The socio-economic development of any given society is greatly enhanced by the positive development of entrepreneurs in that society. History has made it clear that different generations of different communities have different sets of societal challenges. Solutions to these challenges are now used as benchmarks in defining the rate of development of that generation in that society. These challenges, which may be natural and manmade, did not exist in themselves neither did they end in themselves, but by design they revolutionized the expertise of the people of that generation ï¿½ in developing solutions and in creating value.
It is this study of history that fuelled the understanding that a challenge will continue to be part of a given society until a solution is developed. In essence, a better analysis of the general concept of growth in any society is not so much in the state of her challenges (democracy, power, economics or structures) but in the equivalent rate of development and implementation of solutions to her challenges. From the great depression of the 1920s, the world wars, the need for information interchange in the 1950s, terrorism in 2000s and the present day environmental issues, market crisis etc.
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Not only is this beauty of history recorded in challenges but also in the dynamism of these challenges. Twenty four hours will always make a day but the society we are part of is dynamic ï¿½ everything will continue to change. Peopleï¿½s needs will grow, their desires will change, their mindset, principles, beliefs, their relationships, even their quest for understanding will never be the same.
It is this dynamic nature of man that results in the dynamic nature of his society. That is why the search for solutions will never be finite. For example the need for mobility gave birth to auto mobiles, when speed in mobility became apparent, airplanes were built. The need for information management gave birth to computers and when this need metamorphosed to information interchange, networks and the internet were developed. Since this search for solution will never be finite, the need for solution providers can never be exhaustive. The fact behind this study is the understanding that; inherent in the study of societal challenge and providing solution is the theory of how value is created within that society.
Every generation has produced its own unique sets of entrepreneurs. They all have had divergences in quest, methodology, concept and even in the products they offered. Despite these differences there exists a common thread that runs through all of them ï¿½ the quest for relevance. The definition of this quest has always centered on creating value, providing solutions that people happily pay for. The basic difference between the natural solutions provider and the entrepreneur is that while the former specializes in just developing solutions, the entrepreneur not only develops solutions but knows how to make people pay for the solutions he developed.
This quest for relevance governs the mind of the average entrepreneur irrespective of the size of his business. This quest is what led Bill Gates to develop a version of the programming language BASIC for the first micro computer ï¿½ the MITS Altair, a simple act that changed the way society managed information. An act that later replaced the filling cabinet. It is this same quest that led board chairman of Ford Motors, William Clay Ford Jr. ï¿½ great grandson of founder Henry Ford ï¿½ in May 2000 to concede for the first time that sport utility vehicles (SUVs) emit more pollution than cars and can be dangerous to others on the road. He pledged to make these SUVs, which accounted for twenty percent of the companyï¿½s sales and most of its profit, cleaner and safer. This concept which is now adopted by automobile manufacturers worldwide is changing the way cars are designed.
It is this quest that makes us to look beyond the dictionary definition of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are much more than risk takers, they are value creators who people pay to provide solutions to their needs, they are troubleshooters who know how to make money from the issues they resolve, and every generation known to man have had their own set of entrepreneurs. Thus it is not wrong to assume that for every generational challenge a generational entrepreneur is born. That is why a direct relationship exists between the development of entrepreneurs and the growth of a society.
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In the late 1990s the communication system in Nigeria, then managed by the Nigerian Telecommunication Ltd (NITEL), had numerous challenges. The network was expensive; the service charge was outrageous, only a few families and corporate organizations had landlines. Maintenance of these facilities was a big problem, even managing NITEL was an issue. People complained but the government said they were getting the best and the cheapest service. Finally the government deregulated the telecommunication sector. In early 2000, telecommunication service providers (TSP) started coming to Nigeria. MTN ï¿½ a foreign TSP ï¿½ controlled the Nigerian market for a very long time. Their mobile lines helped reduce the telecommunication challenges but the issue of high tariff still kept the Nigerian market at bay. Two Nigerian owned TSP ï¿½ ECONET (now ZAIN) and GLOBACOM (now GLO) ï¿½ entered the market; but they couldnï¿½t stand the competition which has MTN as a key player, for example 8 out of 10 network users still use the MTN network.
During the same period, all the TSPs used the ï¿½per minute billing system (PMB)ï¿½ which is relatively high for the common user. Customers for ï¿½per second billing system (PSB)ï¿½ but the TSPs said impossible. Entrepreneur extraordinaire, Mike Adenuga, CEO of GLO restructured the whole system by developing what the people wanted. He gave subscribers the options to choose between PMB and PSB. This opened the market to even the common person. As a result Nigerians developed loyalty to GLO and to Adenuga. Later Adenuga said that his motivation in business was not to become the richest man in Nigeria but to add value to the life of Nigerians. Just like when he set up Equitorial Trust Bank he said, ï¿½We went into banking because it is a catalyst for economic growth.ï¿½
The beauty of this is, as the business prospered the impact the business created increased. His solution became a visible means of livelihood for himself and his employees. More jobs were created, businesses that have related products or offered services in this line had more opportunities. Adenuga even confessed that at a point he not only became responsible but also accountable to the society that gave him the opportunity and made him succeed.
These series of entrepreneurs have all had their share of successes and failures, their high and low points. Individuals who would have become useful as a result choose rather to sit on the fence of inactivity. They conclude that it is better to avoid the issue than to face the challenges. For example when Mike Adenuga first won a GSM license and established Communication Investment Limited (CSL), the license was revoked under controversial circumstances by the National Communication Commission (NCC) in Nigeria. Still determined Adenuga went on to set up GLOBACOM (GLO), which today is one of Nigeriaï¿½s successful telecommunications companies.
There is no endeavour known to man that does not attract some level of setbacks. One must also realise that becoming an entrepreneur means one has to be prepared to manage and resolve the challenges that will come with it. Careful analogy shows that the general causes of business failure ï¿½ the personality of the entrepreneur, the customers, competition, government policies and natural factors ï¿½ will continue to challenge the very existence of your business. For example the ICT revolution has made competition to be fiercer than ever, customers now have options at their finger tips such that for your business to survive it must be on your customerï¿½s finger.
With particular respect to Nigeria, we will briefly look at some of the prevalent challenges that act as setbacks to the development of entrepreneurship in our country.
A major setback in the development of entrepreneurs in Nigeria is the unstable state of the political environment which directly impacts negatively on the economic policies. For example once the government encouraged the importation of food items. Individuals and cooperative societies went into the importation of rice. Then one morning during the political periods, a ban was placed on the importation of rice ï¿½ only a selected few were given the license to import rice. This came after many had invested so much in the business. Another issue is the provision of supporting infrastructure that could help the business thrive e.g. roads, electricity, rent etc. It is recorded that one of the main items in the social infrastructure agenda is power supply. So much is now spent on provision of diesel and generating sets. It seems the more effort is channeled in this direction, the less the outcome. Also many entrepreneurs have complained that after developing their products, they face the difficult issue of low patronage. The consumers, the society which they develop the product/service for rather prefer foreign made items instead of the locally manufactured ones. Many more exist, but while these challenges froze some businesses it may have spurred others. It may also have given some extraordinary entrepreneurs opportunity to be more creative.
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Difficulties encountered by entrepreneurs in the quest for solutions abound, but challenges are not meant to be seen, they are there to be solved, they are actual opportunities in disguise and the average entrepreneur knows that the more problems you solve, the more relevant you become and the more money you make. So beyond the quest of profit making, the benefits of developing the entrepreneurial mindset is enormous and how best to develop this mindset is to see every challenge as an opportunity to become relevant, to contribute to the development of the society. For example when some young Nigerians discovered that electricity was becoming a major problem in Nigeria, they started building solar panels and today their business ï¿½ Power Green Technology Limited ï¿½ is expanding. When made-in-Nigeria cloths were not gaining the required patronage, some young manufacturers added exceptional finishing to their fabric design. Today it is known nationally as the Ankara material. It is so accepted that most notable women in Nigeria use it for official and formal events. (Mrs. Dora Akunyili-Minister of Information, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru-Oceanic Bank, Mrs. Okonjo Iweala-World Bank).
In recent past, several initiatives by private, public and international organizations have been undertaken to reverse the negative trend associated with social irresponsibility, however, most of these initiatives did not get the desired results because they failed to recognize and streamline the perspective of the most important target group in any society ï¿½ the youth. Youth population represents the future of every society and therefore should be the catalyst steering and informing the course of change and social retransformation. As declared in chapter 25 of Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environmental and Development; ï¿½it is imperative that youth from all parts of the world participate actively in all relevant levels of decision-making process because it affects their lives today and has implications for their future. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilize support, they bring unique perspective that need to be taken into account.ï¿½
Thus to really harness the relationship between the development of entrepreneurship and society, youths must be increasingly informed and integrated in whatever strategy that will be deployed. Youth development can serve as the dominant means of community participation, active citizenship, autonomy and independence. Finding means, political will and the know how to create a billion jobs over the next ten years that not only delivers economic benefits to young people, but also maintain (and even build) the environmental and social wealth, is perhaps one of the most important targets of social entrepreneurship.
Secondly, in August 2004, the International Labour Organization (ILO)as part of its commitment to youth employment released a net global report on youth unemployment. The report found the youth unemployment is at an all time high and HALF the worldï¿½s jobless are between 15 and 24 years of age. This represents 88 million young people without work in 2003. Presently, the world is wasting an important part of the energy and talent of the most educated youth generation the world has ever had. Enlarging the chances of young people to transform themselves from job seekers to job makers or entrepreneurs is absolutely critical to achieving success in any society. Furthermore, fostering entrepreneurship is vital in every part of the world and should be considered a key mechanism for development. Supporting young entrepreneurs in the developing world with;
5. Favourable Policies
6. Encouraging Structures and
7. Networking Platforms
Is a critical pathway to bridging the development divide and fostering the creation of sustainable livelihoods. For example oftentimes young people lack sufficient business management skills and start-up capital. Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs) and training schools, especially in rural areas and urban poor settlements, are essential for creating business supports and opportunities. Youth networks provide a forum for exchange of ideas about common problems and issues facing youth. They also help young people learn what others are doing elsewhere and to see in what way such projects can be implemented elsewhere. Share research and resources, as well as build political will towards creating more opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
Young people are effective leaders of social entrepreneurs. Each community should in consultation with its youths establish a process to promote dialogue between the youth community and the government at all levels, especially to identify urgent social needs that young people can be involved in addressing. Governments, business and NGO can work with young people to identify needs in the community and design and implement education and enterprise development initiatives to see these needs addressed.
For example for 20 years Nigeria continue to wake up to the challenge of the Niger Delta, the militant issue. Different administration of the Nigerian Government resort to various options as solution. Some where killed as in the case of Ken Saro Wiwa in Ogoni Rivers State, while some witnessed outright military action as was the case in Odi, Bayelsa State. Presently, as a better response to this social problem the government resolved to dialogue with the militants, and some arrangements was made, amongst them was amnesty and the empowerment of the militants the government. Quantum Entrepreneurial Development Foundation then proposed to the Nigerian Government and some multinational companies in the area that instead of just giving money to these young men, why not:
1. Train them on a particular skill or trade
2. Train them on the business of managing the skill/trade so that they will see their skill as a solution that people will actually pay for.
3. Start-up support fund in terms of loans managed by MicroFinance Bank. The idea of introducing the Bank is to be able to monitor and recover the loan for other participants.
Today this concept is gaining momentum and the result is encouraging. Not only are these young men engaged, they are now productive and supportive to the development of their society.
To ensure young people are able to contribute effectively to social improvement through social enterprises, teaching on local social issues and other ways of contributing to solving them should be included in school curriculum up to the university level. Training should also be provided to youth interested in initiating community based projects in these areas. For example the Rivers State Ministry of Education in collaboration with some youth powered NGOs established the Young Farmers School Club in some secondary school as a platform for young students in schools to be actively involved in the development of agro-based businesses, encourage sustainable engagement in farming activities.
Young people are the catalyst for change in any county. To effectively appreciate the essence of entrepreneurship in the development of a society, the involvement of youths in developing private enterprises is an absolute necessity.
Project Development Officer
Quantum Entrepreneurial Development Foundation
20 Rumuola Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, Africa