African child: Problems of this continent are your opportunities to innovate, profit and thrive

Although the African continent is plagued by many challenges, such as basic healthcare, food and water security as well as exponentially high unemployment rates, massive opportunities lie in the midst of these problems. Ms Refilwe Mogale, a doctoral candidate in Chemistry at the University of the Free State and Co-Convener of the Studentpreneurship Community of Practice, said on Monday.

Welcoming her peers at the Studentpreneurship session – ahead of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme (EDHE) Lekgotla 2020, Mogale said Africa's problems present enormous opportunities for youngsters to innovate and find solutions. "We are the ones who live through these problems and, therefore, we understand them the most."

She added, however, that institutions of higher learning need to play their role in unleashing youth potential to solve Africa's problems. With the world economies so severely disrupted by COVID-19 and youth unemployment reaching an all-time high, there was no better time than now for universities to promote entrepreneurship vigorously – as a viable career option. "..Not through just talking, but by facilitating actual business opportunities through policy changes, skills development and providing technical support...," Mogale emphasised. She said students need solid support from their institutions; support that extends beyond speaking at conferences, and that thrusts them to action. "The university environment is the perfect place to birth incredible entrepreneurs, because it harbours innovations and ideas. Universities also have vast networks of industry experts as well as technical and financial resources."

"As students, we are not only capable but willing to solve our country's most pressing problems," Ms Refilwe Mogale says. "But we need a supportive environment that enables us to thrive."
Ms Refilwe Mogale
"As students, we are not only capable but willing to solve our country's most pressing problems," Ms Refilwe Mogale says. "But we need a supportive environment that enables us to thrive."

A proven entrepreneur in her own right, Mogale, Founder of a construction enterprise trading as Ahang Amalgamate Construction, said students are not only capable; they are also willing "to provide solutions for our most pressing problems. We just need a conducive environment that will allow us to thrive."

She concluded by expressing a vote of gratitude to her own institution, the University of the Free State, "for the support that you have shown me, both academically as well as in my entrepreneurship journey."

Entrepreneurship is the answer to Africa's problems

According to the United Nations, Africa is a young continent, with 65% of the population below the age of 35.

Dr Stephen Oluwatobi, Curator, Head of the Hebron Start-up Lab and Lecturer at Covenant University's Centre for Entrepreneurship Development Studies in Nigeria, said 40% of Africa's young people are unemployed.

"What are we doing about it?" Dr Oluwatobi challenged the 600-strong audience, during his keynote address on Monday.

He said if Google was founded by a group of students at Stanford University, and if Bill Gates could start Microsoft from his formative university years, "this is possible in Africa." All that this continent needed, Dr Oluwatobi said, was to mainstream entrepreneurship as a factor of production, in which four factors are central: land, people, capital and knowledge. He said unless Africa put the knowledge economy to good use, there could never be an employer. "Without an employer there is no employment, no employee; no problem solver and no one to create prosperity." He added that the staggering unemployment levels on the African continent suggest that entrepreneurs are in short supply.

Dr Stephen Oluwatobi
"We need to transform our young population to become an asset that creates national wealth," said Dr Stephen Oluwatobi, Keynote Speaker during Monday's Studentpreneurship session and Lecturer at Covenant University's Centre for Entrepreneurship Development Studies in Nigeria.

Echoing our very own Mogale's sentiment, Dr Oluwatobi said opportunities can be created from the African problem. If solving societal problems is the best approach to creating wealth, he asked why foreigners from other continents were settling in Africa to solve local problems and generate profits which they send back to their countries, while Africa watched. He also asked why Africa still imports more than it exports products.

He reiterated that universities, as providers of formal education, are the starting point in generating entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurs need more than technical skills to succeed. They also need to acquire an ability to lead, to initiate, to analyse and solve problems. Most of all, an entrepreneur needs to desire to become the most that one can be.

In conclusion, Dr Oluwatobi challenged universities to re-think the matrix by which universities measure the value of higher education. "Should it be the number of graduates we generate, when we do not know where they end up, or should it be about how many students are creating jobs by the time they graduate?"

We need to shift ownership of SA's economy and place it in young hands

Professor Ahmed Bawa, who also spoke during the Studentpreneurship opening session, explained that the EDHE programme was a partnership between the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) through its Universities Capacity Development Programme (UCDP). He said the purpose of EDHE was to shift ownership of South Africa's economy, now still in the hands of large enterprises, and to enable ordinary young people to actively drive the economy. He said now that the world is at a cusp of a huge explosion of technologies, "we are also looking to see how those can be deployed to form a basis for entrepreneurship."

He said universities stood to succeed in this endeavour, if they collaborate across disciplines, so as to draw from a broad knowledge platform to think entrepreneurially. "Whether studying science, physics, it is important to read up on social sciences and vice versa – so as to grasp knowledge as an integrated body. That is at the heart of entrepreneurship." He also urged students to interweave theory and practice. He said disciplines such as Engineering required students to combine theory and practice. "We need to, in all disciplines, bring about an interface between the two."

Also pointing out that not all learning happens in lecture theatres, Professor Bawa emphasised the importance of opening up to learn from real life – what he termed the second curriculum – to broaden one's thinking.

The USAf CEO said as students increasingly showed signs of embracing the entrepreneurship movement, universities need to confront head-on, the real challenge of corruption in South Africa. "As we produce this new generation we need to interweave into it, sound ethical thinking and behaviour."

Prof Ahmed Bawa
"As we produce this new generation of entrepreneurs we need to interweave into it, sound ethical thinking and behaviour," Prof Ahmed Bawa, CEO at USAf, said.

DHET to continue supporting EDHE for another three years

Ms Mandisa Cakwe
Ms Mandisa Cakwe says subject to funding availability, UCDP is happy to continue to support the EDHE programme for a second three-year cycle.

Ms Mandisa Cakwe, Director: University Capacity Development responsible for the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP), represented the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the main partner of the EDHE programme. She was setting the stage for the Studentpreneurship session on Monday.

Commending USAf for the excellent execution of this programme, she said the Department was happy to continue with the USAf partnership and was committed to continued support in the second UCDP cycle from 2021 to 2023, subject to funding availability. The second phase would continue:

  • To ensure that every student and graduate is equipped to participate in the economy; and
  • To support the development of universities as ecosystems for entrepreneurship and innovation, that would nurture the readiness of students to take up their place in the world of work through entrepreneurial action.

Ms Mandisa Cakwe says subject to funding availability, UCDP is happy to continue to support the EDHE programme for a second three-year cycle.

The UCDP's strategic thrust is to grow a successful and transformed university system by supporting programmes aimed at student, staff and curriculum development.

Cakwe said successful development of enterprising students rested on the students' ability to strike a balance between their academic work and their budding enterprises; on lecturers' ability to balance teaching, research and curriculum responsibilities and on a curriculum that fosters effective entrepreneurship education and development and that is able to produce job creators for graduates.

Towards bolstering the EDHE programme further, the Director: University Capacity Development encouraged the EDHE team to continue to strengthen international collaborations, as is visible in the way it structured the 2020 annual Lekgotla. She advocated for a formation of an inter-governmental structure involving economically-inclined other departments – such as Trade and Industry. She urged for strong leadership and solid champions for entrepreneurship in universities as well as support from corporate South Africa.

UWC Choir
UWC Choir
The annual EDHE Lekgotla audience are enjoying student entertainment at this virtual event as much as they do at contact conferences. Here the University of the Western Cape's virtual ensemble treated the audience to "Stay at home," a song carrying a fitting message of the 2020 national lockdown.

On Monday, studentpreneurs also heard a compelling testimony from a female entrepreneur--about how formal university education has made her the business woman she has become today. We will share more of that story on this platform, in due course.

The 600-strong audience during Monday's session predominantly comprised studentpreneurs from South Africa's 26 public universities and from further afield on the continent.

The EDHE Lekgotla 2020, which continues till Friday, is being live-streamed on the Whova App. Registration remains open via www.edhe.co.za.

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