By Seidu Agongo
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Ghana is blessed with immense talent in all sectors of life. The country has produced world greats in almost every sector, including in the areas of governance and leadership, the arts and entertainment, sports and entrepreneurship.
The enterprising nature of the Ghanaian is also evidenced in the depth of achievements that the citizens chalk up in every corner of the globe and area of operation that they find themselves in.
Back home, many have channeled their energies and dreams into establishing and sustaining businesses, out which jobs have been created and value added to the economy. While these are encouraging, the country needs to nurture more entrepreneurs as entrepreneurship is the bedrock through which nations develop and attain self-actualisation.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, the country needs to be deliberate and time conscious in raising the next crop of entrepreneurs to solve the nation’s teething problems, champion its growth and benefit from their ingenuity.
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This has to be seen from a national perspective rather than with the usual political and individual lenses. The benefits of entrepreneurship transcend parochial interests and serve as an avenue for individuals to contribute to national development.
Our family system is still strong and that increases the interdependency ratio. When an entrepreneur’s initiative employs someone, the likelihood is that the income to be earned would be used to take care of an average of three people – beyond the person’s nuclear family members.
Entrepreneurs are also a source of relief to the government. They create jobs to reduce unemployment, contribute to revenue generation and economic empowerment and arrest brain drain, which undermines national progress.
Ultimately, the more entrepreneurs a country has, the lesser the number of people who depend on the government for subsidies to cater for children’s education, utility bills and health care – the very demands that put extreme pressures on public finances and lead to strong debt overhangs.
This is why entrepreneurship is regarded the cornerstones of national self-reliance.
Therefore, as Ghana pushes for self-reliance, entrepreneurship would have to receive special attention through efforts that aim to raise and sustain the next generation of entrepreneurs. To do that we must prioritise rural/community entrepreneurship, sow and nurture the spirit of business ownership in the youth and purge ourselves of the political business cycle that emanates from the petty tagging of entrepreneurs with political parties.
For nations like Ghana aiming to develop sustainability, government policies and investments are only good to the extent that they unleash the entrepreneurial acumen of the citizens and cause same to flourish unhindered. That needs not be urban-bias but national, with special focus on peri-urban and rural communities.
In rural areas, entrepreneurship, mostly through micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), helps to curb poverty. That reduces rural urban migration, it bridges the gap created by big businesses in the areas of needs, and it mobilises the energies and skills of the rural folks for development.
Rural enterprises create value chain businesses by sourcing their inputs from colleague local enterprises, thereby sparking a chain of entrepreneurship and activity. The value generated then becomes the little drops of water that accumulate to spike national income while advancing the fortunes of the rural folks.
In the case of Ghana, the enormous diversity of the populace, with over 70 ethnic groups, dozens of staple foods and hundreds of unique cultural traits, makes this concept easier to implement. Each uniqueness can be leveraged and turned into a business idea, using the entrepreneurial skills of indigenes, and the products and services sold within the community.
The factories/businesses need not be massive and complex but quality, unique and efficient, specialising in providing goods for people in the localities.
In areas where seasonal fruits such as watermelons, mangoes, oranges, bananas, tiger nuts, pawpaw, guavas, pears and pineapples are in abundance, people should be encouraged to start smaller processing facilities to process the fruit for the local markets.
Similarly, indigenes of communities that are known to be hot spots for particular animal and poultry raring should be encouraged to process the meat for the locals. This will promote healthy living while creating jobs for the indigenes.
In this regard, an initiative by a Bolgatanga-based young entrepreneur, Mr Joseph Amoah, that processes guinea fowls for sale, come in handy. Mr Amoah and his Atibire Farms are known in Bolga and its environs for the supply of the processed ‘check check’ bird. His initiative has enhanced the businesses of smallholder guinea fowl farmers, provided incomes for people and encouraged the eating of the guinea bird.
In the guinea fowl raring zones, similar initiatives could be replicated in major communities.
Rural enterprises find it comparatively easier to gain strong patronage for their products and services. Consumers mostly identify with them and feel a sense of patriotism in patronising their products.
The businesses and factories are also easy to set up. They do not require sophisticated infrastructure to operate as they can be established literally anywhere, so long as there is a market with expendable income.
So, where do we start from? The district assembly system should be empowered to double as an entrepreneurship incubator. The assemblies should be given special funds to provide grants to workable business ideas that have been woven around the uniqueness of the locality.
These funds should be disbursed based on merit to people and institutions with superior ideas, not those with the best of societal and political connections and influences. There should be a robust system from the national level to track performance of beneficiaries, support them along the chain and revise the funding whenever necessary.
The successful entrepreneurs can now act as arrow heads through which newer ones will be nurtured.
Ghana’s economy is predominantly SME-driven, with various institutions and surveys saying that more than 80 per cent of all businesses fall under this category. Given the nature of SMEs, it is safe to say that all of them are private sector-owned, manifesting the ingenuity of the Ghanaian in the area of entrepreneurship.
Until recently, majority of these small businesses were owned and operated by elderly people and those in their mid-years. Although ICT and modernity has encouraged more young people into entrepreneurship, a lot more are still waiting to be employed, rather than aiming to be avenues for jobs.
This needs to stop. Fortunately, the conditions are ripe for a change. Across the country, many young folds are yearning to start businesses, with many leveraging their talents to create innovative solutions to problems facing their communities.
This needs to be encouraged, formalised and properly guided through policy and private sector support to birth the next great entrepreneurs.
While at it, the notion by most youngsters that they have to secure a job, right after school must be disabused and the avenue created through the curricular and teaching methods to discover and nurture entrepreneurship among students.
Our traditional way of teaching and examining students need overhauling to move it from book-based to hands-on. In its current state, the school system stifles creativity, innovation, and divergent thinking and ultimately produces graduates who want to work rather than start businesses.
Factories and businesses should also avail themselves to schools for practical tours and attachments to help give students firsthand experiences on how to start, manage and sustain a business.
Parents are also a critical factor. They must imbibe in their children the spirit of entrepreneurship and get them to understand that it is better to work for oneself than for another person. Even at tender ages, children should be made to earn their upkeep money and lessons on entrepreneurship taught them.
Role of state
With youth unemployment almost a national crisis, policymakers need to understand that entrepreneurship is a national service to help address a challenge that has dire security implications.
The days of state-led development are gone. It is now the turn of private sector-driven development and state apparatus must see themselves as facilitators of this new regime.
Like the travelator quickens and eases walking, state institutions must make it easier and smoother for ideas to flourish into businesses to help create revenue for the state, value for the economy and jobs for the populace. These conditions must be devoid of political leanings and must be national in character.
Ghana, like most African countries, is at a crossroads in its development trajectory. We have a good image and conducive sociopolitical environment that attracts foreign direct investments (FDIs).
We must now aim at growing the base of our entrepreneurship to produce what we eat and export to close our yawning non-oil import-export gap.
The author is a businessman and philanthropist, who founded several companies, including the recently collapsed Heritage Bank Limited
Author’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org