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Government has role in boosting youth entrepreneurship

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By Ignatius Odongo

This article is adapted from a paper that I recently published in the Journal of Social Development In Africa. Although the paper is written from the South African perspective, its thrust clearly resonates with the Ugandan context. Recent global entrepreneurship monitor (GEM) reports have put Uganda among countries with the highest total early stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rate. However, due to the informal nature of most youth enterprises, their businesses tend not to live beyond the three and half years, where they are considered “established”.

Uganda like many other developing countries, has put in place elaborate legislative, strategic and institutional frameworks to promote youth entrepreneurship. However, the author argues that these initiatives remain quick fixes, fragmented and have not been packaged as a comprehensive response, with well-coordinated and resourced implementation mechanisms. Consequently, the author proposes an amalgam of interventions that can be categorised as follows: Conducive and supportive government policy; supporting systems, structures and collaborative partnerships; appropriate and responsive entrepreneurship education; and developing and nurturing entrepreneurial behaviours.
To promote youth entrepreneurship, Uganda has developed several frameworks that include the BTVET Act of 2008, the National Youth Policy (2016), the National Development Plan 2016-2020, the Youth Venture Capital Fund, the Youth Livelihood Programme, the BTVET Strategic Plan, 2012/3 to 2021/2, and the Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP), among others.

The challenge, however, is that these and other related instruments have not received commensurate financial backing. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) encourages governments to put in place favourable policies that facilitate youth entrepreneurs to access finance. The advice of OECD lends credence to the resource base theory of entrepreneurship that opines that people are attracted to entrepreneurship if they have proximity to resources. It was reported in the media last year that the Ugandan President was giving out cash to the youth to the tune of more than Shs3b. It’s not clear whether these youth had come up with a bankable business ideas that merited funding, or it was simply a political gesture.

Drawing attention to the need for supporting systems, structures and collaborative partnerships, the July 2015 issue of the African Business recommended a multi-faceted approach that constitutes a coordinated government and private sector strategy supported by development partners that will provide youth with contextualised knowledge, skills and confidence. The efforts of the Ugandan government, however, are believed not to be geared towards providing youth entrepreneurs with marketable skills that will enable them to produce innovative and high value goods and services. Unlike Russia and China, who are reported to be investing in the fourth industrial revolution (artificial intelligence) using their young people, Uganda has not developed productive and well-resourced centres of excellence that can produce high value skills among its youth.
The Youth Employment Network of the United Nations, International Labour Organisation, and the World Bank has emphasised the need for investment in entrepreneurship skills as a way of promoting youth entrepreneurship especially in developing countries. Unlike the commonly used pedagogical approaches that tend to utilise the classroom style, scholars have recommended a work integrated learning model and holistic learning approaches that incorporate the student entrepreneur, government agencies, private sector/small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), communities, educational institutions, and the mature entrepreneurs (as role models). Such models are said to deliver experienced entrepreneurs in much the same way that nursing training institutions produce fully qualified and experienced nurses who are ready to provide nursing services.

Entrepreneurship is believed to be a mindset as much as it is a process. Entrepreneurial attitudes and behaviours are said to be better built much early in life as it is difficult to develop such ambitions in later years. Consequently, the attitudes towards entrepreneurship are better shaped in families and nurtured throughout the education system. Successful entrepreneurs are believed to have the right perceptions and attitudes that encourage them to prepare and be alert, so that when opportunities avail themselves, they are able to seize them. If the Ugandan government can invest in civic education towards election times, how much more so, should mobilisation for entrepreneurship target families where career choices are made?

In a nutshell, government can play a leading and more effective role if it puts in place a well-resourced framework comprising conducive policies, supportive systems, and structures that are geared towards nurturing a critical mass of skilled young entrepreneurs that can take the country forward amidst challenges.

Mr Odongo is a strategist and a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in Youth Entrepreneurship. [email protected]

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