NURTURING AN ENTREPRENEURAL MINDSET- THE PATHWAY TO A NEW NIGERIA by Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili
I was invited to the SADC Enterprise Awards Dinner organised and hosted by the founders of Nigeria’s first and only entrepreneurship NGO, Success Attitude Development Centre.
Dr. Mrs Oby Ezekwesili was the Keynote Speaker and she delivered a paper which content was so instructional, so inspiring and so powerful if implemented that I went to her at the end of the diner and asked her permission for a copy to publish it on my blog, www.KoboStart.com for the benefit of you reading right now.
She graciously agreed to do so, God bless her, and she send it to me the next day.
Against the backdrop of the furore generated by the number of B.Sc., Masters and Ph.D degree wielding certificate holders who applied to become truck drivers for the Dangote Group, this paper explicitly charts a course and provides a solution to the perennial problem of joblessness and entrepreneurship in the country.
As the arguments raged on Twitter yesterday, I was amused at the different opinions and arguments because I had had the privilege of listening to this rare woman and the solutions she had prescribed. I had a copy of her paper.
Now you have the chance the get a copy of it too.
Read it, let it sink in to your soul and use it to change your life andd that of your family.
Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is a blessing tour generation. It’s only a tragedy that the best of us are not involved in how the course of our country is being charted today. We have a chance to chnge this in the coming years.
Before I digress, please here is Dr. Mrs. Ezekwesili’s paper.
Nurturing An Entrepreneural Mindset- The Pathway To A New Nigeria by Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili
What is an entrepreneurial mindset?
It’s a way of thinking and behaving that capitalizes on opportunities by an unusual willingness to take risks and to pursue an idea until it creates value and impact. The core set of ingredients that make up the mindset of an entrepreneur are motivation, determination, passion, untiring work ethic and hunger to succeed. A true entrepreneur has a mindset that shuns mediocrity and would pursue until mediocre becomes remarkable. Although entrepreneurship the process from which an entrepreneur is named is fundamentally associated with business, the art of having an entrepreneurial mind is broader than the circumscribed world of business. A community or nation of people who have the characteristics or ingredient that drives them to reject what President Roosevelt called “a life of ignoble ease” can all be regarded to have an entrepreneurial mindset regardless of the diversity of their professions and vocations.
We know that the major problem of the drift of our nation since our independence is our inability to transform the opportunities that the whole world know we have in abundance to basic improvement in the quality of life of our citizens. The absolute lack of entrepreneurship which is defined as the process of making money, earning profits and increasing wealth through risk taking, management, leadership and innovation in the manner of governance of our nation has cost us thus far the greatness that was hoped of our nation when like many other nations we parted ways with colonialism. Our underperformance as a country and people is directly traceable to our poor choice of mindset. Simply, we have lacked the leadership of the kind that moved a nation like Botswana from a 98% aid dependent economy at independence to one that upon discovering diamond judiciously invested the proceeds to grow itself into one of Africa’s very few upper middle income countries.
The wealth and poverty of nations inexorably depend on their domestic productivity and relative competitiveness. Hence the economic welfare of every citizen can only be guaranteed by nation-states that are governed by people who understand this very basic economic thought. No nation that has developed did so by having leaders who remained complacent in the face of the stark reality of very poor and declining performance of national productivity and competitiveness indices. No nation became great without leaders who have the entrepreneurial mind set.
History is replete with nations that were once great but became complacent or distracted at some point only to be overtaken by nations they previously looked down on. How many people still remember that Argentina’s economy was once highly considered during its most vigorous period, from 1880 to 1905, when its expansion resulted in a 7.5-fold growth in GDP, averaging about 8% annually? One important measure of development, GDP per capita, rose from 35% of the United States average to about 80% during that period. Growth then slowed considerably, though throughout the period from 1890 to 1939, the country’s per capita income was similar to that of France, Germany and Canada. Compare Argentina’s economic performance with those of these countries today and you learn a lesson in how nations, like individuals regress.
Even more instructive is the history of many nations which were several thousands of miles behind others economically but which today are the locomotives that are keeping the global economy from completely running out of steam. No economic discourse is today complete without some perplexed acknowledgement by even the most cynical that China, India and Brazil have indeed come of age and have become the economies most deserving of the respect of all other economies. At another level, many a Nigerian perennially recalls when Singapore, Taiwan (China), South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam were economic contemporaries of our country. Nigerians rue the missed opportunities that made us the laggard nation among these former peers. For each of these countries, the stage was set for commencement of their economic transformation from Low Income Country (LIC) status to Upper Middle Income Country (MIC), MIC or close to MIC respectively by the advent of quality leadership at both their political and public institutions that in turn resulted in high public sector efficiency. At the epicenter of this efficiency was and remains the investment in leadership of the kind that drove a national vision which placed education, intellect, values, reward for only strenuous effort and hard work at the center of their development strategy. Once the public sector was set aright, it freed up the private sector and the rest of society to aspire to perform at their maximum possibilities. This explains why even for the US which is the bastion of capitalism, it was through the instrumentality of its public sector leadership that it used public policy, public investment, and public institutions to set the stage for the world leading economy we all admire.
Productivity and increasingly today, national competitiveness will continue to be the lynchpin to ignite and accelerate the capacity of nations to make economic advancements and play in the big leagues of the global economy. Those economies that consistently improve their efficiency, productivity and competitiveness are the ones that guarantee their citizens progressive improvement in their quality of life. Every government whether rich or poor after all has a universal responsibility which if performed confers it legitimacy not just constitutionally but from the hearts of citizens- and that is that through the leadership of the nation-state, citizens will on a sustainable path enjoy increases in standard of living. In recent years, the concept of competitiveness has emerged as a new paradigm in economic development inferring that increasing national productivity is not enough but the pace of that improvement must surpass that of other nations to avoid losing share of the international markets.
Government, business and citizens- through civic engagement- play different but profoundly complementary and collaborative roles to engender economic productivity and competitiveness. Of the three sectors that interact to crystallize the productivity and competitiveness of nations; namely, government (public sector), business (private sector) and civil society, it is the political class and the public sector leadership that is ultimately most responsible for how well the country performs. The Public sector is made up of these two key layers, the political leaders who are subject to more frequent turnover based on constitutionally-mandated electoral processes that promote democratic competition on the one hand, and the tenure-track civil service of technocrats which have a considerably longer term mandate to manage the bureaucracy that helps translate the vision of the former into concrete deliverables in the form of services to citizens. Hence, whereas the political actors are subject to the electoral test in deriving their legitimacy, the civil or public servants in the wider spectrum that includes not only the ministries and departments of the core civil service but also the agencies or parastatals, derive their legitimacy from a competitive professional process that recruits them on the ground that they are capable of implementing programs and providing efficient and effective services. Usually of course, the political leadership can to a very significant extent determine the quality of the leadership of the technocratic leadership of the public service through the appointments they make regarding the heads of public institutions and the civil service.
Seeing that Government is the sector among the three that holds the strongest levers and the authority to provide the compelling vision around which all other sectors can construct their effective role playing, should the Nigerian citizens not immediately begin to take more than a passing interest in how entry into both the political and public service leadership space is regulated for quality? Effective public sector emerges at all levels of government where there is strong leadership capacity for it at the highest level of political authority. The criticality of the public sector’s role in national vision and strategy formulation, oversight, and implementation compels every nation aspiring to be productive and competitive to endeavor to have strong dynamic leadership of its public space and all its institutions. From the outset, the public sector in its vision setting role must have persons at both political and technocratic levels that can provide clear diagnostic of the problems facing the economy and articulate the compelling vision and solutions that appeal to a broad set of actors who are willing to seek change and implement global standard strategies to keep the nation’s productivity and competitiveness on a never ending race to the top of the global economic ladder. It is the primary responsibility of politicians and bureaucrats to set rules and practices that enable the productivity and efficiency of their national economies and progressive improvement of their country’s social indicators. When public decision makers possess the intellectual competence, the value constructs and the resilient capacity to use public policy, human and financial resources and institutions appropriately they set the stage and enhance the probability that their nation will climb up the league of productive and competitive nations.
The moral of my preamble therefore is that each of those previously contemporaneous economies succeeded while ours failed fundamentally because of the wide variability in the quality of leadership that pursued their nations’ visions compared to ours. Every great performance in life first starts with great ideas. As it is with individuals, so it is with nations. It is in the realm of ideas of that leaders espouse the kind of nation they really want to lead their citizens to build and bequeath to future generations. The Elite of every successful society always forms the nucleus of citizens with the prerequisite education, ethics and capabilities operating in the political sphere and the public service, providing the great ideas to build the nation and possessing the moral rectitude to always act in the public interest. Access to quality Education ensures that the elite group evolves constantly in every society. For as long as nations have public education systems that function, the poorest of their citizens is guaranteed to move up the ladder and someday emerge as a member of the elite class through academic hard work, strenuous effort and ultimate success at the higher levels of education. For every society that has succeeded therefore, it has taken such progressively evolving elite class to identify the problems, forge the political systems and processes, soundly articulate a rallying vision and use sound Public Policies and Prioritization of investments and requisite actions to over time build those strong institutions that outlive the best of charismatic and transformative individuals. But it always does start with quality leadership in the public space investing in a sustained manner for lasting institutions to eventually emerge over time. Institutions do not just happen or emerge in fast food style.
The absence of sustained quality public sector has meant that our private sector which should by now reflect the vibrant entrepreneurial mind that we have among our citizens is anything but deep. We have a private sector which also reflects the state of the public sector- a collection of businesses which mostly thrive not because of creativity and innovation but mostly because of incestuous linkages with a corrupt and inefficient public sector. Other than micro, small and a few medium scale enterprises that thrive despite government, a deep analysis of some of the private sector in our nation will reveal that profit comes not from effort but because of access to the benefits that distortions in public policy confer. Manufacturing and enterprise more broadly has not been sincerely embraced by our political elite whose incentives are warped by a culture of rent seeking behavior. In economics rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth.
Our politics and those who run it have become our albatross. The political system has unfortunately frequently attracted those who do not seek to create any new value but simply desire to be given a share of wealth that is already available. The crowd that makes up our politics needs an entrepreneurial mindset in order to awaken to the reality that our oil dominant economy has not only fallen way behind other economies with less possibilities than us but that the future of the nation is extremely bleak if they do not urgently lead us to the path that diversifies our sources of growth. I am one of those Nigerians that constantly pray that our oil should dry up or that the rapid quest for technologies that offer renewable energy options as alternatives to oil should emerge in order that the lure of oil politics in our nation may cease. Oil is not the route to our greatness. Our human capital is not just a route to our greatness but is in fact our greatness.
For our new Nigeria to emerge therefore we simply need a few good men and women who can lead us away from the pain of the Dutch disease that oil has afflicted our nation with for several decades. For many of the awardees of SADC, it has been by sheer grit that you remained steadfast pursuing your dream to create something of lasting value which today is being celebrated. Yet the fact is that except the kind of values that drove you to accomplish your respective successes are transferred to our public sector and massively scaled up, we will not realize the greatness that has thus far eluded our nation. Our governance has underperformed over several decades because it has been deficit of integrity or what I call character, lacked capacity, lacked competency on a continuing basis. Above all however, it has lacked strategic innovation which is the ability of discovering new things to do – things for which there are no precedents.
Take for example the necessity to solve the biggest threat to our nation which is the vast army of unemployed youths (half of our population are youths between the age of 18-34 and about a conservative estimate of 40% are unemployed). They are joined annually by an average of two million new ones. This is a problem that demands a more aggressive attention than is currently being given to it. I acknowledge that some initiatives like You Win by the government is indicative that government is making an effort, but I caution that this is too little and too tepid the magnitude of the crisis that we have on our hands. We have a major stock and flow problem that cannot be solved with solutions that at best reach less than .001 percent of those daily losing hope and making costly anti-social choices among our youths. The kind of occasional glance that public policy seems to cast at this crisis which reveals our inability to convert our youth bulge to a demographic dividend is an indictment of all of us who have had the opportunity to express our own talents in one form or the other. Governments at all level should immediately declare a national emergency for addressing the worsening state of hopelessness of our young ones who for now see no clear path out poverty. The leadership of the Federal government working with the states and local levels with both the executives and legislature crowding in the collective wisdom of the private sector and the citizens at large would be a signal to young Nigerians that it does matter to their leaders that their talent is lying waste during the most productive season of their lives. We must all collectively avert the looming upheaval that could come from not giving this very angry community of restless mind credible signal that our society cares enough to work collectively take them out from the class that the international Labor organization referred to as a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and persistently high working poverty”.
We need new big and strategic ideas to help resolve this protracted crisis. I suggest that a tracking census of all unemployed youths be launched in Nigeria immediately. Following that, a skills ad competency diagnostic should be administered on these youths and a massive program of diverse modules of entrepreneurship immediately developed and decentralized throughout all communities within Nigeria. As then Minister of Education, we designed a program that I called Tracking Assets for Progress (TAP). It was the response to a diagnostic that we had undertaken in 2006 to trace the graduates of our tertiary institutions over the previous decade. The study led us to a small sample of 120000 graduates of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education who responded within the timeframe of one month we had set for the paper and digitally administered survey. Analysis of their responses showed at that time that over 68% were unemployed, 18% were underemployed and the rest 14% were employed. We analyzed further and discovered that attending certain institutions or studying certain courses increased the probability of joblessness. For example, a person who studied social sciences was five times more likely to not find a job nor create some income activity for themselves. Another example, a person that graduated from some particular universities was six times more likely to be in the jobless group. Following this study, we designed TAP working with top Human Resources specialists and some major private sector companies operating in Nigeria. The one week program sought to identify the attitude and competency gaps that the two fifty that we invited to Abuja for the pilot needed to address in order to equip them with the mindset and skills that are attractive to the labor market or better still that could transform them to self-employed. A diverse range of entrepreneurship training cohorts and knowledge renewal modules were designed and offered. Placement programs with companies, technical/ vocational and innovation enterprise trainings, micro credit schemes with financial institutions, supply chain opportunities with industries and such like were all part of the deliberate program of converting the group to truly the Asset that they are for our country. The next phase of TAP was to then launch a scaled up version that will reach as many of the already teeming unemployed youths at that time. I urge the Federal Government to revisit that initiative as a major complement to all that it is currently doing.
The findings of the study also helped us move forward with some important policy changes to improve the flow problem. For example, our National Universities Commission annual accreditation process was tailored to detect some of the inadequacies that the products of certain institutions revealed, we included entrepreneurship education as a component within the mandatory General Studies (GS) courses in all our universities and we reflected some of the finding in the review of our Basic and Secondary education curricular.
The importance of public policy for supporting businesses to grow better and for new ones to be created is a major plank of economies that have outperformed ours whether in Latin America or Asia. In fact even in the more advanced economies of the United states where 75% of jobs are created not by big business but by the small and medium ones; and also in Europe, governments which have pursued responsible macro-fiscal policies and sincerely carried out structural reforms have helped make their countries low cost environments for the businesses to thrive in the highly competitive global economy. Research shows that new and young firms have been the primary source of new jobs in the United States over the past three decades”. Economists know that entrepreneurship is what drives economies back to health, According to a study, “The Economic Future Just Happened,” challenging economic times can serve as the rebirth of entrepreneurial capitalism, leading to the creation of much-needed new jobs. This should send a giant red flag to policymakers in our country to pull out all the stops to encourage and support business startups so we can create new jobs and sustain a worldwide economic recovery.” I hope some people are listening in this neighborhood.
Yet for a more fundamental change toward a New Nigeria, we must start afresh with our baby generation. It means that we must start afresh and build a new generation of Nigerians that will grow up from age 2-3 and subsequently with such entrepreneurial mindset, we must completely rethink our educational system. Empirical evidence has shown that nations which start off their children very young through kindergarten education to be curious outperform. Children know a lot about being entrepreneurs. Their natural curiosity about the world around them, natural creativity, willingness to take risks, and unbridled enthusiasm add up to the characteristics of our greatest entrepreneurs. By making preschool a part of our education system and reforming all the other six levels and dimensions namely, basic, secondary (including technical and vocational/enterprise), tertiary (especially science and technology education), special needs education and informal/adult education we can transform our population to a huge base of human capital that uses knowledge and innovation to our compete other nations. But we must start now. We must catch our children you and offer everyone regardless of their economic or social status the opportunity of a preschool education. We must design programs that keep the entrepreneurial flame alive in boys and girls, whose inventiveness and drive can actually teach us something about being entrepreneurs.
Now let me congratulate Sunny and Esther Ojeagbese for their integrity and consistency in nurturing entrepreneurship in our nation. Your effort will forever be celebrated by the class of Nigerians who cherish the life of hard work and effort which has built all other nations that our citizens envy. The success attitude you have preached and rewarded over the years is what will transform our nation once leaders and citizens alike can catch your bug. When that happens, the new Nigeria that shall emerge will not only be a tribute to your passion but it will be the best award you could ever have received from all of us who hugely admire your decision to stand out from the maddening crowd of decadent acquisition over the years of your triumphant toil to help build a healthy and productive society.
END OF PAPER
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