financial institutions will too.
That having been said the government can also make attempts to make it profitable for financial institutions to provide much needed capital support to start-ups by directly guaranteeing loans given to start-ups whose business proposals are considered by the Banks as viable – it is much better than the current situation where start-ups can’t even get any financial support at all, or if they did, at interest payments that choke them before they have the chance to grow.

I am not by any means suggesting this is a full proof approach to making entrepreneurship in Ghana, work for all of us, but it is certainly a good way to consider looking at the challenges practically.

You can also visit my blog at: http://charlesfekpe.blogspot.co.uk

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