Last week was Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). With it, came a torrent of statistics: the 50% of people who would like to start a business, the 5% who actually do. The rising youth unemployment and falling hopes. And an accompanying rush of activities: Workshops, challenge days, motivational speakers and Twitter trending. For the team at Enabling Enterprise it meant pre-dawn dashes across the country, cutting out thousands of “EE Dollars” and weeks of preparation.
But what is it really all for, and what does it really achieve?
For me, the last six years have been dominated by thinking about entrepreneurship and particularly what entrepreneurship really means for schools and their students. The first problem, of course, is that defining the concept of entrepreneurship in schools is a challenge. I recently spent two days at a European Commission conference on entrepreneurial education, and the room was split in two: Half saw it as teaching how to write invoices, tax returns and cash flow forecasting – the technical side of running a business. The other half focused instead on broader entrepreneurial attributes and skills – creativity, engaging others, and calculating risks. This divide made it a rather complicated conference.
I surprised myself with how resolutely I no longer see an entrepreneurial education as the technical side of business. Entrepreneurship in education has broken free of the start-up.
My experience in the classroom and in running Enabling Enterprise for the past four years has demonstrated time and time again that inspiration, aspiration and a broad set of entrepreneurial skills are the essentials for future success. Give the student the right tools, and they can get the technical support to fill out a tax return later on.
I’m not alone here: the UK is a leader in how we think about entrepreneurial learning. The Aldridge Foundation builds the development of a broad set of entrepreneurial attributes into all learning at their academies. Meanwhile The Young Foundation has long been thinking about how a more entrepreneurial approach to learning can support young people’s progression into the real world, with Studio Schools one output of this ambition.
At Enabling Enterprise we see the development of those entrepreneurial attitudes as being at the core of our mission. To do this we start young – our youngest students are just six years old. At this age the subtleties of CV writing, business planning or marketing strategies are irrelevant. But what isn’t irrelevant is developing resilience, social skills and the ability to take responsibility – whether by designing a toy, fundraising for charity or opening a food stand at school.
As they get older, the technical aspects can be introduced – by the age of 14 we expect our students to be able to write a business plan, present it to one of our business supporters like PwC or UBS, and then actually organise themselves to deliver their small business. But what we hear time and time again is that what the students got out of it is not the technical knowledge. Instead, that broader set of entrepreneurial skills, attitudes and high aspiration are what set them apart from their peers.
So last week was a busy one for us. On Tuesday, we were at UBS with thirty primary school students learning about world trade. Wednesday saw dozens of primary school students on aspiration-raising trips to Wragge & Co in Birmingham and to Société Générale in London. On Thursday, our team split across Lancashire, Oxfordshire and Brighton running our biggest ever GEW Challenge of over 3,000 students. Friday saw us at PwC with students from Drapers’ Academy.
A week can generate excitement and promise but crucially, I don’t believe it alone can create the entrepreneurial skills that children and young people really need to develop.
So amongst all the activity, Global Entrepreneurship Week, like every week, over 8,000 students will spend at least an hour of lesson time continuing with their long-term Enabling Enterprise projects – setting up mini-businesses, chocolate brands, environmental campaigns, school improvements and much more. It’s this long-term consistent focus on developing the entrepreneurial skills, experiences of the world and aspiration which will be the foundation of our future entrepreneurs.
I remain a fan of Global Entrepreneurship Week – but when everything is packed away at the end of the day, we need to remember that entrepreneurship is for life, not just for a week.