Tom Ravenscroft is Founder & CEO of Enabling Enterprise
The trouble with being a Founder, is that you never know whether you have happened on a great idea that others passed by – or whether you’ve missed your idea’s fundamental flaw!
So it was incredibly heartening to make the journey from London to Kampala and discover that 4,000 miles away a very similar idea was having a huge impact.
The Story of Enabling Enterprise
In an echo of the founding story of Educate! which was generously shared on our blog last month, Enabling Enterprise grew out of a sense that there was a huge mismatch between what young people needed to succeed in the world – and what the school system was offering.
For me, in 2007 I was a fresh-faced and enthusiastic young teacher and was quickly confronted by the reality of teaching business studies in a challenging inner-city London school.
It soon became obvious that there was rightly a strong focus on the grades that the students would be achieving in their exams, and the qualifications they would leave school with. However, there was no similar energy going into other things that seemed equally essential.
To me, it seemed clear that students also needed to be able to work in and lead teams, to create new ideas, to have an understanding of entrepreneurship and the world of work, and to be resilient in the face of setbacks.
For my students in the UK, I combined the lesson-time project of setting up and running their own business with the opportunity to go on trips to businesses and meet the adults who worked there. The result was students who developed enterprise skills through their business project and who broadened and solidified their aspirations through finding about others’ careers or entrepreneurial endeavours.
Over the last five years, we’ve built from my original class to working with over 35,000 students. We’ve also expanded our remit to make enterprise a core part of the curriculum for 5-18 year-olds – our schools commit to delivering at least one hour every week of dedicated enterprise learning with a business trip each year for the students.
Raising the Stakes
In the UK, we’re pretty unique. So through our shared connection of the Forward Foundation it was inspiring to meet Educate! in Uganda who share so much of the same philosophy and approach.
The challenges for Ugandan youth are certainly sobering: the country has the youngest population in the world (50% under age 15); the highest youth unemployment rate (83%); and the highest youth poverty rate (94%).
I had the privilege in December of spending the morning at the Educate! offices in Kampala we had the chance to meet some of the teacher trainers and sit in on a session – and it was brilliant. Sixty intensive minutes that addressed some of the essentials of why businesses fail – from inadequate finances, taking the profits out too soon, not differentiating from your rivals and more.
Writing this more than half a year later and I vividly remember the energy in the tent – and the sense of urgency. It was particularly powerful that all of the mentors supporting the programme have set up their own businesses, giving them a wealth of experiences to draw from themselves.
Reflecting later, I was inspired by the shared principles between Enabling Enterprise and Educate! – principles which were born out of different experiences but which have much in common:
Principle 1: Young People have huge potential
Both Educate! and Enabling Enterprise have a strong belief in the power and potential of young people. Looking around my classroom, I knew that there was no real reason why my students shouldn’t be able to achieve great things in their futures – whether they chose to enter employment, continue their educations at university, or become entrepreneurs. The founders of Educate! saw the same potential in the young people they worked with in Uganda.
Principle 2: Academic Learning is not enough:
The founders of Educate! saw first-hand the challenge in Uganda – that students were completing school without having developed the skills to be able to thrive in the rest of their lives. While in the UK youth unemployment is a challenge, it’s on a very different scale – but my classroom showed that young people were still leaving school without what they needed for the next step in their lives.
Principle 3: Learning by Doing
My experience of being a UK business studies teacher was that there was a limit to what could be learnt out of a textbook – the theory of how to write an invoice is not an exciting one! So instead at Enabling Enterprise, we focus on learning through the students running a series of collaborative projects – including producing radio shows, publishing magazines, and building up to running their own businesses. Educate! programmes similarly have the same principle by focusing students on setting up their own businesses.
Principle 4: Bringing Experts Along
I realised quickly that my students needed to meet people who had really ‘done it’ so we took them out to a whole variety of businesses to see what the world of work looked and felt like and what it took to be successful. Similarly, Educate! brings in business mentors for the students on their Youth Business Experience who have already been successful in setting up their own businesses – creating brilliant role models for the students.
Principle 5: Changing the System
Both Educate! and Enabling Enterprise are focused on embedding the development of skills in schools – not waiting until a later intervention is needed. Not only that, but it helps shift schools’ perceptions of their own role from passing on knowledge to preparing young people for the rest of their lives. Educate! has helped make entrepreneurship a key part of the curriculum in Uganda for the older students as an option along A-levels whilst Enabling Enterprise works with schools to create dedicated ‘enterprise’ lessons through the timetable.
Principle 6: A Sense of Urgency
The final thing that struck me as I learnt more about Educate! was the scale of the ambition. At Enabling Enterprise, we want every UK student to leave school equipped with the enterprise skills, experiences of work and aspirations for the rest of their lives. For us, that means working with 50,000 students in the next year and Educate! has that same sense of urgency with incredible growth to working with over 20,000 students this year.
Ultimately, young people share a huge amount - whether in the UK or Uganda. They all need enterprise skills, experiences of the world and aspirations to make the most of their lives.
It’s invigorating to know that 4,000 miles away from our work in London, the young people in Uganda are similarly building their futures – and that we can learn a lot from their experience too.