Mainstreaming Entrepreneurship Education in African Universities

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Students at a computer lab in Sudan. Photo by Albert González Farran – UNAMID, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

In a recent piece, Steven R. Koltai evaluates the potential for entrepreneurship to create jobs and discourage extremism, and concludes that “the time has come — with urgency and terror — for entrepreneurship to be recast as a pillar of foreign policy.” Similarly, I’ve previously argued that because entrepreneurship creates jobs, provides self-employment, and develops a sense of self-agency and optimism about the future, it can be part of the solution to violent extremism.

Using entrepreneurship to tackle the drivers of violent extremism requires reaching the many thousands of young people who need employment and a sense of optimism. One key way of doing so will be integrating entrepreneurship training for young people into university curricula. Development agencies like the World Bank recommend, among other efforts, targeted entrepreneurship programs as a way to curb unemployment. These programs are very efficient, but their coverage is limited to a tiny portion of the eligible population. Meanwhile, public education (provided at taxpayer expense) in regular university curricula focuses primarily on making students ready for jobs in the public sector, not in the private sector. That must change. To scale up entrepreneurship education effectively, it must be mainstreamed into universities, not restricted to a handful of effective but limited programs.

In this post, I examine mainstreaming education, and how programs instituted at my organization, the Jesuit University Institute at the Center for Research and Action for Peace (CERAP), in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, provide one possible model. Two things make the two programs discussed below quite unique: the undergraduate program turns young people from different concentrations in to solutions providers for social issues, while like most MBA programs, the graduate MBA program trains students for the private sector, but as job creators, not job seekers. These two entrepreneurship programs from CERAP — the MBA in Entrepreneurship program and the Young Entrepreneurs’ Link Office (YELO) for undergraduates — have both seen success and offer a guide to mainstreaming entrepreneurship education at the university level.

Mainstreaming Entrepreneurship Education

Mainstreaming entrepreneurship education means ensuring that it is required or available as an elective course in education curricula in Côte d’Ivoire. Interview data gathered in Abidjan during the summer of 2015 showed that students who benefit from an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, meaning those who have access not just to classes, but internships, mentorship, seed funding and more, were 50 percent more likely to choose to become entrepreneurs. An entrepreneurship module could be coupled with an internship requirement or an assignment to carry out an independent school project. In the first case, students work on a project of their choice during the entrepreneurship module and then do an internship in the same topic afterwards. In the latter case, students work on a project during the entrepreneurship module and then implement their project afterwards. The advantage of an education paired with hands-on projects and experience is that students have the chance to test their entrepreneurial spirit and decide whether they could succeed as an entrepreneur.

Even for those that don’t, entrepreneurship training can be beneficial. An “intrapreneur” is a person with the authority and responsibility to innovate and develop new products or services within a large company. Intrapreneurs are employees, not self-employed business creators, but like entrepreneurs, they utilize innovation and an alertness to new business opportunities in their jobs. Given that enterprises need to innovate to succeed and thrive, entrepreneurship training can help intrapreneurs be innovators and value-creators within their workplaces, and help companies create jobs and profits.

The Young Entrepreneurs Link Office and the MBA in Entrepreneurship at CERAP

In 2015, CERAP launched two programs to mainstream entrepreneurship training in higher education: one for undergraduates and one for graduates.

The first is the Young Entrepreneurs’ Link Office (YELO) which consists of a 40-hour optional course on the basics of entrepreneurship, including understanding the different elements of a business canvas and preparing a business plan. During the first term of the YELO, 33 students from different concentrations gathered into 12 different groups and prepared projects on their areas of interest, ranging from agribusiness to ICT to social services. The MTN Foundation, which supports education in Côte d’Ivoire, agreed to fund the students’ projects over two years.1 The program is ongoing, but positive results are already clear. Students have found success in developing solutions to real-life problems, including the use of mobile banking for household purchases, emergency-preparedness applications, and more. On August 3rd, the YELO project received the competitive 2016 “Evaluation d’Or” excellence prize from the Ivorian Initiative for Evaluation, an Ivoirian NGO.

CERAP’s second entrepreneurship education project is an MBA in entrepreneurship, implemented in partnership with the business school of the Catholic University of Milan. The MBA in entrepreneurship provides executive entrepreneurial training. To be admitted to the program, a student must either have an idea to turn into a business or already own a business. Given that, the MBA program has a dual goal of helping build entrepreneurial capacity to turn business ideas into business opportunity and helping business owners ensure the growth of their companies.

The Young Entrepreneurs’ Link Office and the MBA in entrepreneurship programs at CERAP show that mainstreaming entrepreneurship education is possible. The exact nature of the program should depend on the students and the different facets of higher education, with optional and mandatory courses depending on the concentration of the curriculum. As CERAP’s programs develop and expand, the results will confirm their appropriateness and portend the spirit of “éduquer autrement“2 in Côte d’Ivoire.

Francois Pazisnewende Kaboré, Ph.D. was a Southern Voices Network scholar at the Wilson Center from May to July 2016. He is the Director of the Jesuit University Institute at the Center for Research and Action for Peace (CERAP), a member organization of the Southern Voices Network.

1 Remise des prix suite au concours YELO finance par la Fondation MTN: http://cerap-inades.org/node/294

2 “To educate differently”

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