Planting entrepreneurial seeds.

Author:Sinclair, Emma

Entrepreneur Emma Sinclair, the youngest person to float a company on the London Stock Exchange, was selected by UNICEF to become the first UK Business Mentor to take part in the Building Young Futures programme run in partnership with Barclays. The programme aims to help young people become entrepreneurs. Emma reflects on her recent trip to rural Zambia under the programme.

Youth unemployment is arguably one of the biggest challenges the world is facing today and the stats are terrifying: 1.2bn adolescents stand at the crossroads between childhood and adulthood--a world where they are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Africa, with the youngest population in the world, of course knows this only too well; it has approximately 200m young people aged between 15 and 24.

As an entrepreneur I see this as potential --young people who can become a demographic dividend. But how and what role can my world play in this? It was this challenge that interested me and made me seize the opportunity to become a part of the Building Young Futures programme. I visited Zambia to see the issue first hand. I knew that whilst I had little local knowledge, I do have a treasure chest of business know-how to go some way towards addressing that imbalance, as well as a keen desire to see what role technology and entrepreneurship, two topics close to my heart, were playing in job creation.

So that is how I found myself addressing tech start-ups in the US's famous Silicon Valley--Palo Alto at DEMO a few weeks ago, lecturing to MBA graduates at the London Business School the week after that and standing in the middle of a small village on eastern border of Zambia the week after that.

I was there to witness young people passing through a programme now in its sixth year, which offers enterprise training, support, mentoring, advice and access to finance skills in a way any young business person in any country and at any age might wish to have access to: a mini MBA, if you like. The programme is focused on giving young people the skills to set up their own businesses, which I was fascinated to see because I often ask what it is that make some people successful entrepreneurs and others not. Can a programme teach everyone to be an entrepreneur?

As the first Business Mentor that UNICEF and Barclays have sent to see the Building Young Futures programme in person, I was to join in those sessions, take the time to visit businesses already up and running and give one-to-one advice on any and every challenge or goal those business owners may have. And of course it often takes fresh eyes to bring fresh perspectives so I hoped I might come up with some innovative ideas to make the programme even more robust.

Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

Before I left for Zambia I questioned the validity of the programme because not everyone is, in my opinion, designed to be an entrepreneur. Some of us have an appetite for risk, ability in sales and indeed an idea we believe is worth supporting. Others...

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