Keeping businesses afloat in Uganda: the case for teenage entrepreneurs

Soteri Karanzi Nabeeta. Courtesy photo.

By Soteri Karanzi Nabeeta

Ugandans have been hailed world over as being highly enterprising, in the sense of starting businesses. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) reports indicate that 28% of adults own or co-own a new business.

Unfortunately, Uganda also ranks among the worst countries with high enterprise collapse rates. The GEM reports that while about 10% of Ugandans started a business last year, a fifth of individuals aged between 18 and 64 have also discontinued a business in the past year.

These high collapse rates have been attributed to a number of factors notably: copy and paste businesses, insufficient financial resources and unhealthy competition, among others.

As expected, training institutions and other stakeholders have designed courses and programmes, all geared towards addressing entrepreneurial challenges in the country.

Besides, benchmarking interventions have been conducted at an individual, organisational and national levels all geared towards improving enterprise productivity. Support institutions like Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), among others, have established one stop centres, all aimed at easing enterprise start-up and registration.

These and many other efforts are commendable and should be sustained for better enterprise durability.

In order to sustainably promote entrepreneurship in the country, there is need to focus on ‘teenage entrepreneurship’. Teenage entrepreneurship involves young people (from about 7 years of age) starting and operating enterprises.

It is incumbent upon parents and guardians to identify the interests, passion and talents of the young people. They should then propel these attributes through encouragement, guidance and any other form of support needed to boost their entrepreneurship potential.

Teenage entrepreneurship is highly successful in the Indian and Asian economies. No wonder, these economies have produced some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. In Uganda’s case, some of the present and past successful entrepreneurs started the trade at a tender age, largely by design, not by choice, due to family hardships.

It would also be interesting to review the age groups of entrepreneurs whose businesses have collapsed before celebrating their 1st anniversary. Most of those I have interacted with have been owned by university graduates, who start the trade after studies, and retirees.

Most of these tend to start enterprises in which they have no passion (which is not a bad thing). But lack of passion for what one is doing ultimately limits the level of the entrepreneur’s patience.

Until the mid-nineties, it was common in villages to find young people with their own gardens during planting seasons. Whereas they would provide labour on all family plantations, each of them would learn to have ‘their own garden” where they would plant pineapples, sorghum, maize and beans. The proceeds from these gardens would be put to personal use, with parental guidance.

Out of these efforts, some young people managed to pay their own school fees for formal education while others invested further and became richer. Imagine if there were deliberate plans to support this culture!

The country seems to have lost focus when formal education was emphasised at the expense of other educational forms.

Even worse, some parents would discourage children who tried to engage in early income generating ventures by threatening them with punishment, which was, and still is, wrong in my opinion.

Parents and guardians ought to devise strategies to assist the young people who have exhibited entrepreneurial potential to grow their talents. This encouragement should not necessarily undermine other life-skills training and education.

As government widens support to youth groups, there is need for a deliberate strategy to consistently support teenage entrepreneurship, even in school settings. That way, young people would learn the art of saving at a tender age, a crucial element of successful entrepreneurs.

Establishment of model homes at parish levels which are duly supported by the government for such initiatives is not a far-fetched idea, but only if not politicised.

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