Monday, December 1, 2008

Where are Ghana’s child entrepreneurs?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

According to available records Ghana’s population is made up of over 50% young people. They are between the ages of 18-40 years.

They are the energy soaked, ambitious and bubbling group of our population, who possibly, could determine the future of this country – whichever way they choose! But why aren’t they making headline news in entrepreneurship?

This brings me to the many fascinating stories I have read about teenagers who have earned a million dollars in the first year of their attempt at setting up business. They start on their own, while they are still doing home work with the help of parents and siblings.

Their businesses range from online, courier services, manufacturing to ICT.

One story of teenage entrepreneurs that has held me spellbound is that of Leanna Archer, a 12-year-old girl from Central Islip, New York in the USA.

Leanna’s story quickly sent my mind wandering about our cities’ major streets where most of our children have been reduced to eking out a living, as they pathetically sell sachet water. These kids weave dangerously in-between moving vehicles to be able to sell to thirsty travelers and passers by.

Some of these kids are as young as eight or nine years old. While they struggle on the sweltering sun to sell whatever, they are able to lay hands on, it is hard to tell how much money they are able to make risking their young lives in the manner that they do.

I do not believe they earn anything decent enough to be able to afford a balanced diet three times a day, let alone have some change for a good savings.

It would be surprising, that with their growing numbers on the streets, and competing with some adults, that they would be able to make good sales.

Back to Leanna’s story. This 12-year-old girl is already a star in the US. And the intriguing thing about her business is; she got the idea for her business from home. She took a recipe for home-made hair products and turned it into a money making business.

Leanna’s Grandmother made the product herself, and used it on her mother. Her mother started using the hair product on Leanna when she was three years old. Leanna decided to use the recipe and produce hair products for sale. Presto! She has a business.

She has developed her own website on which she is selling the product. She makes $5000 every month, making her business a $60,000 earner every year. And from the way things look now, this business is likely to grow faster than she has anticipated.

This is how the 12-year-old entrepreneur lives her life as she wrote on her website:

“With my parents’ help, on weekends I make and package Leanna’s Hair Products at home (Hair Dressing, Hair Oil Treatment, Shampoo, Conditioner, Deep Conditioner ).

During the week, after I complete all my homework, I pack boxes from every day orders that I get online and from selected hair salons.”

Yes. She runs her business from home, finds time to grant interviews to magazines, radio and TV stations, goes around to give motivational talks and still do her homework!

I am yet to come across any Ghanaian teenager who has actually started a business while still in school and under the parents’ care.

Please, if you are reading this piece and you know any one like that let me know. I want to interview them.

I am not saying Ghanaian children are not smart, but I am yet to see these smart kids start and run a business that bring in more money than their parents earn in a month!

The truth is, when you are a smart kid starting out something beyond and above what your seniors know or think in Ghana, then you must be a witch or a strange kid. And often the thought is that you must be protected from yourself or you might be killed by enemies or witches. You are then discouraged and advised to shelve any such idea.

The thinking which is widely held is that young people are not expected to take huge leaps in life and young people are not expected to know or do better than their elders. Indeed, this is extended into the corporate world, where your boss never expects you to know anything better than he or she does.

That attitude appears to have been so ingrained in the very core of our being as Ghanaians to the extent that it comes out so naturally for us to discourage a young person or subordinate from taking ‘outrageous’ decisions that would lead to achieving anything extraordinary.

It is no wonder that mediocre and substandard performers in various endeavours become instant heroes in our midst. True to word, they don’t last – they vanish just as they appeared on the scene on the wings of cheap propaganda. Some even earn national honours!

This country in my humble opinion has not figured out yet what to do with its young people. I wish I have the voice to tell all the gifted and talented young people to rise up and be counted. We seem to be giving our young people only what we deem to be an education. That is fine, but where does that leave us? Most young people graduate from university with First Class Degrees and yet have no clue about what to do with their lives.

Only a few of them really move on in life. Those who can’t stick it out quickly run back to the universities to acquire a Masters Degree – as if a Masters Degree grants automatic immunity from challenges that all graduates face. A Masters Degree in itself is a good thing, but it does not on its own guarantee success if you can’t function and you are not creative.

Others who have the money and can afford have gone to read Law. I just hope by passing the Law programme at Ghana’s Law School at Makola, they would become good, useful and successful lawyers.

I wish I have what it takes to tell Ghana's young to live up to their dreams no matter what. They have what it takes to change their lives, families, and the country and influence the world by releasing their creativity.

Ghana’s young ought to wake up and explore their entrepreneurial skills – it is one sure way of making the country better.

There are so many opportunities around us that we can turn into life-changing products and money making ventures. It does not take age to achieve anything; it is how you use what you have. Start with what you have and how much you know. Just look around you, there is probably a favourite item your grandfather or someone might have discarded. But it might hold the secret to your breakthrough.

Leanna used the home-made recipe her grandmother has been using for years and made products out of them and sold to the world. You can do the same or even more.

All adults have a duty to groom young people to fully discover their creative abilities. Don’t stop the children. If they become successful, no witch can kill them. God will protect them. Let them explore and be productive, Ghana can move forward with the young where the old have failed us.

The time is now or never. Let us give our young the encouragement and support to be resourceful and productive. And for those young people who spend all their time on the internet watching things that add nothing to their lives but destroy their already fragile future, please put a stop to it and use your energies on things that would challenge you to be creative in a meaningful manner.

Someone please, find me Ghana's child entrepreneurs.

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