Presidential Entrepreneurship Challenge
Tim Cameron has 25 years of senior experience working in education and commerce in the USA, including running his own successful businesses. He served as Chief of Staff in the United Stated Department of Education. In 2013, inspired to do something to help some of the world’s most disadvantaged children, he left the corporate world, sold his possessions and moved to Bali to set up Stella’s Child.
For a thriving business world tomorrow, change classrooms today
President Joko Widodo’s speech calling on the country’s young people to embrace entrepreneurship was necessary and very timely. He is right to identify that entrepreneurial skills are crucial to securing Indonesia a brighter future in the competitive 21st century, and also right that too many of the next generation currently lack these abilities.
Some might say that his vision of a thriving entrepreneurial Indonesia is overly ambitious, given widespread poverty and educational challenges, but our experience of working with Indonesian children from poor families is that many have extraordinary business skills just waiting to be unleashed. If we can find these talents in just 300 children, imagine what potential there is in the tens of millions of young Indonesians who at this very moment are preparing to enter the world of work.
The key to making the most of this opportunity lies in education. If we want to create a thriving business world tomorrow, we need to change classrooms today. The truth is that while high schools are strong at teaching practical skills, few are encouraging the creative thinking, problem solving abilities and self-confidence which are essential to all entrepreneurs. As President Widodo says, children shouldn’t be “afraid to start”, but my experience is that in many cases they are indeed fearful of taking risks.
The first and most important step is to stop children limiting themselves. Too many young Indonesians, particularly from poor backgrounds, believe they have to “settle” for menial jobs. At Stella’s Child, we encourage our young students to talk about their dreams and ambitions without fear or embarrassment. Indonesian schools should encourage similar safe spaces.
We then help the young students to take practical steps towards realizing those dreams, by partnering them with mentors who are experts in their fields, or by providing specific training in the areas where they want to succeed. We even created an entrepreneurship program which teaches children real life business skills, including product design, sales and promotion. Inspired and supported, the participants created their own successful beachwear brand, Love Our Earth, which now sells across Bali and as far afield as Australia and the USA.
Like too many young Indonesians, the children who joined our program usually began with low confidence and few ambitions – 3 years later our graduates include business development managers and engineers in the aviation industry, university students in Japan, and even a former student as our own operations manager. We didn’t create these talents: they were just sitting there, waiting to be encouraged and nurtured.
The crucial thing is to reach these potential entrepreneurs of the future when they are young. We recently conducted a survey which showed that at age 14 many disadvantaged youths still had big dreams, such as being doctors, businessmen or teachers. We all dream the most when we are young. But by age 16, these dreams had fallen victim to discouragement and doubt, and now their biggest goals were to secure jobs as wait staff, cooks or housekeepers. This lowering of ambition must stop if Indonesia is to fulfill its potential.
It’s not just the education sector which needs to change its thinking. Businesses need to be more open to recognizing, recruiting and nurturing local talent. Many Balinese businesses we work with are rising to that challenge, and see it as a way of reducing dependence on staff from overseas. The Government also needs to think about how best to train this next generation . Finally, the country’s many children’s NGOs need to focus very clearly on long-term outcomes, ensuring the children they support are properly equipped to thrive in the modern world and break out of poverty. If we all work together, extraordinary things can be achieved.
Many students said to me in those early days “but I don’t want to own a business, why should I learn about entrepreneurship?” The answer is that entrepreneurial skills – understanding how commerce works, being able to negotiate, having confidence in your own abilities – are useful in almost any path in life. If you are applying for an job in a 5 star hotel, one where you may be competing against many other nationalities, confidence and communication skills are essential. If you want to work in a bank in Jakarta, financial savvy and ability to negotiate will set you apart. Even if your ultimate future is as a housewife, entrepreneurial skills are important in managing your household’s budget and resources.
Ultimately, the whole of Indonesian society will benefit from a new generation of bright, confident, entrepreneurial young people. President Wikodo’s speech is a challenge to us all – let’s rise to it together.