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From Strathclyde to South Africa: sharing useful learning with the world

By Peter Nimmo - Posted on 8 November 2013

Third-year undergraduate, Peter Nimmo, looks at his time spent promoting entrepreneurship in South African townships to ask; how can we encourage “useful learning” at home and further afield…

From the squatter towns of Johannesburg to the townships in Natal, back to the family owned jewellery stand in Glasgow’s Buchannan Galleries – no matter where we go in life, business is everywhere! A 65-year-old lady who beats the sunrise to prepare her bread to sell to morning commuters or a student who has a weekend retail job – whose skills and experience are more relevant to contribute to the culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa?

The answer is both. Both the local entrepreneur and the student can work in tandem to understand the context of rural South Africa, the realities of start-ups, and engage and facilitate community members to reach for their own success. Business education in a developing country is not something revolutionary; in fact our very own David Livingstone promoted it!

During my time at Strathclyde Business School, I’ve been privileged to enjoy summers in South Africa working with the Phakamani Foundation. When you see people in poverty eager to learn, experience and grow, one question springs to mind – How can I use my education and experience to engage others and inspire them in spite of poverty?

With the help of passionate lecturers, I’ve also relished the opportunity to explore what International Development means in the context of business education.

Between June and August this year, I was able to put theory to the test while carrying out my dissertation fieldwork by taking part in a pilot project to promote entrepreneurship in the rural community of Mpumalanga, to the east of Johannesburg.

The project, a partnership between Strathclyde University and student-run Strathclyde International Development, consisted of five parts:

Take 20 teenage orphans and ‘workshop’ them to a point where 3 groups develop credible and unique business ideas.

Take the young people out of their comfort zones, by getting them to write business plans, present their business ideas and then endure a ‘Dragons Den’ inspired series of questions in return for seed capital.

  1. Visit the young people once or twice a week to give support and guidance for ‘on the ground’ issues, and to check progress.
  2. Provide support and guidance to each group to complete a comprehensive and reflective end of project report.
  3. Observe the impact on self-belief and motivation! It is truly outstanding to have young people engage with each other in their own businesses.

Not only did the project seek to encourage people to think about starting a small or even micro business as a vehicle out of poverty, but also aimed to give people in South Africa’s township the confidence to try new things; develop selling, management and other business skills and encourage participants to make themselves more employable.

As well as children from local high schools, there also was an older group of existing business owners and would-be entrepreneurs, who engaged in the workshops. The last of the workshop groups were in primary school and these sessions were based around marketing and advertising in a bid to help them with their own small playground tuck-shops.

With this in mind, one other aspect of the project involved a microfinance institution where staff training resources were developed. The principle aim: to make more successful clients from better-informed and trained staff.

We identified opportunities to get involved in the training of enterprise skills,  and attempted to improve educational resources by rolling out parts of the business school’s own management development programme (MDP), though E-learning.

If my experience this year has taught me anything it’s that, regardless of location or differences in culture, education has a vital role to play in development. 200 years after the birth of Dr Livingstone, it’s also been great to be a part of the continued cultural exchange between Scotland and South Africa he pioneered, this time facilitating the country’s micro-entrepreneurs.

I hope many more Strathclyde Business School students have the change to forge these international relationships and encourage “useful learning” farther afield.

Is encouraging entrepreneurship the key the development? Can it help people take themselves out of poverty? Let us know your comments below…

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