The wheels of cultural change turn slowly. Globally, we are certainly experiencing progressive shifts toward improved diversity and equity in most industries.
There are more people than ever pursuing entrepreneurship. Yet statistically, successful founders are still far more likely to be young, university-educated men than any other demographic, according to a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
It is worth noting that the study also found that overall levels of total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) can vary considerably across economies and that the difference this creates can be larger than any other between-group differences.
“An individual selected at random in an economy with a high level of TEA is more likely to be starting a business than an individual in a low-TEA economy, regardless of gender, age or education,” it explains.
Regardless, it is well past time to change the global face of entrepreneurship – literally – and arguably more so in communities that do not enjoy the same access to education and employment as those in countries with high TEA activity. But how?
Sharing the love (and prosperity)
The Sydney School of Entrepreneurship (SSE) was established in 2016 by the Government of New South Wales as an independent, not-for-profit consortium between the state’s 11 universities and Australia’s largest vocational education and training (VET) provider, TAFE NSW.
It set out on a mission to build and foster a nationwide culture of entrepreneurialism and, with it, shared prosperity.
Having an entrepreneurial mindset increases one’s capacity and capability to think differently, creatively solve problems, collaborate and lead, and enriches one’s opportunities in all aspects of life.
While the early years were bolstered by widespread enthusiasm, support and program success, it was undeniable that an overwhelming proportion of ‘typical’ participants were Caucasian, university-educated people with an established entrepreneurial mindset (albeit at different levels of maturity).
By 2019, changed market settings, consumer demand, employment prospects and global economic conditions warranted a strategic reimagining of its model. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, again.
Significant social and economic volatility laid bare the urgent need to support those who were increasingly and more noticeably impacted.
Most employers, policymakers and academics will agree that entrepreneurship is critical to the development and wellbeing of society. Having an entrepreneurial mindset increases one’s capacity and capability to think differently, creatively solve problems, collaborate and lead, and enriches one’s opportunities in all aspects of life.
But does entrepreneurship come ‘naturally’?
Having an entrepreneurial mindset is a skill that can be learned by everyone; it’s also a skill that benefits everyone – individuals, families, schools, communities, enterprises and entire economies.
Yet to date, entrepreneurship has been a pathway limited to those with an inherent level of self-belief, access to education and financial nous. As such, the very concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ has been elitist and is unknown, or at least unfamiliar, to a significant portion of the population.
But entrepreneurship lives inside every single individual – and the widespread success of entrepreneurship education really lies in being able to meet that individual ‘where they are’.
Entrepreneurship lives inside every single individual – and the widespread success of entrepreneurship education really lies in being able to meet that individual ‘where they are’.
All that is needed, and herein lies our challenge as educators, is for that talent and potential to be unlocked, knowledge to be built, and confidence and self-determination to be fostered specifically in groups that have historically been denied the chance to experience the transformational opportunities that emerge through exploring pathways of entrepreneurship.
Commonly underserved communities could include groups such as the remarkable and resilient women and girls we meet at SSE who are transforming their lives or pursuing a longed-for second chance in life; young people from disadvantaged backgrounds carving out new pathways to create self-sufficient futures; First Nations people bringing to life millennia of cultural tradition, innovative practices and knowledge; or individuals from culturally and racially marginalized backgrounds forging new business opportunities in new countries to sustain their families and grow the economy.
I have always believed passionately in the transformative power of education to change lives and reframe age-old cycles of inequality. Entrepreneurship, like education, is a powerful catalyst for change. So, let’s work together to create a world where every individual is empowered with the skills, capability and learning opportunities to overcome barriers to entrepreneurship, employment and education.
It’s a matter of fairness, as well as good economic sense; and it is long overdue.
Sarah Jones is CEO of SSE, Australia’s first and only Government-initiated School of Entrepreneurship. SSE exists to inspire change, deliver impact, and create a diverse community of next-generation entrepreneurs, city-shapers, place-makers, innovators, and prosperity builders in Australia. Sarah has been named a finalist in The CEO Magazine’s 2023 Executive of the Year Awards in the Not-For-Profit category.