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A captured mindset against entrepreneurship in a disrupted economy

We need to reframe our thinking from the fear and/or delusions of grandeur that grip our mental faculties. My Zimbabwean brothers and sisters, we were all sold a dead duck. We were told to go to school, get an educational qualification, preferably a degree, get a job, work hard at work and be promoted to a corner office. A corner office here means a job with generous perks such as a company car, subsidised housing loans, etcetera. There were three main employers: government, parastatals and companies within the big corporatised private sector. It was a formula that was supposed to work for everyone who was focused and worked hard. It did, for some, for a while.

the sunday maverick BY GLORAI NDORO-MKOMBACHOTO

Zimra board chairperson Willia Bonyongwe

This is what we were told. This is what we all grew up believing and still do up to this day. This was and continues to be our Zimbabwean psyche. This narrative was the be all and end all of most reasonable thinking households and this way of thinking was reinforced within all educational institutions we attended. Most of us bought into this narrative hook, line and sinker. It was a one-way street that guaranteed success.

Fast track to 2017, there is blood, sweat and tears in most households. The most disappointed and desperate ones are the most educated, together with their parents. Most parents’ educational investment has come to naught because the ability of government, parastatals and the private sector to create jobs has diminished. We are living in times where our economy has been disrupted by a whole host of factors, including but not restricted to the following; political-choices-dependent economic sanctions, graft, the widespread mismanagement of state resources over the last two decades or so and changes in the general world economy. Zimbabwe has experienced economic decline that has affected virtually all sectors of the economy, resulting in the general inability of the productive, commercial and service sectors to absorb, sustain or create jobs.

We cannot all be decision-makers in government and as a result, even if we had the knowledge, the entry points through which we can meaningfully influence for the creation of a viable macroeconomic policy are closed to us. We are a resource-rich country, but a selected few have access to them. Be that as it may, all of us are blessed with the gift of choice. Whatever environment we are presented with, we can choose how to respond to it. We can choose to take the low or the high road. Choice is the one thing in our hands and the one thing within our sphere of influence. Good or bad, thriving or mediocre, how we respond to the market conditions impacting us can make or break us. Our choices are informed by our values, those we spend time with and of course, the education we acquired or did not. The “old” mental mode we were socialised into has not changed for many among us. Yet the economic and business market environment has been disrupted around us, rendering the education we have inadequate to deal with the current realities on the ground. Our readiness and preparedness to adapt to a fast-changing environment is low because in most cases, it is the diplomas and degrees we acquired that are holding us back.

By education, I mean a basket of conscious and unconscious interventions that influences our thinking and ultimately our actions. This includes our socialisation at household level, in our neighbourhoods and communities, the schools we attended, the nature of the educational system that groomed us at all levels from kindergarten to tertiary and the general thinking of those we spend our time with at home, work and play.

Our educational system — past, present and planned — lacks the capacity for us to adapt in disrupted environments like Zimbabwe. In many economies the world over, market disruptions, typically characterised by rapid and large market declines, have become a constant. Disruption is the new normal. Disruption is therefore not unique to Zimbabwe alone. The causal factors for disruption might vary from one economy to the other, but it remains a disrupted environment all the same.

But with every market disruption, new opportunities arise. Entrepreneurs see a disrupted environment alive with possibilities to harness new technologies and creating new innovative business models while also cleverly exploiting old technologies in new ways. Our educational system trained us to take pride in the maintenance of business models developed by others, while lacking the hard wire or competences to improve on it. Granted, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but the “large corporate employee (LCE) mentality ” has been one of the biggest impediments in our economic recovery. It is a mentality that is devoid of and stifles creativity, innovation and the capacity to adapt.

It is a mentality that expects everything to be in place. It is a mentality of entitlement. It is a mentality with blinkers that fears change and will not venture into unchartered waters. Our children coming out of high school and tertiary institutions are gripped by this LCE mentality because it was handed down to them as heirlooms through socialisation.

“Disruptive innovation” is a term coined by Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School, in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Christensen used the term to describe, among other things, innovations that create new markets by discovering new categories of customers. Take Airbnb, for example; it is successfully competing in worldwide markets including Zimbabwe under the nose of the hawk-eyed Zimbabwe Tourism Authority who are at a loss of how to respond to this new business model. Old competitors like the Rainbow Tourist Group, African Sun Cresta Hotels, with their asset-heavy business models, are unable to compete as they watch a share of their market being nibbled at slowly and deliberately. I do not want to digress. I shall be writing about disruptive industries in the next couple of weeks.

What I am saying is, the “old school” educational system narrative entrenched in our psyche, an attitude where a broke brother with a Ph.D is respected socially more than a cash-rich, financially viable sister running a thriving tuckshop at Magaba. This antiquated mental mode is not serving the youth who are Zimbabwe’s future well. We are escalating our commitment to the wrong path to the extent that 37 years after independence, we now have more universities churning out more graduates with little to no usable employment value and many taking their turn to join the unemployment queue.

Unemployment among the youth continues to be a major challenge in Zimbabwe today. Young people are the hardest hit, with the 2012 Population Census data indicating that “the youth aged 15-34 years constitute 84% of the unemployed population and those aged 15-24 years constitute 55%.” The Zimstats statistics also show “the highest concentration of 31% of the unemployed is between the ages of 20 and 24 years with female youth showing the highest vulnerability in a country where women represent the majority in the country.”

This situation is made worse by the fact that every year, schools are churning out almost 300 000 school leavers when the formal economy is only able to absorb about 10% of that number.

Of the youth joining the labour market every year, it appears that a substantial number of them have secondary school qualifications, namely O’ and A’ level passes. If the majority are exiting the educational system after high school, it goes without saying that they ought to be equipped in some way with entrepreneurial skills that would allow them to create jobs for themselves. Unfortunately, despite the informalisation of the Zimbabwean economy, educational curriculum continues to be starved of the much needed entrepreneurial development skills.

When I was in my teens in the mid 1970s, entrepreneurship was openly scorned. Having a steady job, which you held for life till you got to pensionable age was the ethos. This kind of thinking is still prevalent today. The challenge is, there are no jobs.

Many a time when I was younger, I eavesdropped in many adult conversations at and away from home where entrepreneurial families the likes of the Matambanadzos, Mwayeras, Ruredzos, Machipisas, Mucheches were regarded with reservation because entrepreneurship was perceived to be a preserve of drop outs from the school system.

The fact that they started and operated profitable enterprises that created employment for their families and many others, was irrelevant. The general belief was, going into business was for folk that had run out of options.

Yes, indeed education gives you options. To some it does; to many, it causes analysis paralysis — that process of getting caught up in the extensive analysis of the benefits and concerns of taking a particular course of action and because of the magnitude of the perceived concerns, one ends up doing nothing!

Like India, Zimbabwe needs to cultivate a culture of idea generation and innovation. We must openly embrace enterprise development as a key area of our economy with the potential to galvanise us out of our current quagmire. Government needs to consult key stakeholders with a view to finding spaces where entrepreneurship can be institutionalised. Unfortunately, politicians often talk with forked tongues.

There appears to be no visible political will or commitment. This is because of the politicians’ jaundiced belief that when some citizens succeed in their businesses, they will amass enough financial muscle to start and fund their own political parties.

So entrepreneurial development interventions are rolled out half-heartedly, or are championed by bureaucratic officials with a LCE mentality who have never sold anything to anyone. The collapse of the private sector and the rise of the fragmented informal sector must not come to us a surprise. But then again, if that is where the economy is ticking, right here and right now, this in itself is a disruption that Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has been ill-equipped to adapt to so that they could collect the much-needed revenue from that informal sector.

Marks and Spencer (M&S), a UK global chain store started off as a cottage industry stall in a market in Leeds. Although M&S is now a global giant, their market stall in Leeds is still opened. These are humble beginnings we must borrow from.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, yet here in Zimbabwe, our very own educational system continues to blind us into failure to see the business opportunities currently hidden in plain sight. In a social media rant, Tinashe Murapata a micro financier of small and medium sized (SMEs) wrote, “…People have no idea what entrepreneurship is. More disappointing the idea of SMEs is lost on all. Industrialisation began as cottage industries. In Britain’s homes, a factory of one became an industry of millions. Today, most people in America work and live off SMEs”.

He continued, “…in Gazaland in Highfield Township, a welder started making scotchcarts for cotton farmers… For over 40 years, this was his trade. A trade that gave him a home and sent his kids to private schools. He never had debt.

Today, almost every private school kid is debt financed. When people think of business, they think of big business…However, this is far from reality. Most SMEs don’t have a bank account. They are not qualified to be registered by Zimra.

They pay their municipal rates and VAT. They are licensed. Most importantly, they get on with their lives. They must feed their families.” We have the ministry of SMEs tasked with the responsibility, among others, of creating an enabling environment for SMEs to thrive. On the ground, many would-be entrepreneurs have never heard of this ministry.

We must refuse to have a captured mindset against entrepreneurship. Many of us, armed with the once revered Zimbabwean educational qualifications and waiting to get the elusive job, are proud, flat broke and failing to feed and educate our lot today.

Some from among us are fast belonging to a generation failing to educate our own, in essence creating a lost generation, who a few decades from now on, will be throwing stones and burning everything in sight, like they do in South Africa, because all the entry points into gainful participation in the economy will be inaccessible to them as a result of illiteracy and lack of skills.
Need I say more.

Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at totemshumba@gmail.com

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