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Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

Image: Nkembo Kiala, African Leadership Academy, Entrepreneurial Leadership Faculty 

A conversation with Nkembo Kiala, Student Enterprise Program Manager at African Leadership Academy (ALA), where he discusses what it means to teach entrepreneurship at the secondary/high school level and how this approach can be emulated for greater impact in solving youth unemployment and increasing job creation.  

African Leadership Academy’s vision has been clear since its inception in 2009: Develop the next generation of ethical African leaders. But how do you do that fundamentally? You create a curriculum for young leaders that merges leadership skills and entrepreneurial thinking to effect transformative change.  

Over the past 6 years, Nkembo has been actively engaged in the field of education, dedicating efforts to working with youth aged between 12-20. His primary focus has been on nurturing and enhancing their leadership capabilities, fostering efficacy, and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset.  

What is the Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL) department’s vision at ALA?  

We want students and young leaders to see an opportunity to solve these pressing issues within their communities through an entrepreneurial lens. Students are challenged to develop the mindset, approach, and skills necessary to become transformative entrepreneurial leaders on the continent. Over the two years that students are at the academy, they solve complex issues, take calculated risks and ultimately leave the academy upon graduating with a deep understanding that leaders who possess and master this dual ability of leadership and entrepreneurial thinking will create long-lasting positive change.    

How can entrepreneurship be “taught”? 

To teach entrepreneurship effectively there are several factors that we must take into consideration. The curriculum itself is ever-evolving because we are consistently learning and iterating the learning experience. Young African entrepreneurs, like Anzisha Fellows exist and we use their case studies and their entrepreneurial journeys for our students to learn from.

Students not only learn the theory of entrepreneurship but they practice it as well. During the second year of the ALA experience, each student becomes part of a team that manages a company or non-profit in the Student Enterprise Program (SEP). Within this real-world simulation, students put their leadership learning into practice. At the end of their second year at the academy, students leave with a real sense of the practice of entrepreneurship. 

BUILD is a human-centered design thinking approach that stands for Believe, Understand, Invent, Listen, and Deliver – is one of the tools of EL at ALA. BUILD initiates experiential learning and is maximized so that our students can become “agile thinkers who take a systemic, iterative approach to develop innovations that address the root causes of challenges.”

The EL curriculum is rigorous. What elements are paramount to enable learning?  

Any institution or program needs to develop a curriculum that speaks to the relevance of what they are trying to achieve. We don’t know it all; we are a learning institution, so we seek the expertise from other organizations and individuals. For example, students work with real accountants, and entrepreneurial coaches who are running businesses and spend time in the corporate world to further enhance their skills.

Additionally, in 2022-2023, the EL department underwent a benchmarking exercise to ensure we were learning from other institutions and that the our curriculum remained relevant. These are all aspects that we believe draw students closer to understanding and practicing entrepreneurship.    

“In 2023, ALA students hosted BUILD-in-a-box camps that reached over 1000 young beneficiaries in over 21 different countries equipping them with entrepreneurial skills.” 

As an educator, there have been many students to walk through your classroom. What story stands out?  

 Fabrice is a second-year student who grew up in a refugee camp and identified there was a lack of protein sources for his community and built a poultry business to ensure that people were well-fed. He has been able to grow and scale the venture. It sounds like a small venture but the immediate social impact is grand. We’re talking about the eradication of hunger and an immediate source of protein for many households. How can that not be celebrated? Such stories of entrepreneurship are the flagship of what we do.

“We’ve entrusted young people with the challenge of solving pressing issues, we must also rise to the occasion to ensure that they succeed.”  

There is some momentum around Entrepreneurship Education. What is needed to accelerate it?  

I think it is twofold. For entrepreneurship education to grow in Africa there has to be a drive to enable young people and those who support them – educators. More teachers need to understand entrepreneurship and be championed to not only teach entrepreneurship but also nurture the curiosity a young person has about running a business. At ALA, we have an open policy about sharing the work of the academy and we would love for others to adopt that approach. Shared practice is important to accelerate how we improve curriculum and how we build a robust community. As an educator, I have noticed a desire and intention to give entrepreneurship education almost the same merit as your conventional subjects because there is measurable value in students solving problems for their communities.  

The work starts in the classroom but lives beyond those walls and relies on other key stakeholders to be equally supportive.

As educators, investors, enablers and ecosystem players we should walk with young people accordingly, even when it is challenging. We’ve left them with a challenge and we too, have to rise to the occasion. It’s not just on them. We need to deregulate and alleviate restrictive policies that might hinder their progress and allow them total focus on growing ventures to have a lasting impact.  

There is a structure to how we can enable a young person to think creatively in developing tangible solutions to some of their issues. We can show them that it is not only about social impact but also generating profit, creating jobs, and building sustainable ventures.  

Lynn Brown
Lynn Brown
Lynn is a content marketer that focuses on brand storytelling through digital platforms. Skilled in a background of web development, search engine optimization and content production, Lynn is excited to utilize over 10 years’ experience in digital marketing to help grow the ecosystems that support Africa’s very young entrepreneurs to ensure their success.

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