By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES Consulting
Go ahead, admit it. Your parents told you that if you go to school, work hard, and get good grades, you could be anything you want, right? And I bet you're planning on cascading that same old, worn out message to your kids, too. Go ahead. Admit it. I promise not to call CPS to report you if you simply read until the end of this post.
If you're over 30, I guess I can't blame you for being brainwashed into going down the 'get-a-job-be-an-employee-for-life' road. However, I can blame you for still thinking that way and being willing to subject your kids to a life of humdrum mediocrity. That's borderline cruelty.
The education system in most of the West is fundamentally flawed. Students are given indoctrination in reading, writing, and arithmetic with an aim towards preparing them for college so that they can be valuable employees. That's fine. Some people have to be employees. However, we have to agree that people's talents and ambitions are not one-size-fits-all. What might work well for some will not work at all for others.
When I was in the 3rd grade, I was a total misfit. I couldn't sit still at my desk. I was always up and out of my seat, running laps around the classroom, taking out my personal book collection to read during the class, or literally rolling around on the floor. I was diagnosed with ADHD. My teachers wanted me medicated. I wanted to be engaged. I scored off the charts on the state standardized tests every year, but I was BORED in school. I wanted to build stuff and take it apart and build new stuff. I wanted to do experiments to see how things really worked. I wanted to do big, exciting stuff. But the school wanted me to sit down and shut up to listen to boring lectures by teachers who, in all honesty, weren't as smart as me. It drove me crazy and eventually I hated school. High school was no better, but at least playing football gave me a way to legally release my frustrations, and earn an opportunity to get out of the hood and get a free college education. I went to college intending to study business so that I would never have to be poor again, but too many 8 am classes in accounting and microeconomics forced me to switch majors and go to law school. A few memorable debates aside, nothing much changed. It was all the same.
Studying business in America, for the most part, doesn't equip you to start and run your own successful business. Instead, the curriculum is largely geared to teaching you how to work competently in a corporate environment and perform various business functions. There are plenty of MBA holders who are school teachers now because the market is saturated, and promising job opportunities are increasingly difficult to find.
The problem with the status quo is that we end up with a Pareto-like 80% of the people doing the work, while real wealth is concentrated in the hands of 20%. But what if we think more outside the box and change the game? What if we teach kids to think about solving real-world problems with skills that they've developed by doing things that are meaningful to them? In short, what if we start teaching kids as young as 8 years old about entrepreneurship so that they enter adulthood with a stronger sense of self and the determination to create opportunities for themselves that could result in small business ownership and, ultimately, financial freedom? What if we help the next generation transition from job seekers to job creators? I'm not saying entrepreneurship alone is the panacea for all of the world's ills, but giving the next generation a head start on becoming the next wave of movers and shakers beats the heck out of the alternative.
Youth Entrepreneurship Training
There is growing momentum globally for the support of youth entrepreneurship programs. All of the G20 countries have initiatives in this regard, and many countries in emerging markets are allocating government funds towards this end, as well.
In the absence of a local program that can benefit your kids, here are a few suggestions for getting your kids exposed to entrepreneurship with little to no cost or risk.
- Simple Sales. School or community bake sales or lemonade stands are a great way to start kids selling items that are easy to produce, without having to deliver a real 'pitch'. In fact, sales of this sort can be done in groups, encouraging teamwork and shared responsibility, and everyone can share in the profits.
- Simple Services. A Saturday car wash at the local school or park, a lawn mowing service, or baby sitting can all be great ways to encourage youngsters to think about ways to earn money in non-traditional ways. There are minimal supply costs involved here, and these activities can also encourage shy children to become more confident as they deliver good service with a smile.
- Simple Skills. As kids explore more, they discover more about themselves, and a hobby that was born out of curiosity can quickly turn into a passion. Whether it's making stop-motion lego movies, blogging, or photography, passions that grow organically in children are relatively easy to cultivate as business ideas because the requisite skill set develops with the child's engagement of the activity.
- Training. OK, this is not a shameless plug for my KidPreneurs Bootcamp, but the reality is that getting inquisitive youngsters around other like-minded kids who have a passion and want to learn more about business, will help them focus on the real possibilities of business creation, especially when key business principles and techniques are introduced in an age-appropriate manner.
Look, nothing against your parents, but face the facts - they lied to you. If having a great future were as simple as going to school and getting good grades, we wouldn't have overpopulated prisons and homeless school teachers living in their cars. Give your kids the opportunity that you wish you'd had: teach them about entrepreneurship and financial literacy so that they can have the future they deserve.