Entrepreneurs, defined in the business world as people willing to initiate action to develop a new product line or a unique kind of service, are the true engine of growth in any economy. This initiative-driven sense of purpose to cross new boundaries in the world of business is what has made a difference to formerly backward economies and societies such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and a few others in southeast Asia which have been transformed within a generation or two into the “Asian Tigers.”
Today, China and India are succeeding Japan and the United States, resulting in seven and five per cent annual economic growth rates, even as the major western economies can do no better than one per cent at best, if not the decline now being experienced by several European countries.
This is the context in which the recent recognition and rewarding of three young entrepreneurs in a programme sponsored by the Youth Business of Trinidad and Tobago and Digicel should be seen. The three young people won the competition by developing projects which make a departure from the ordinary and have the potential to be viable business operations, given the right kind of startup and management.
The vital importance of the initiative of these young people comes in an economic environment at present lacking in dynamism and in new ideas for products and services which could not only capture the attention of the local market, but which have the potential to gain the interest of consumers in foreign markets.
It is the kind of entrepreneurship which has been absent over the decades from Caribbean economies, even those seeking desperately to achieve diversification away from dependence on traditional crops and from the mining of raw materials for export. The willingness of the young entrepreneurs to innovate is the initiative that will generate the energy to encourage other young business people to be brave enough to take on the world.
This involvement of corporate citizens in stimulating their creative energies must spread to many other corporations. One way is to establish core creative units made up of young enterprising minds to foster the growth of ideas. It would be useful, too, for financial institutions, which depend on investing in new products and services for the market, to set aside funds for new initiatives which require a higher level of risk-taking than lending for trading purposes.
Such a programme would not be novel for the financial institutions, as many of them have experimented in this manner and may still have them in their organisation structure. However, whether the finance houses place sufficient emphasis on and funding towards such initiative-led programmes is another question.
But the growing of dynamic entrepreneurship also requires seeding and nurturing in the education system, from the primary to the tertiary levels. There has been much commentary over the decades on the problems in the education curriculum.
One of those comments is the need for greater relevance between what is taught and nurtured in the system and what is needed in the economy and society. Fostering entrepreneurship — which is very different from teaching the principles of business and accounting–must be an urgent and explicit requirement if the economy and society are to be transformed.
The financial institutions, said to contain hundreds of millions of dollars and yet unable to persuade investors to borrow for new ventures, have a direct interest in seeking out creative young people with ideas. There may now be scores of young people, disenchanted with their traditional grammar school-type education, who would blossom in an environment requiring creativity and entrepreneurship. Not only the winners of this competition but also their sponsors should be congratulated for their vision.
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