For most 80s and 90s high schoolers, entrepreneurship took the shape of "let's set up a plan that will generate us money so we can organize our own prom night." In fact, that was what most grade 12 students were preoccupied with then; a tradition of selling flowers or baked goods, throwing movie nights and charging for entrance + popcorn, or challenging creativity with other money-making ideas.
Come 2020, making profit is still on the mind of many youngsters, but the purpose behind the cash is now outgrowing it in priority. The youth of today is more aware of its entourage and is better prepared to face the obstacles standing in its way of reaching its goal, and that's due to education and technology.
With the multitude of advancements in the tech field, among others, numerous schools are becoming a hub for innovative minds and some breakthroughs. As more attention is invested in students and how to get them to explore their miscellaneous talents, skills are added to the equation to reveal wild potentials in those who many still regard as kids.
We spoke to three women at the center of the entrepreneurship education in the Arab region to understand more how incorporating entrepreneurship in school curriculums can propel young minds towards making a valuable change.
Helen Al Uzaizi, Director of Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurship, GEMS:
"People look at entrepreneurship as a big, bold word – it doesn't need to be. It is in our every day life, it is a growth mindset, it is an action oriented mind-set, a driven character and a solution centric focus and all of these are skills that are relevant to everything in life. Employment, self-employment, social enterprise, family, education. The more you practice living with this mindset the more of a second nature it becomes and it applied [sic] to everything in life."
Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center "Sheraa":
"Entrepreneurship is a diverse and collaborative discipline, allowing students the freedom to take any field they are interested in and enhance it with the pillars of entrepreneurship. That is not to say that other fields are not important; rather, they can all be complemented by entrepreneurial skills. With advancements in STEM, the humanities, and the arts – catalysed by advancements in technology and an increasingly globalized world – exploring entrepreneurship opens up opportunities for creativity and growth which positively feeds into an already fast-developing ecosystem.
There is a constant need to keep up, to improve, and to regularly upskill oneself as automation eradicates some jobs and creates new ones. This demands new ideas, out-of-the-box solutions, and the ability to develop them with speed – all key qualities in an entrepreneur.
The most creative breakthroughs come from an interdisciplinary approach, and with entrepreneurship now being taught at a much younger age, we can expect the next generation to be focused on being adaptive and impactful. Entrepreneurship will always remain open to everyone hailing from any background, any field, and any age, making it a critical part of an economy's growth and flexibility."
Deema Bibi, CEO, INJAZ:
"Entrepreneurship is essential not only to boosting job creation, but to create innovative and new solutions to existing, complicated local and global challenges. Governments are realizing the importance of creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem for achieving sustainable economic growth, which is a main reason why entrepreneurship education is becoming one of the most important topics for many education systems today."
On the benefits of incorporating entrepreneurship in school curriculums and its effects on the world's economy
"To start with, entrepreneurship is something that is easily embedded without the need to fully change programs, curriculums as it can be taught through a project based learning approach. Secondly, I believe that all children are born entrepreneurs – if you think about the skills children have and portray when they are young, the negotiation, the shopping play, the lemonade stands – it becomes clear that these are traits that need to be honed and developed rather than taught from scratch.
According to a report by Dell Technologies, 85% of the jobs in 2030 have not been invented yet. Knowing this means that what we need to be able to prepare our children for is not specific jobs or tasks, rather skills needed to navigate the fast changing world. Adapting and evolving is going to be key and if we focus on traditional learning tools and methodologies, we'll be doing the future generation a disservice. Our task at this junction is to prepare them to create their own jobs, their own future, be innovative and agile so that even if one was to go down the traditional path of employment or career choice, those with an entrepreneurial mind-set will thrive and excel as opposed to someone with a limited view."
"Embedding entrepreneurship across all levels of education is vital to ensure students are prepared to navigate through the rapidly evolving work environment. Entrepreneurship helps prepare the next generation for a job market that will look drastically different from the one we know today. It isn't just about teaching students the basics of building a business, but rather about teaching portable skills – entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, divergent thinking, adaptability, and resilience – that will serve them regardless of what career they choose.
Mindset also plays a massive role in anyone's entrepreneurial ability, which is why it is so important to start embedding the right culture early on. [...] We must teach the youth from a young age that it is safe to experiment and to fail, and that they should use those failures as learnings rather than be ashamed by them. By doing so, we are better able to build a generation of bold, resilient changemakers who are empowered to take the future into their own hands, and who will be armed with life-long qualities such as confidence, communication, and collaboration skills."
"Bridging the gap of knowledge, skills and behavioral attitudes related to entrepreneurship is essential to any economy as it is the main engine that builds MSME's that drive the economy forward. The integration of entrepreneurship education in primary and secondary schools is the most efficient and effective way to reach the population on a scale broad enough to improve the required knowledge, skills and habits and foster an entrepreneurial mindset of future entrepreneurs, business leaders and intrapreneurs.
[...] Youth are increasingly becoming consumers of commercial and financial products (e.g. bank accounts, cell phone plans) at an earlier age and are developing financial habits that will remain with them into adulthood. Financial and entrepreneurship education has never been so relevant and yet so disregarded and as parents and families are largely unprepared to teach sound financial habits to their children, it is the responsibility of the educational system to provide that guidance and education.
An additional benefit of a national school-based approach to entrepreneurship education is the way in which it can impact our communities on a larger scale and uniquely develop a healthy and sound financial culture and entrepreneurial mindset in the rest of the population. It is widely recognized that youth are effective disseminators of new information and new habits, not only to their peers but also to their siblings and their families."
On entrepreneurial programs' success stories
"We have students who have developed fully functional companies, have raised funding and even one student who has been offered to have his company bought for close to 6 figures (but he chose not to take the offer!)."
"Khalid Al Awar won Sheraa's Startup Weekend in 2018 with Mabany, a startup that connects facility management companies with their residents, enhancing communications, automating processes and providing insights on the data collected. He then got accepted into Draper University in Silicon Valley and was sponsored by Sheraa to attend their Hero Training program. Al Awar went on to study a Masters in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Waterloo and now works at Astrolabs as a Business Development Lead."
"This story is related to one of GOAL program students at Rufaidah Al-Aslamiah Primary School for Girls. Zaina is an 8th grader at Rufaidah Al-Aslamiah Primary School for Girls and one of GOAL program students. Her family is suffering from some financial issues and Zaina always wanted to help them.
During Goal sessions, Zaina's teacher, Ms. Lina, explained to the students the third module of Goal program (Be Savvy). She divided the students inside the classroom into groups and each group was encouraged to put a plan to save money from the daily allowance and then come up with an idea for a group project. Zaina and her classmate decided to work on a small project.
First, they attended a workshop of wool spinning and learnt how to manufacture clothes using wool. They saved some money from their daily allowance as the teacher taught them and they bought materials to start their small project. They started by selling their products of hats, baby dresses and jackets to friends and relatives, and they earned a profit from doing that.
Now, their products are having a good reputation among their friends and relatives and they are looking forward to improve and expand their project. Zaina was so glad that she managed to financially support her family."