As part of winning BYPY14 I was given a place on Common Purpose leadership course, more details here. I attended one of the core days this week at the mac at Cannon Hill Park, the theme of which was courage.
A week before the day itself, the 40 people on the course were all asked if they would like to do a ‘lightning talk’ on something they felt passionate about. I thought ‘why not?’ and began working out what to talk about.
A subject close to my heart is entrepreneurship and how we go about creating and inspiring entrepreneurs in the UK. This was my 5 minute ‘lightning talk’:
When I was 22 I decided I was going to start up my own business. People tell me that this was a courageous move but I don’t see it like that at all. To me it felt like no big deal, just a natural next step. The reason for this is that I grew up around someone with their own business, who was my role model to do so myself. That was my mum.
This correlation between my mum having her own business and me setting up mine isn’t uncommon.
Professor Francis Greene of Birmingham University wrote a paper called ‘like mother like daughter’ which analysed maternal influences on entrepreneurship. It found that someone with a self-employed mother was much more likely to be self employed themselves, later in life; there are a number of studies that show this link. The fiscal policy of giving self-employed mothers child tax benefits has even been used by some governments to create more self-employed people in the long run.
So how are we creating entrepreneurs at the moment? What are we doing? There are some incentives set up to find people aged 18+ and help them become self employed, through access to a loan, a mentor and other business support. But let’s think about what would happen in the world of sport. Imagine if we had a huge shortage of rugby players. We wouldn’t go to 18 year olds who had grown up playing football, and say ‘here, have a rugby ball, a rugby kit and a manual on how to play rugby’. Of course we wouldn’t. Instead we’d focus on young children, we’d start up tag rugby sessions for 5 year olds and have them practising that, meaning they grow up with the skills and mindset that it takes to become a top rugby player when they grow up.
So given that we know that kind of model works in sport and given that we know role models are important in any walk of life, what type of role models are we giving our children about employment?
If we think about where children’s role models are, in real life and in children’s literature and popular culture, we have no shortage of characters in employment, such as Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder. Children grow up surrounded by teachers, doctors, policemen, shopkeepers etc. All these roles are ones that we need in any society, but where is the equal positive representation in the world of business?
These are some of the business people in popular culture: Lord Business (of the Lego Movie), Lord Sugar (The Apprentice), Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr Burns (The Simpsons), Harry Wormwood (Matilda’s dad). Notice a trend? They’re all portrayed as negative characters – as greedy, selfish, mean characters,!
We have a huge disconnect here, between needing to inspire people to want to be self-employed business people and not providing them with people who will actually inspire them.
I think we need to a) ensure that there are positive entrepreneurial role models for children and b) encourage children to develop their enteprising skills and mindsets from a young age.
Surely it’s time we gave children a true representation of how you have to act to be a businessperson. What are your views on this topic?
P.s. here’s one take on the positive entrepreneurial role models provision