WHILE growing up, I remember a commercial by an insurance company that was often aired on the local TV station.
The commercial showed a group of children who each had goals for their future. As would be expected, the usual roll was called out.
The roll that included doctor, engineer, pilot and as the commercial wound down it featured the punch line of one boy who wanted to be like his father.
In that commercial I never heard once the phrase that one of the children would have wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Many a time, becoming an entrepreneur is often thought of as a profession of last resort; something that you do when all else has failed.
For sure, entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted. But then again, ‘faint hearts never won a fair lady’.
Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs had to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. It is ever so much easier to sit and wait for a job to come knocking at our doors.
It is in times like this that I remember something that was said by General Colin Powell. In his famous presentation, ‘18 Rules of Command’ he said that as a leader one has to keep looking below surface appearances, that one should never accept the attitude that ‘if it ain’t broke then there is no need to fix it’.
In today’s world, with the rate of change being faster than ever before, it is likely that sooner or later our jobs are going to become obsolete. So, what is one to do in the face of these trends?
It is easy to say that what one needs is to acquire more education, to enrol in night school so as to retain the competitive edge.
However when one looks at data on the kind of people who have been affected by company lay-offs, it reveals a slightly different perception.
It turns out that even those with very high qualifications are also losing their jobs. For too long, college degrees have been seen as security in a changing job market.
It now turns out that they are no longer what they were once cut out to be. One town in the good ol’ USA has been laying off its MBAs and advertising for more truck drivers.
So what is someone in school supposed to make out of all of this? Does it mean that it no longer matters whether one studies or not? Not really.
Why? Well here is an example. In the more arid plains of Africa, there is to be found a very adaptive animal called the gerenuk.
The gerenuk lives in areas that a lot of other animals would find quite inhospitable. One would imagine that it would have an insatiable thirst.
However the gerenuk has been able to adapt to such harsh areas. Rather than look for water, it has developed the amazing capacity to extract water from the leaves of trees.
In the wilds of Africa, there is little opportunity for the conventional eight glasses. Still the gerenuk is able to while away the days of its life in these harsh and inhospitable areas.
Recent global economic data does show that the international financial system is threatened with collapse. Countries in Europe such as Iceland and Ireland have had to put in place strong measures to save their banking systems.
The United States has basically nationalized major banks in everything but name, ditto the United Kingdom. So what will that mean for us in Africa?
It would mean that we will see decreased revenues from our traditional export commodities. That may mean that we will also have to deal with more company lay-offs, or pay cuts.
So, the emphasis now should be on equipping students with the entrepreneurship mentality to avoid future handicaps.
To extend the metaphor, it will mean that rather than wait for water to come in the form of eight glasses, we should also be prepared to extract it from leaves, ‘a la the gerenuk!’
By the time a child sits for his basic education certificate he should be equipped with the skills needed to start and run his own business, or at least employ himself.
Albert Einstein was right when he said, that in the midst of difficulty lies opportunity. Since the difficulties are about to reach our soil, it is time to prepare the future of Rwanda for them.
Words by John Weru,
Principal, Virunga Communication Centre,