A few weeks ago, I found myself housebound and in need of inspiration. Serendipitously, I came across Masterclass, a collection of online courses starring luminaries in the culinary arts, writing, interior design, business, and other industries.
Having a somewhat star-struck affection for French pastries, my first class was by pastry chef Dominique Ansel. Other than the flawless techniques with which he whipped up the zesty madeleines, luscious strawberry fruit tart, and a decadent chocolate cake, I was also piqued with interest about his entrepreneurial spirit. In the first lesson in the series, Ansel explains his journey in accumulating the skills and finesse for pastry-making, the challenges he faced when he set up his bakeries in various locations to winning several accolades and awards for his innovative creations.
In retrospect, government policies should aspire to prepare and support its citizens to build successful lives. This includes having a world-class education system that cultivates raw talent in their areas of choice, equipping them with a wide range of important interpersonal skills to enable them to work with others, and also imparting precious knowledge about entrepreneurship.
National skill sets
Every country has a collection of hallmark companies that it’s proud to showcase. Sweden, for instance, celebrates the success of iconic companies, such as Spotify, Skype, H & M, and IKEA. The capital, Stockholm, has become a haven for start-ups and the number of unicorns (billion-dollar tech companies) that it yields per capita.
This is as a result of government policies and regulations that support small and medium enterprises. The government has launched an online portal (verksamt.se) dedicated to entrepreneurs, which brings together information and services from over 50 government agencies. One of the key ways the government facilitates entry to business is the Right to Leave to Conduct a Business Operation Act, a law issued in 1997 which gives employees a statutory right to take a six-month leave off their jobs to start their own business.
Culture of start-ups
Additionally, embedding entrepreneurship classes in high school and university education has encouraged people to be more interested in starting a business, especially among students and young adults. As a result, Sweden’s SMEs account for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, employing 65.5 per cent of the total working population, and generating 59.7 per cent of value added in the non-financial business economy.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) works with governments to develop customised entrepreneurship curricula, including the syllabus, teachers’ guides, textbooks, monitoring tools, assessment guides, and training for teachers. The Entrepreneurship Curriculum Programme, as it is named, is rolled-out nationwide in general secondary schools or vocational schools.
The young can gain important entrepreneurial skills, such as self-confidence, risk-taking, teamwork, and creativity. Additionally, they will also get a hands-on, practical training in identifying market opportunities, setting up and operating a business, and managing resources.
Enterprise Singapore, the government agency responsible for SME development, organises internships and management associate programmes to groom entrepreneurs. One of their signature programmes, the Global-Ready Talent Programme, provides university students internships in local and global successful companies.
The Management Associate Programme offers students or graduates with an opportunity to work overseas in order to gain in-depth industry knowledge within a regional market for a minimum one-year tenure. Another successful programme is the SkillsFuture, which provides subsidies for Singaporeans to develop mastery and skills, in-line with the government’s economic priorities.
Furthermore, the Singaporean government launched the Productivity Solutions Grant to support SMEs in adopting pre-approved digital solutions that will enhance productivity. The $30,000 grant covers sector-wide solutions, like data analytics, customer management, inventory tracking, and financial management. It also covers sector-specific IT solutions in the retail, food, logistics, precision engineering, construction and landscaping industries.
Helping out with the first steps
Similarly, in the US, the Small Business Administration provides a series of free, online courses on a variety of aspects pertaining to managing a business. The topics range from financing options, writing a business plan, pricing models, to legal requirements, marketing, and understanding customers.
We should thank entrepreneurs the world over for their ingenuity and innovation in birthing remarkable businesses that make our lives easier and more fulfilling. Policymakers should strive to cultivate this entrepreneurial spirit from a young age and continue to support business owners throughout their careers so that they can continue adding value not only to the economy, but also to the communities in which they work in.
SMEs are driving job growth, but need higher investment in skills, innovation and tech to boost wages and productivity.
Sara Al Mulla is an Emirati civil servant focusing on human development policy.