At the moment, entrepreneurship is a buzz word all across the globe. It is being viewed as a means to reduce poverty and a tool to include more women and youths in the formal economy. In many countries, Rwanda included, the focus is on small and medium sized enterprises. That is, businesses which employ less than 250 persons. Data shows that using entrepreneurship as a tool for development is a successful strategy. The number of persons who have moved above the poverty line has increased like never before. The middle class in many nations on this continent is growing. But the question begs to be asked, is the trend sustainable?
According to the World Economic Forum, many African nations stand as examples of the success of entrepreneurship as a development strategy. In an article from August 2015, they highlight that in the midst of the global recession, the continent, as a whole, managed to grow. The region, minus the oil producing nations and those recovering from the Arab Spring, saw Real GDP growth of approximately 4.4 per cent per year between 2010 and 2015. “There is something unique about what is happening on the continent now. This time, the heart of the story is the boom in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Today, these small and growing businesses create around 80 per cent of the region’s employment, establishing a new middle class and fuelling demand for new goods and services.”
These reviews and numbers provide a sense of hope and a feeling of success. The so-called dark continent is on the move and is growing at rates higher than that of North America and Europe. The question now is how can this progress be secured for generations to come. We know there is need for stable governments, for less corruption as well as access to seed funds, inter alia. Ongoing work is taking place to change the culture of corruption and to secure good governance practices. While it may seem like an uphill task to ensure that leaders govern countries with the people over themselves in mind we see change taking place. Rwanda stands as a beacon of what can be. The situation in The Gambia showed that people are ready for change and that regional bodies are willing to act.
Besides issues of governance and corruption, education is an important factor. Not just education and training as relates to entrepreneurship. But education of the population to international standards. Without a proper education system the region will not be able to sustain or move beyond its current success.
Strengthening the system of education
The ability of an individual to think and to act rests not on whether he or she has a university degree. It rests on that individual’s ability to think critically. How many countries in the region are producing graduates with top-notch critical thinking capabilities? When the ‘entrepreneurial bubble’ bursts, as it will, those left standing will be the ones who have strong abilities to wade through precarious times. Governments should not celebrate the success of this period without examining every possible way to improve its education systems.
Are the majority of education funds being put to early childhood years while ignoring middle and secondary years?
Are classrooms properly equipped? To what standard are teachers trained?
Can the majority of high school graduates stand on the international platform and feel up to par with their peers?
Survival and sustainability of the boom rests on honest reflection and forward planning. The gains made in many countries have provided a way forward. Many individuals are now out of poverty. But what next? Until the necessary actions are taken to overhaul education systems in the region, this success is temporary. The region’s future depends on a strong base to continue to grow.
The writer is a development consultant as well as owner and operator of Forrest Jackson Relocation Services.