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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Columnist: Fekpe, Charles Kofi

Clap for government for saying “entrepreneur!!”

By Charles Kofi Fekpe

I am a hard man to impress. But even so, it is welcome news to hear the President encouraging entrepreneurship. OK, Mr President, don’t get swollen-headed; that’s where my praise ends. For me, the most important thing is not so much that you have mentioned it; the big question remains – “what happens next?” I mean the “action things.”

Several times, young men and women, have called me up with brilliant ideas – ideas that could go beyond the shores of Ghana; many times I have seen them and their ideas wither away…………and for the very obvious reasons. For me, the pain is not so much, the opportunity they may have lost as individuals, but those that we have lost as a country altogether. It easy for a moment to see these zealous start-ups as individuals, but they potentially represent the jobs and livelihoods of many many more.

This article is not merely to the current government – it is to all those in authority. I know there are currently a few good entrepreneurship programmes in place. I say they are good because, at least they exist (e.g. National Youth Employment Program). What they are however is prescriptive rather than developmental. In other words, they give limited options as to what participants can be allowed to be engaged in, rather than leaning on the particular passions and strengths of the participants and therefore, helping them to succeed individually in the things they are best wired for or passionate. Sir, there are some skills (assuming you know the direction the world is headed), that will always remain local and not give participants the opportunity to explore beyond the Ghanaian market. I won’t go deeper, but if our idea of entrepreneurship is merely to give people their daily bread and NOT to generate wealth in the long run, then we have missed it even before starting.

But, one of the other CORE components of entrepreneurship, that is missing on the current programmes available and without which they cannot be considered as economically sustainable entrepreneurial skills development for participants is this – nobody is teaching them how to THINK UP IDEAS or better still, how to GENERATE INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS from their environments and from their everyday problems – this, is the core of entrepreneurship, without it, there is nothing entrepreneurship made, that was ever made through entrepreneurship. Amen.

Anyway back to the government’s call for more entrepreneurs. If we are serious about this agenda, I believe this country will be prosperous in no time. I think there are a few advantages and things that government can consider in making this work and I will mix-match all of that below: 1. The truth, which sadly has eluded our many governments to date, is this – government does not create jobs – businesses do, entrepreneurs do. All the Dell Computers, Microsoft, Barclays, Google etc who are ruling the world today all started as bedroom and garage entrepreneurs – and it is them that create jobs. Beyond that, it is they who create the wealth of nations – NOT government. If Government is serious about increasing our national income generation, then it would make sense to thoroughly support entrepreneurship, because, it is them who are able to generate wealth both locally and from international sources to sustain the economy (e.g. in Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Spain for the year 2013, more than 40% of employment was in enterprises with less than ten employees)

2. If we are serious about it, perhaps a great place to start is to make it a core element of our tertiary educational curriculum. Let’s face it bluntly, not everyone who comes out of school will be an entrepreneur, but we would drastically be reducing the unemployment of post tertiary students. As things stand now, our tertiary institutions (which are incubators of tomorrow’s leaders) has nothing in their curriculum that gives students OPTIONS other than seeking for jobs. And so, when the jobs don’t show up after school, they are crippled. There is nothing in their curriculum that teaches them that you can apply your mind to the problems in your Ghanaian, African and Global environment and transform those problems into solutions, hence wealth. I suggest that our high post-tertiary unemployment rates are due to a combination of (i) students not being provided with options other than employment seeking after school and (ii) government trying alone to create these jobs through public spending. Entrepreneurs don’t just happen on a large scale – people need to be taught how to think up solutions, create business modules around their innovations, manage business cycles, etc

3. If we are serious about it, we need to recognize that funding for new entrepreneurs is the second most crucial after profitability. But there are ways around this. In fact thousands of ways. Government can entice financial institutions to support budding viable entrepreneurs by giving them tax incentives on loans to qualified entrepreneurs at very low rates and over extended periods; private individuals and companies in specific industries can be given other incentives to set up venture capital funds; in fact some government agencies should be allowed special funds, to partner with individuals who want to develop products or services that could help improve the efficiencies or deliveries of these government agencies such as education, health, military etc.

4. If we are serious about it, Government needs to create structures and policies to support and encourage entrepreneurs. We need to create free advisory services to help interested entrepreneurs receive free assessments of their own personal suitability to become entrepreneurs and if not to help them find other directions of life; people need to be supported with an unbiased evaluation of their ideas and the best chances of developing it or launching them out; they need to be supported with tax policies that encourage them to make the best of their opportunities; they need to be supported with exploring Africa’s regional and other global markets and the quality of their products or services they wish to engage in; they need to be supported with research data on what works and what doesn’t, so that they can plot out their best paths from the start; they need to be supported with recognition at government level – government’s message needs to be clear: “it considers entrepreneurs a crucial part of the nation building and a core one at that” – it will help start-ups find a basis for pride in what they do. If we are serious, we won’t simply encourage people to become entrepreneurs and just leave it there – that’s if we are serious.

5. If we are serious, we’ll engage the media industry as a partner, to tell the stories of our successful entrepreneurs – it means showcasing them intentionally to Africa and the world, and by so doing, encouraging others to be inspired aboard. I think, we haven’t been able (especially government), to realize that the media and press, if employed collaboratively, can be a very forceful tool for national development and international recognition rather than as mere political platforms for insults and defamations.

If we are serious, we would realise that since we haven’t been able to create the best standards of living for the citizens using our inherently crippled top-down democracy, we might as well empower them to make life work for themselves through their own creativities and energies.

Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA)