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Youth entrepreneurship stifled in South Africa

09 November 2012, 12:30

South Africa can be said to be the land of opportunity, with a vibrant and diversified youth, an economy with gaps for entrepreneurs prosper, and good university systems in place to allow for world class education. So why are there so few young people taking the chance to grow their own companies, and contribute to the economy through starting and running their own businesses.

Many of the skilled and ambitious youth in South Africa are having a difficult time finding jobs that meet their expectations, either due to their expectations being too high, a difficult and tumultuous economy, or through political interference and unjust policies. So if the opportunities are not presenting themselves through the normal career channels, why not look at the starting your own business? After all, the possibilities are there. With large untapped markets filtering down from the first-world countries to South Africa, and the need for entrepreneurs to step in and grow this economy, why not take the risk?

As a young university graduate, I (along with countless others) have been groomed into believing that the only way to make a decent living is through many years of studies, working your way up the corporate ladder, and drinking lots of coffee. This gets instilled in your psyche over many years, with the student studying professional qualifications getting constant praise for “doing the right thing”. This is true to an extent, as after many years of studies, another few years of internships and articles, you will be qualified to manage somebody’s business, or to work your way through the ranks of a company.

The problem with this route is that by the time you are qualified, and free to start your own business, you are at the age where you would look to get married, settle down, buy a home to start a family in, buy a dog and think about kids. Starting a business at this age, or at this time of your life, is risky due to you wanting some certainty, and having commitments to attend to.

I feel that the best time to start, or attempt to start, a business is just after undergraduate at university. You have some theoretical knowledge, you are at the age where you have little to no commitments (financial or other – with the exception of student loans), and you have been able to network with fellow students and lecturers regarding entrepreneurship. But instead we “need” to do honours, then we “need” to do articles or an internship. After all, if we don’t then all the studies were for nothing.

In my mind, this mentality that is present across the country and driven in by many universities will limit the number of entrepreneurs, and ultimately limit the economic growth opportunities that are available to us in South Africa. There are also insufficient structures in place to allow access to funds for budding entrepreneurs to start a business, after all... bills still need to be paid, we still need to eat, but we also want to start a business.

We don’t have a “Yes we can” mentality, but rather a “Yes, that’s a good idea... maybe later” mentality.

A comfortable life is nice in the same way as a cup of tea is nice. But does it benefit the country in the long run? With many of these qualified graduates leaving the country for more lucrative jobs in other countries, shouldn’t we do something to keep these skills here, and to grow this economy together as South Africans? I could be wrong, but I think it’s something worth talking about.

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