The millennial generation, that age group currently between 18 and 34, make up the single largest chunk of the Guyana population, approximately 45%, using data from the 2012 census. It is quite unlikely that any significant changes have occurred in the structure and makeup of the population since then, and it is still clear that well over 50% of our population is under the age of 40 years.
This means that the majority of Guyana’s entrepreneurial class must be outside of this age group called “the millennials,” and this information must inform planning and strategy for the continuity, sustainability and growth of the business class unless we are willing to risk a dramatic collapse in probably as little as under two decades.
Successive governments appear to have recognised this rather important fact, and over the years have launched their own youth entrepreneurship programmes, but with no data or information provided whereby the success or otherwise of these initiatives can be judged. Even the Bank of Nova Scotia has been on the forefront of developing youth entrepreneurship in Guyana and the Caribbean with its Vision Achiever Programme.
Just recently, the Bank launched its fifth instalment of the Vision Achiever Programme and has committed $1.5M (double that of the previous year) to the two start-ups that end up on the winners’ row. This year’s launch was done under the auspices of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), and the Bank has very strategically combined its own financial and marketing resources for the programme, with the expertise of ActionCOACH and Master Class institute – business support organisations which provide specialised training and mentorship for established businesses and young entrepreneurs alike.
Also recently, we reported that the Department of Youth has announced that $70M has been allotted to this year’s rollout of government’s Youth Innovation Project 2018, whereby the Department is inviting applicants within the age bracket of 14 to 35 years to apply for funding to develop solutions to issues in their communities using Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Architecture, Arts, Mathematics and Spirituality (STEAMS). This project, which can be applied for individually or in teams of up to 10 persons, is therefore not simply promoting entrepreneurship in its simplest form, but is also aimed at spurring innovation using the STEAMS methodologies.
When contrasting the two approaches by Scotiabank and the Department of Youth, one cannot miss the vastly superior financial resources committed by the Department to its Youth Innovation effort. Additionally, the approaches to the programmes appear to vary in fundamental ways. For instance, the Bank seems to aim at a much wider category of applicants, ie Guyanese 18 years and older, and targets start-ups as well as existing businesses trying to pursue their growth potential. The Bank’s partnering with Action Coach and Master Class Institute under the auspices of the GCCI also provides the kind of specialised training and mentoring that young entrepreneurs cannot usually afford.
Finally, with the Shark Tank style seed money available to the first and second placed winners ($1M and $0.5M, respectively) for investment in their business with all the training and direction provided and with the experience in marketing, particularly on the social media platform Facebook, the winning participants are well placed to jump start their businesses in an impressive manner.
By contrast, the Department of Youth’s approach targets innovation in entrepreneurship and is aimed at youth participants only and dictates participants utilise the STEAMS methodologies in their projects. It is not clear how sustainable these projects are intended to be after their implementation, as innovation in Science and Technology do not always equate to a sustainable business model in a highly competitive market.
According to Director of Youth, Melissa Carmichael-Haynes, a total of 56 applicants in 2017 gave rise to 21 groups being awarded grants totalling $40M to develop solutions to social and environmental issues in their communities and to improve the lives of young people. While this is quite a laudable scheme, it varies from the traditional approach to entrepreneurship which is driven mainly by a person’s vision to provide a necessary service or good to the community, but with profit as a motive.
In the absence of the motivating and sustaining financial profit incentive, it is very difficult for any entrepreneur or inventor to execute the project successfully, and this might account for the fact that only 60% of the projects have been implemented to date.
Both entrepreneurship and innovation in the STEAMS methodologies are approaches that should be developed in our youth today, but the level of success achieved in sustaining the businesses and projects developed in programmes such as the Scotiabank Vision Achiever Programme and the Youth Innovation Project 2018 of the Department of Youth is a critical marker of the usefulness of these programmes. Financial viability and sustainability must be the target set for these initiatives to avoid them becoming anything more than just well-financed hobbies.
We reported past Scotiabank winners lauding the training and coaching they received and touting their on-going success in their business one year after as proof of the usefulness of the bank’s initiative and the manner in which it is set up and maintained, utilising the local private sector body, the GCCI and some of its members.
By contrast, some participants of the Youth Innovation Project 2017 have encountered issues that have stymied the development of their projects and this might curtail some of the enthusiasm which usually spurs creativity which is at the core of the entrepreneurial spirit.
It is hoped that these programmes can learn from each other, and particularly that the government’s Department of Youth can take the example of the Bank of Nova Scotia and involve the local private sector bodies in supporting youth innovation and entrepreneurship to ensure that a sustainable model of STEAMS innovative solutions can be maintained.