A few weeks ago, 3 ministries of the Federal Government, together with the World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the British Government came together to launch a program aimed at providing funding for Nigerian entrepreneurships. The program, with a funding of N50bn, aims at providing grants of between N1m – N10m to Nigerians under the age of 40, who are either students or graduates of tertiary institutions and who have innovative business ideas. These ideas must be capable of creating enterprises that will eventually employ up to 20 persons each, and would be selected in batches of 1200 over 3 years, potentially creating 72000 jobs and 3600 small businesses.
This scheme, called YouWin, is a wonderful idea and has generally been well-received. It is about one of the only ideas of this government that has been so accepted that citizens are the ones spreading the information. This addresses a major problem in our economy, which is that of accessing capital for turning ideas into enterprises, and in general, youth unemployment.
However, I have observed that the YouWin scheme has exposed a bigger problem when it comes to creating jobs than that of accessing finance. It is the problem of grooming young people with an entrepreneurial mind-set. This scheme has been enthusiastically received by those who were already ready, entrepreneurs with ideas waiting for the opportunity to latch on to and fulfil their dreams. Unfortunately, many others paid the information and numerous PR campaigns no heed not because they do not believe in the government, but mainly because they lack ideas for which they can use to start their own enterprises.
The truth has to be said that the best way to solve unemployment issues in this country is to encourage and enable the establishment of new enterprises, and the creation of an SME base that will employ our teeming young people. However, we are very deficient in programs that will turn the average student of a tertiary student into an entrepreneurially-minded graduate. To the best of my knowledge, apart from Covenant University, Otta and the American University of Nigeria, Yola (both private universities), no other school has an entrepreneurship programme that achieves these. What then happens to the millions in the other tertiary institutions? Most of the people I know that are entrepreneurs became so solely by way of self-education and experimenting, where they learned via ‘failures’.
Some years ago, the National Universities Commission gave a directive to all universities to commence teaching their students entrepreneurship courses, regardless of the intended degree of the students. In theory, this sounds like an excellent idea. But in practice, it has been a disaster. These universities teach the entrepreneurship course like every other course, where a boring lecturer stands in front of an overcrowded lecture theatre and reads from bulky notes, which students copy, cram and then pass the course exam. But that hasn’t turned them into entrepreneurs, far from it.
Entrepreneurship is an activity-based learning, where people learn more from hands-on experience, practical examples and less theory. Entrepreneurship is about teaching people a set of skills, with which they will use to identify problems in their environment and create solutions to solve those problems, and then go ahead to implement these solutions with results. At the same time, it is also the process by which the minds of those being trained is opened up, and they begin to discover endless possibilities where they can apply their intellect to solve societal problems and also find fulfilment for themselves. This is what our school entrepreneurship programs are grossly lacking.
But even beyond schools, the federal agency in charge of grooming small and medium businesses, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) has been grossly starved of funds and personnel, hence making it unable to reach its desired targets and create intended impact. Also, the numerous Technology Incubation Centres of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology exist only in name and serve as a drain of public resources. Matters of fact, many people are unaware of their existence.
There has to be a radical shift in the way we go about desiring to make job-creators out of our students. Let every school design its own program on entrepreneurship, which has to be outside the traditional methods of teaching which they are used to. There should also be a synergy between the schools, SMEDAN, the Technology Incubation Centres, state governments and other organisations/institutions. When a practical, activity-based entrepreneurship learning program is designed and implemented with emphasis on measurable results such as number of enterprises started by trainees, we would see a dynamic change in our economy.
We should do this to empower our students to turn the knowledge in their head, together with their understanding of our local environments into practical solutions for our peculiar problems. It is only those who are already ready with ideas that will able to seize the funding opportunities schemes such as YouWin presents. After all, in the words of the great French microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, ‘opportunity only favours a prepared mind.’