Inspiring young people into enterprise will reap rich rewards

Confucius said “If your plan is for 1 year, then plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, then plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children”.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of speaking to a group of S3 business studies pupils at Notre Dame High School in Glasgow about my enterprise journey. WES Ambassadors recognise the importance of giving women entrepreneurs more visibility and one of the ways we can do this is by working with local schools. This allows us to inspire pupils to think about enterprise as a viable option for them. It is so important for young people to grasp as many opportunities as we can give them and to provide budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge to not only potentially develop their own businesses but also to think creatively.

As well as delivering the right skills for employment, schools should also highlight opportunities for entrepreneurship. Notre Dame is Scotland's only single sex comprehensive school and is determined to set an example to their young people that female entrepreneurship is a viable option for their futures. They have a very active business studies department and the team are keen to share entrepreneurs’ stories as a way to inspire the pupils and hopefully start to address the Gender Gap in women’s enterprise.

We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that currently, just 20% of SMEs in Scotland are majority owned by women. Nor to the fact that if women started businesses at the same rate as men, this would contribute an additional minimum of £7.6bn to Scotland’s economy. This is almost equal to the estimated impact which Brexit may have on the Scottish economy (The Fraser of Allander Institute estimates that the cost of Brexit to Scotland’s GDP over the next decade could be up to £8 billion and tens of thousands of jobs). There doesn’t seem to be a better time than now to start stoking the engine fires of entrepreneurial ambition in our young people. They will be the next generation with the chance to create the wealth and jobs for Scotland, if we can engage them now in what it means to create and build your own business.

As well as walking the young people at Notre Dame High School through my journey, I highlighted the need for a wide skill set when starting and running your own business. Everything from sales, marketing, finance and management through to soft skills such as effective communication, networking and confidence building. I also mentioned that an entrepreneurial attitude is a must these days, not only for entrepreneurs but also for employees too and we discussed the mindset change from employee to business owner and the pitfalls to be avoided.

Of course, some will find entrepreneurship an easier journey than others. There are those people for whom it seems to be a natural aptitude. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, often mentions how he wasn’t the best student and there are plenty of studies debating whether entrepreneurship is a natural skill born to individuals or whether it can be taught. My attitude is that everything can be taught. The core skills such as critical thinking, communication skills, problem solving, risk taking and working in a team are not only natural gifts, they can of course be learnt through time, patience and experience.

In summary, we all know that self-employment is a powerful tool to create work and to boost the economy and the benefits of entrepreneurial teaching spreads further than being purely personal; it is also good for society. We need to take collective, bold and consistent action to close the shameful gender gap in women’s enterprise so let’s start spreading the word now.

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