DAt a meeting of the founders of an innovation academy in the city of Kaduna, I had a candid conversation about small and medium enterprises and youth unemployment in Nigeria. These founders wanted to create a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs. We were presented with elaborate plans for the appearance of the building to stimulate creativity and the furniture to be installed there to inspire innovation. There was an impressive array of activities on offer from hackathons to accelerator and incubation programs to starting a fire in Silicon Valley from Kaduna. They were going to create hundreds of entrepreneurs in so many industries, fund them and help them grow. It was too fantastic and noble, and the energy in the room, electric.
“I don’t think we should go on,” I said loudly and deliberately enough to earn myself a searing, perhaps appalled look from the co-founders.
‘Listen to me’. I protested, thinking about how best to express thoughts I’ve had around our particular ecosystem and its very specific sets of challenges and how we still deliver those solutions. “global” that end up neither succeeding nor lasting.
I thought we shouldn’t get overwhelmed by designing and building organizations that answer vague, general questions when we’re faced with specific, scathing problems. The establishment of a hub or an academy does not guarantee the quality or the success of the companies. This is because the entrepreneur is not the only recipe for a successful business or economy. In fact, entrepreneurs aren’t even the most essential part of any successful business. Teams of people in companies are more crucial. Therefore, the workforce is more essential than the entrepreneur and an ecosystem approach to start-up businesses is still as essential.
Additionally, there is a big shift in the types of skill sets that have real and applicable value in a rapidly changing world like ours today, especially as a result of various technological advancements in areas such as as communication and manufacturing. I advised that we should focus on education, training and skill development in these areas, no matter how simple or complex they may seem, rather than just creating entrepreneurs who are doomed because that they lack people to build their businesses with. Train, for example, a university graduate from any course to be skilled in data labeling for AI before encouraging an entrepreneur to create an AI startup. Or train a polytechnic engineering graduate in digital design and manufacturing, before accelerating a 3D printing startup.
In the meantime, we must not take this as an argument for labor against the contractor. The two are actually symbiotic and one cannot flourish without the other. However, due to the endemic problems that beset Nigeria and cause our education systems and economy to malfunction, I dare say that a skilled workforce is more important than entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Most of us spread the rhetoric that entrepreneurship is the panacea for our unproductive economies, unemployment and insecurity when it is the essential ingredient for business success; a skilled workforce, is quite fragile and inadequate.
On the one hand, my concerns are purely economic. The thought of an educated and skilled population that provides a workforce capable of innovating and thriving. On the other hand, they are mostly moral. I never doubted that it was a responsibility and a duty for us to do something.
Therefore, as I did with my new co-founders, I plead with our policy makers, businesses, investors and educational institutions to refocus our energies on building and promoting a skilled workforce. even more than we promote entrepreneurship, because no matter how noble their intention, all businesses need good people working in them to feed and sustain themselves at scale and have a meaningful impact.
I managed to convince my co-founders that entrepreneurship is a team sport, an ecosystem activity. It needs entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, politicians, big business, colleges, universities and a community to thrive and succeed. We also all understand that entrepreneurship cannot be taught as a science, nor as an art. It’s in between. Rather, it is a craft, like pottery, best taught through practice and apprenticeship-like learning. However, this awareness is just a drop in a sea of entrepreneurship programs, institutions and campaigns determined to make entrepreneurship popular just to make it popular.
While I agree that most of these SME-focused initiatives are honest attempts to control youth unemployment, I don’t think clamor and indiscriminate spending works at all. Moreover, I feel like the entrepreneurs and businesses we create are just not valuable enough to create the kind of economic transformation we seek. No amount of couture outfits, shawarma joints, makeup parlors, print centers, or corner kiosks can give you the value in terms of income, employment, and growth of just one business. based on innovation with a global perspective and utilizing this great change in local and global human consumption and lifestyle.
Our approach to business gives me the impression that the world has deployed a new means of communication and exchange that we understand, but that we do not fluently master. We seem too comfortable and satiated with our status of consuming and not creating valuable goods and services. . To break this complacency, even as a rocket detaches from gravity, we must be deliberate and calculate with precision.