By Catherine Kuria and George Marenya
Good news. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has discovered that Africa leads the world in prevalence of entrepreneurship. Apart from Kenya, home to the world famous Equity Bank, others ranked top ten in this category includes Botswana, Angola, Cameroon and Uganda.
WEF’s Global Competitive Report has distinguished three stages of development namely; factor driven, efficiency driven and innovation driven. Equity bank has undergone all these stages and broken into the strata of High Impact Entrepreneurship. Most of its offerings now, like Equitel (mobile based banking platform) takes advantage of cutting edge innovation to give the customer the advantage of modern banking at his fingertips.
In necessity driven economies, (where formal employment is hard to come by) it is suggested that governments provide basic necessities of economic development like infrastructure, primary health care, stable systems, security and education. Scholar Dana T. Redford posits that catalysts are needed to speed up transition to the next, higher stages of development. One such catalyst is high impact entrepreneurship (HIE’s).
In fact, HIE’s have been known as viable alternatives to aid programs. The most discernible benefits of HIE’s could be said to be job creation, wealth creation, innovations that benefit the customer and not to mention, positive societal impact. With their charisma and inspiration, not to mention strong personality and presence, high impact entrepreneurs not only influence people in their organizations but also become positive role models to others in unrelated industries.
This is the case with Dr. James Mwangi who has mentored people in industries as diverse as trade, manufacturing, education and also the banking industry itself. But who are entrepreneurs? Few words are this difficult to spell, nay, pronounce. But, still, the term is even more-more challenging to define.
Like in all such situations, let us probably start with what entrepreneurship is not. There is consensus that this phenomenon does not include establishing or going into a venture in which there is no risk. So putting up a flat in Ruaka, Roysambu or Kayole does not qualify you to be an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are legendary for their ability for having a long term and philosophical view of life and their businesses. In fact to the extent that they don’t have the expediency of politicians, we can view them as patriots or at worst nationalists.
They have a vision for their country and people. They put their name and comfort on the line to achieve that goal and vision no matter how long it takes.
The Word Bank has just produced a book titled Developing Africa’s Financial Services. Edited by economist Dana Redford, it contains African case-studies of companies that have made significant contributions to the economy through high-impact entrepreneurship.
In fact as Equity Bank’s James Mwangi noted during a recent launch of the book in Nairobi, successful enterprises are those that grow very fast. Equity Bank for example has grown 10 times every five years since the year 2000. In its wake, every share has multiplied 600 times with 7000 jobs within the bank itself and 400,000 jobs within its ecosystem comprising agents, merchants and small Medium Enterprises that take loans from Equity.
In fact you are not an entrepreneur unless you set out to solve a deep seated problem in society. When the billions come later it is a reward for solving the problem. One such problem was inexhaustible and boundless latent demand for banking services in the last two decades. Before Equity happened onto the scene, banking was an elite service, a preserve of a privileged few.
It is easy to forget the days when merely opening a bank account was equivalent to applying for a visa to travel to the United States, the UK or any such coveted destinations.
In resource starved countries like Kenya the only single thing we have in abundance is our human resource, the talent, drive and energy of our invariably young population. Now considering that unemployment is a worldwide plague, the need for successful and scalable businesses and start-ups has never been greater.
In fact TIME MAGAZINE has in the recent past paid tribute to immigrant talent in the United Starter for its ability to create employment even when it means availing several opportunities. In any case, 5 people or 7 mopped out of joblessness is no mean achievement.
Steve Jobs, he of the Apple fame and an all time entrepreneur said he did not know what he wanted and was sure Reed College, his alma mater, was not going to help him discover it either. So he dropped out and opted for lessons in calligraphy only. A social philosopher and wanderer, he spent time touring the world before finding his epiphany moment. The rest is history. That was a typical entrepreneur for you, forever unsettled and looking for his break.
We may say Jobs lived in America. The land of opportunity and an environment where you can afford to fail all you like. Yet it is time we afforded young people the opportunity and intellectual space to experiment, pontificate, fail, succeed, fail again and eventually achieve wild success.
As postmodernist as that may sound, the fact of the matter is that in the game of business it is not a matter of it but when failure will come.
What is critical is finding how you will handle the failure when it looms large and happens. The successful entrepreneur therefore is one who will know how to take on failure when it comes.
With largely dysfunctional politics, youth must take refuge in the safe space (s) of entrepreneurships. It must be the time for George Bernard Shaw’s dictum so as to “let those who can do, those who can’t teach, those who cannot teach, teach teachers.”And indeed as another wise one said, it will have to be a case of starting with what you have, where you are. In fact as a famed watcher of rural Africa once said, in our case it may jolly well be a case of starting out bare foot with a hoe in hand.
Ultimately, survival in the twenty first century is knowledge intensive and innovation driven. That is why university education for its own sake will not help.
It is time we (re) awakened the Technical School or College. Therein lays the pipeline for the critical pool of skills that the entrepreneur needs.