Richard Lucas September 2014
I talked to two schools in Krakow today about them getting involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week this year. Both seem positive, and while preparing materials about the project and movement, I came across this article I wrote in 2008 for the Winchester College Alumni Magazine (they never published it but that’s another story). Winchester College is one of the oldest and most famous schools in the UK I attended many years ago, and has a reputation for being elite and elitist (a topic I’m happy to discuss with anyone who is interested). (Since then in 2014 with another old boy – Ed Neale – we are setting up an Winchester College Entrepreneurs Society – Wintrepreneurs. . (Here are photos of a possibly the youngest ever school visit to a company in Poland). Clearly the article is targeted at alumni (OWs) and “Win Coll” refers of course to Winchester College, but I still stand by every word I wrote
It has grown from the British idea of an “Enterprise Week” to encourage young people to acquire the confidence, skills and ambition to be more enterprising over the last four years. In the words of Gordon Brown ““Together we can encourage young people to realize and unlock their talents…to bridge the gap between what we are, and what we have it in ourselves to become”
Poland (where I’ve lived since 1991) participated in GEW for the first time in 2008 where I was on the Honorary Committee. I had had no experience of GEW, but have been involved in school business links since 1989 and welcomed the chance to get involved on a wider scale than simply hosting school visits to companies to which I am connected or visiting schools and universities to give talks and conduct workshops. This article is to explain the goals and justification, why it is important and most importantly is a call to action to encourage other OWs to get involved..
Why bother ?
It might seem to some that encouraging young people to take the initiative, be active, dynamic and enterprising is so obviously worthwhile that this question doesn’t need answering.
I don’t agree for several reasons
1 Not everyone thinks that introducing school children to the world of business is a good idea. An Israeli American head of an NGO in Cracow commented “so guys like you who are busy raping the planet are now trying to brainwash the next generation” when I asked him if he could host a school visit as part of the GEW. Although half in jest, underlying this reaction is a widespread “anti-business” culture that has deep roots. Clearly not all business is good for all stakeholders. From my perspective this creates a bigger need for positive examples of good business practice to promote themselves to young people.
- Although it’s obvious to me, having spent most of my adult life in countries who suffered much from socialist ideology, not everyone understands the importance of individual initiative in human progress. It’s important for those who are active members of society to take up a leadership role and be available to challenge stereotypes through direct contact with children. Stefan Theil of Newsweek has extensively researched anti-business attitudes in many countries’ school textbooks, and it is not uncommon for big corporations to be portrayed as automatically bad. Especially now, in the midst of a severe economic downturn, those who believe in free markets, private property, personal responsibility and individual freedom, need to get “out there” and be seen and heard.
- Apart from the long term benefits in terms of wealth and employment creation that greater levels of initiative leads to, there are wider social benefits of active citizenship. If children see that they too can make a difference to their own lives and to the community in which they live through their own efforts, by meeting people who have done precisely that, then “making a difference” ceases to be an idealistic slogan, and instead becomes an achievable goal. Beyond the “social good” it can be fun and is certainly challenging. Giving a talk (in Polish) to 200 Polish school 8-12 year olds at 8 am about why self employment is a career choice they should consider is one of the more stressful things I did last autumn and I don’t regret it. It’s good to push yourself.
- In the context of supporting GEW in Poland, I’ve met and worked with business and political leaders operating at a much higher level than I do in my day to day life. It is a way to extend your range of contacts, if you care about this sort of thing.
Entrepreneurship is at the heart of human progress and is not a politically divisive issue. Jesse Norman, of Policy Exchange, has just published Compassionate Economics, in which he argues that entrepreneurship is “imagination, the ability to spot or conceive opportunities, and a willingness to take risks”. He correctly sees that an enterprising approach is something just as needed in the public or non profit sector as in private enterprise. Gordon Brown’s strong support for Global Enterprise Week shows that enterprise is not a monopoly of conservatives. It’s possible to be sceptical, even cynical about human motivations in many cases, and still see that this type of project as an exception and more than worth committing to.
Can and should you help Winchester?
Do Wykehamists need encouragement to be enterprising and to take the initiative in their own lives? Some might think we are privileged enough, but others would say that with privilege comes the responsibility to put talents to good use, and how better to do this than such a project. My experience of “enterprise education” at Win Coll certainly makes me willing to help others. In 1982/83 at an “industry day” I remember an executive from Magnet – a company making Portakabin type temporary buildings – telling us “you are probably too young to know what you are going to do, but I suppose that you imagine that if you were in business you would be managers.” This made sense, the 50 or so 14-15 year olds in the room nodded to ourselves. “So here’s a management problem. You are in charge of an ice cream factory (a few frowns, “was he patronising us?”) its 3 AM you are working flat out, the night shift is in full swing, business is going well, and 300 litres of ice cream a minute is being pumped through a steel tube over your head. There is a loud bang, the tube splits and frozen ice cream starts spraying in all directions. You are in charge, so what are you going to do ?” there was a silence as we pondered the problem, then he said “don’t wait too long or you are going to drown in ice cream. “ At this moment I realised that there were some skills in business that we were not being taught, and that action orientated decision taking appealed to me as a feature of any job I wanted to do. I would probably have gone into business anyway, but this talk made a difference and inspired me.
What can you do to help ?
First a self assessment. Are you in any way a role model for younger members of society? Can they learn something from your experience? Ask your friends, family and colleagues for confirmation or to challenge your first thoughts. If the answer is yes, then the only barrier is your willingness to get involved. Even if the answer is no, you can use your position in the organisations you are connected to so as to encourage others to get involved.
I attended an excellent one week course at Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School (CfEL) in June 2008, and was very impressed by the both the calibre and commitment of senior business people from the local community to the programme as volunteers. I asked Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam – the CfEL’s Director – for guidelines. In his view it is vital that volunteers from the business community should share the basic values of the Centre, namely:
That entrepreneurship can be taught
That a positive attitude is vital, would be entrepreneurs should be supported and encouraged
That outside volunteers speakers should work to the curriculum (not about how clever and successful they are, but about a topic (team building, marketing, finance, technology, (whatever))
As he told me those who believe that entrepreneurs and leaders are “born not made” are not much use to an organisation devoted to teaching those skills
Contacting David Baldwin (address removed as he has retired) if you or the organisation you work for can help with Win Coll Careers, either hosting visits or returning to Win Coll to as part of the careers’ days initiative
Make sure that enterprise education support is part of the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda of the organisation you work for. Ask other members of staff via your internal company systems whether they are ready to volunteer to help schools in the communities your company has a presence and approach local schools directly. Staff are often willing to do more for schools either they attended or their children currently attend.
Get back in contact with Universities you attended to offer help in giving talks, hosting visits . being a judge on a panel for student enterprise competitions, I did this, and also was able to help in the Careers centre. maybe you can do something similar. Here I was interviewed by Cambridge University Careers Service.
Look for other alumni associations connected to places you have studied and worked in Linkedin, Facebook, etc. The most active people are usually the founders, or contribute to forums, and discussions.
If you have children in school now but not at Win Coll, contact parents and alumni asking for volunteers for a careers day or for companies to host visits
Think about things that are you were not taught in schools and university that you think are important to get on and be successful in life that you could share with the next generation. It never takes more than 15 minutes on Google to get up to speed with what others have said and written about any topic under the sun. Finding the ideas, and materials to support a workshop or talking is never hard these days.
GEW is a great mobilizing tool for those who want to make things happen in their local community. You don’t need to wait until November 2009 to do something, use GEW as an excuse to approach people to see if they are interested. Apart from visiting the global web site http://unleashingideas.org to find out what has been going on in the country you live in, I am more than willing to share my experience as far as time allows with anyone who asks. Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org