At the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg in March this year, 170 delegates held discussions on how to foster entrepreneurship and scale up new businesses while acknowledging that too many people sit on the periphery of the formal economy in many countries.
Women and the youth were singled out in this regard as sections of the society with limited access to credit, skills training, access to mentorship etc. If we were to engage in honest conversations about entrepreneurialism here at home, we would have to acknowledge that the bare minimum is being done at a government level to unleash a new, more diverse generation of entrepreneurs.
When the Government introduced its $50m Youth Innovation Fund (YIF) in the 2017 National Budget there was a renewed hope of local entrepreneurship taking off in communities where joblessness disproportionately affects the youth population. But shortly after this announcement, Minister within the Ministry of Education, Nicolette Henry, said that the programme was not necessarily for entrepreneurial purposes.
In an interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA), published on its website on January 9, 2017, Henry made a point of stating that “entrepreneurship” was not the focus, explaining that, “There are several other programs that focus on entrepreneurship. However, this program will be focusing on more or less on creative ideas that are innovative and cutting edge.”
The “several other programmes” focusing on entrepreneurship that the Minister was referring to might include the “YouthBiz 592” Entrepreneurship Skills Training Programme launched in New Amsterdam in April 2017 – a 12 week training programme funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and executed through the Ministries of Public Security, Education and Business and aimed at “at risk youth.”
Currently attention is also being paid to economic development training for youths through the office of the Presidential Advisor on Youth Empowerment, Aubrey Norton. However, as seems too much the way things are done in Guyana, there does not seem to be a cohesive strategy coming out of the Ministry of Education in particular as to whether “entrepreneurship” as a discipline can and should be taught as a discipline in schools around the country. Indeed, has the Ministry of Education considered and answered the question that surrounds the issue of teaching entrepreneurship? This question relates to whether “entrepreneurship” can be taught in a theoretical setting or whether it is a practical skill that can only be dispensed in a practical setting by those who have actually done it and done it successfully.
Running a few short courses in “entrepreneurship” to segments of the society that may have had limited formal schooling themselves, does not seem like a foolproof way to systematically and significantly increase the number of young entrepreneurs in Guyana who can be their own bosses.
And there are some who argue, and with good cause, that “entrepreneurship” cannot be taught, because entrepreneurship – the capacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture, with all the attendant risks, in order to make a profit – presupposes an innate drive, motivation, vision and creativity in the individual which are all aspects that vary from individual to individual. In this outlook on the matter, entrepreneurship training will mostly have to do with developing supporting skills in the participants, like record keeping and taxation knowledge, among other necessary business knowledge bases.
At this time, there seems to be a fairly high number of start-ups in the country, pointing to a burst of entrepreneurship in Guyana, mostly marketed on social media, and many having to do with internet based activity, whether it is online shopping, website design, mobile application development, or businesses with a mobile application platform.
Obviously then, talent and ideas are not in short supply here in Guyana, however, the enabling environment to get a business launched successfully does not smile favourably at start-ups. Intervention, however, has come from an unexpected but practically relevant source.
In 2015, the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) launched its “Live Pitch Vision Achiever” competition which is now in its third year. This competition seeks to motivate, highlight and reward a diverse new generation of entrepreneurs as they come forward to “pitch” their ideas and showcase their existing start-ups.
The competition is a partnership with Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and to its credit, the initiative appears to have revived the entrepreneurial mojo of young aspiring Guyanese. Entrepreneurs are offered an opportunity to “pitch” their start-up ideas for the competition – a one minute video pitch for a new business or expansion of an existing business – and the successful candidates benefit from entrepreneurship coaching and resources.
Since its launch business “pitches” have included clothing design, farm products, a sea-lands surveying business to aid in navigation safety, a recycling business and a natural line of body products. This year, we have a natural hair entrepreneur, marketing entrepreneurs promoting platforms for local business to market their products and in addition, access to global markets.
This intersection of corporate partnerships to enable entrepreneurial growth in the country is encouraging diverse ideas and voices to be heard while engendering a start-up culture and an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to flourish locally. Presently, momentum is strong for entrepreneur Dave Lalltoo. The public voting round of the competition closed with him ahead of the competition with respect to social media votes. His business, Guyana Premier, provides a platform for entrepreneurs to market their businesses by purchasing ad space at a tailored price.
What is possibly needed at this time is for the Ministry of Education and the other government agencies pursuing the same objectives of raising entrepreneurial interest among youth, particularly disadvantaged youth, to try to merge their own initiatives with successful initiatives such as Scotiabank’s own Live Pitch.
But this presupposes a broader vision from the government for the development of a new entrepreneurial class that spans all the social divisions in society.