Are Jobs More Important than Education?
That education is a key plank in the fight against poverty is beyond doubt. There is plenty of statistical evidence showing that those with the least education have the least wealth. A recent UNESCO paper stated that an additional year of education contributed 10% to a person’s wages. Indeed it can be very hard to secure a job without basic literacy and numeracy skills.
But what about the informal sector? What about those countries where employment is an option for only a small minority of the workforce? Education even in applied science and technology may better equip people for today’s workplace, but it does not actually create jobs where they can apply their skills. A European Commission paper – Youth Employment in Developing Countries shows that the number of young women outside secure employment in Sub-Saharan Africa is around 88% while for young men the figure is little better at 73%. Yet according to United Nations figures 80% of people in Least Developed Countries attended primary education, 60% were literate and half had mobile phones.
So there are over 4x as many primary-educated young people as there are jobs for them to go to.
Whilst both primary and secondary education should be a basic human right, I would argue that it is not necessarily the best route to fight poverty, particularly as there are plenty of creative ways to earn money without being highly educated. My previous Grow Movement client ran a cleaning business in Rwanda and has created 4 new jobs as a result of marketing advice. How educated do you need to be to clean?
Surely securing growth for SMEs rather than better education is a more direct way to fight poverty? Well that is what we at Grow Movement think, but effective education of entrepreneurs is not that straightforward. A study by the Kauffman Foundation last year found that in most cases accelerators and incubators add very little value. So why do our projects succeed in sustainably growing profits and creating jobs? The devil is in the detail.
Here are 6 key principles we have learned over the past 5 years to maximise our impact.
1. We are careful about who we recruit as clients. Attitude is key. We have had better results from clients with established businesses than completely new start-ups. It is quite usual for our clients to have several businesses, but often they need to focus on one to get the best results. We make it clear that there is no money on offer and that to succeed the client needs to be prepared to put in some real work. If our volunteers are willing to take time out of their busy days to help the client, then they deserve to work with people who will appreciate it and invest effort to reap rewards.
2. Our program is not just mentoring – this can be a very passive activity and puts too much onus on the client. It is also not very contextual. Mentors typically pass on the “secrets of their success” - useful in a similar market, but not great across the cultural divide. Instead we offer a blend of coaching, consulting and teaching, relying on our volunteers to apply best method to help the client to help themselves. Too much consulting and the client does not learn from the experience creating an unhealthy dependency – besides, we cannot expect our volunteers to be subject matter experts on chicken farming in Malawi or brick making in Rwanda for example. Coaching relies on the client having the skills in the first place. This is fine for overcoming self-limiting beliefs and building self-confidence and leadership, but does not work well for imparting the finer details of marketing, accounting or the right structure to scale.
3. We encourage structure. We have a process, which is not rigid, but we do expect our volunteers to agree project objectives in the first quarter and set and review “homework” throughout. Both of these are recorded on our PMS platform (A mixture of project tracking, knowledge management and community) as is the impact assessment completed by in-country partners on completion and 6 months later. This structure helps us to learn and improve as we go along and sets the right tone of discipline. Interestingly, it is only when we describe our process to other people that we realise quite how much we have learned.
4. We work one on one. Context is king. Our volunteers know a huge amount and assume a whole lot more. By focusing on the very specific needs of our clients we can tailor the knowledge transfer to the few things that will have the greatest impact rather confusing clients with generalities that they cannot implement. Sure there is a proven process for innovation and entrepreneurship and yes it can be taught, but it needs to be applied rigorously to the specific context of the individual client and their business. One size very definitely does not fit all – a mistake often made in entrepreneur education elsewhere.
5. We work remotely over digital channels. Our volunteers get enough out of the experience to willingly give over an hour or 2 a week from their home or offices. To ask them to travel to the clients’ country, would be too big an ask and ultimately unaffordable. It would also significantly limit our access to an international pool of high achieving business professionals with a social conscience but limited spare time and money.
6. Last but not least, we respect our clients. They may not have the advantages that we enjoy based on our country of birth, but they have just as much drive, ingenuity and humour as our volunteers – many of whom have MBAs and hold senior management positions. What they lack is access to the resources that most of us take for granted. They are an inspiration to us and teach us far more than most of us thought possible.
Ultimately of course it is not just the success of our clients that we celebrate, but the opportunities they create for others. Not everyone can successfully run their own business, but nurturing those that can, helps those that cannot by creating sustainable incomes for many more people. The stories we hear about how our clients share their profits with their community are truly heart warming - but more on that later. Suffice it to say, 60% of our clients invest part of their profits into educating their families. Surely that is more sustainable than big top-down initiatives.