An entrepreneurial mindset is not born, it’s made

Why SA might be missing a trick when it comes to reducing youth unemployment

Entrepreneurship has been heralded as the panacea to South Africa’s skyrocketing unemployment, which currently hovers somewhere in the stratosphere of around 35% – the highest rate of unemployment in the world. The thinking goes that if we can teach our young people to become entrepreneurs, we can create more jobs and thereby reduce the rate of joblessness.

Yet perhaps we should broaden our focus. Nkosinathi Mahlangu, Youth Employment Portfolio Head at Momentum Metropolitan, highlights that while entrepreneurship is one tool in tackling unemployment, not everyone is necessarily inclined or designed to be an entrepreneur. “By shifting our focus to cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset rather than solely birthing entrepreneurs, we make people more employable – another powerful tool in addressing unemployment.”

What is an entrepreneurial mindset? “A ‘self-starter’ mindset that defines how one acts in every aspect of their lives. It enables someone to identify and leverage new opportunities, take accountability or change direction when needed, and it typically goes hand-in-hand with resilience.”

Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in youth is a core part of Momentum Metropolitan’s mission. Along with developing and supporting entrepreneurs through providing access to markets, such as its recent Women in Farming initiative, it also provides training and mentorship that fosters this mindset in its young beneficiaries.

Mahlangu firmly believes that an entrepreneurial mindset is not born, it’s made. “It’s a critical attribute in those who go on to become entrepreneurs, but you don’t need to be an entrepreneur to have an entrepreneurial mindset.

“We see those who are entrepreneurially-minded and employed – also called ‘intrapreneurs’ – go on to have very successful careers. They are driven, innovative and strong problem-solvers.”

Twenty years ago, the American Heritage Dictionary acknowledged the word intrapreneur to mean ‘A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.’

However, this definition has since broadened. Mahlangu believes that South Africans are inherently entrepreneurial and that an entrepreneurial mindset is an important part of this.

“We are living in times where people’s passions can easily become sources of income, and we’re seeing more and more young people embracing other pursuits and labelling them as ‘side hustles’ – an important piece of the economic puzzle. This is, in fact, another manifestation of an entrepreneurial mindset, which is rapidly becoming part of our economic DNA.”

He shares three steps that parents or educators can follow that will help cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in youth.

Encourage tasks that inspire lateral thinking

A key difference between those who are entrepreneurially minded and those who are not is that the former want to make things happen. “Curiosity is an important trait in the entrepreneurially-minded.

“Encourage creative and lateral thinking through giving young people projects without much direction, and which involve them having to think creatively, says Mahlangu. “While they may initially struggle, it will give them a chance to start seeking opportunity and to take initiative – powerful traits in the entrepreneurially-minded.”

Don’t have all the answers

Instead of providing all the answers, give young people a chance to find their own solutions to problems. This is a key skill in the entrepreneurially minded, says Mahlangu, and provides them with the opportunity to assess a situation, analyse the problem, and identify a solution. “And if the solution doesn’t work as intended, another important lesson is learnt – that of failure,” he adds

When you misstep, set the example

Resilience is a key trait of the entrepreneurially-minded and begins with taking accountability. The best way of teaching a young person to be accountable? Setting the example yourself, says Mahlangu. “When you make a mistake, admit to it without shame, and share what you learned in the process.

“The entrepreneurially-minded recognise the role of their actions in contributing to their company’s success or failure, and can own both their wins and mistakes.”