Keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive
In times of economic downturn governments encourage entrepreneurship. It’s a great way to get people out of unemployment and into the list headed ‘self-employment’. But the truth is, making a success of working for yourself can be exceptionally difficult. Unfortunately, for many, the only difference between self-employment and unemployment is a whole lot of work rather than a whole lot of money.
That’s why it’s vital that schools begin to expose children to the concept of entrepreneurship at an early age. Let’s face it, children are innately entrepreneurial. It’s only when we adults begin imposing rules and boundaries – and this idea of ‘getting the answer right’ – that they begin to doubt their own capacity to explore and experience.
I’m not saying rules aren’t necessary – I’m a teacher! – but I do believe schools need to make it more acceptable for children to have a go, to take risks, to make mistakes, to fail and to pick themselves up and start again having learned from their experience.
When we hear successful business people say they didn’t do well at school or they dropped out of college, I believe the message for us isn’t so much ‘school isn’t necessary to do well in life’ as ‘school can do more to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit’.
Being entrepreneurial is about breaking out of the established order, finding new ways to do things and putting together wild ideas to create the kind of magic people want and need in their lives. However, for the really successful, it is ultimately about establishing a new order which makes sense – and wealth – out of all that creativity. The really bright entrepreneur knows how to manage and communicate, or at the very least she recognises the need to surround herself with people who have those skills.
We can’t always be getting the answer right. Sometimes there IS no correct answer, just many different and convoluted paths to success. In amongst all those GCSEs, A Levels and IBs, the good school will help its pupils to realise this. It’s a lesson that will stand boys and girls in good stead for employment, self-employment and life in general.
But what if my child doesn’t want to be an entrepreneur, you may well cry. What if he just wants to get a job with a clear career path, a steady income and a comfortable life? There’s nothing wrong with that. I should know. But I would argue that my job as head of a busy girls’ school requires many entrepreneurial skills. I manage staff, I juggle competing demands on my time, I review the bottom line of our balance sheet and I’m always thinking of new ways to communicate, inspire and lead effectively. Every business with employees requires them to contribute to the success of the business, whether they’re answering the telephone, devising sales strategies or managing teams of people. You don’t have to be ‘in business’ or ‘an entrepreneur’ to be businesslike or entrepreneurial. The charity sector is proof of that, as is every waiter who has ever multi-tasked his way around a room full of people, quietly presenting the dessert menu to those he knows will be tempted to buy just one more course.
That said, at a time when the UK’s FTSE 100 companies have as few as 15% of their boardroom places filled by women, it’s particularly important that schools and parents encourage young girls to believe they can achieve in business and to give them the tools and confidence to begin that journey, should they choose it.
There are some tremendous examples of entrepreneurship at work in schools throughout the independent sector. Since becoming president of the Girls’ Schools Association, I have been impressed by the range and scale of the projects I have seen and heard about. From sixth form students running entire companies with annual turnovers of £50k to younger girls designing, manufacturing and marketing consumable goods – it’s all happening out there!
In a recent TED (technology, entertainment, design) talk, chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, cited a number of things women can do to contribute to change. They included 1) Sit at the table – be involved, take action, contribute, and 2) Keep your hand up – make sure your voice is heard. It’s valid advice for anyone – male or female – but particularly pertinent to young women who can be prone to fading into the background when men are in the majority. Of course this is never an issue in an all-girls’ school!
One thing all schools with good entrepreneurial programmes have in common is that we welcome parental involvement. What a waste of talent, expertise, mentoring and sheer inspiration if we didn’t! This is absolutely essential if children are to taste and experience the reality of the entrepreneurial spirit in action and it’s a wise – and entrepreneurial – school that opens its doors to the possibilities such partnerships can bring.
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