Why promote Entrepreneurship?

Thanks Joseph. This is quite an important question, so I thought I’d reply as a new post.

Yes I do think promoting entrepreneurship is about promoting a set of positive personal qualities. You identify initiative, responsibility and risk-taking. I agree with these. (Particularly I think we must try to counter what sometimes appears to be a culture in the UK that is increasingly and absurdly risk averse and scare-mongering.) I would also add leadership, analysis, ‘drive’, and vision.

I think an entrepreneur is aware of his situation, observes a demand or need, and transfers resources to more effectively supply that demand or meet that need. All adults are at times required to act entrepreneurially. The qualities required for this I suggest are vital for the transformation from childhood to adulthood and for fulfillment. I would like to discuss the question of what ‘fulfillment’ is, particularly in relation to recent debates on teaching ‘happiness’, but I suspect it involves taking personal responsibility and meeting and overcoming challenges. I suspect many aspects of rites of passage promote qualities we might call entrepreneurial.

Promoting an entrepreneurial attitude is about promoting the ability to solve problems. Successful entrepreneurs must take responsibility, but are empowered. I would like to pursue a consideration of the extent to which promoting entrepreneurship may tie in with the promotion of actively involved citizens, particularly at the level of community empowerment and local democracy.

Promoting an entrepreneurial attitude is not about promoting business education. An entrepreneurial attitude is not bound with the profit motive. Indeed social entrepreneurship is the application of entrepreneurial qualities to achieve a social goal. One of the exciting things about social entrepreneurship is its potential to solve social ills that neither the state nor the market have been able to. Yes, Florence Nightingale was a social entrepreneur. And there is nothing wrong with ‘backdated descriptions’. I don’t think social entrepreneurship is a question of excusing business or ‘lumping together’ community activists. Rather, it is a way of defining, in order to support, a certain type of agent for positive social change.

Social entrepreneurship is perhaps part of a broader movement that recognizes three things. Firstly that the state cannot solve all social problems, secondly that economics is not a value judgment: it simply ‘is’ (e.g. that supply increases when there is more demand is not morally right or wrong: it is a law), and thirdly that when business does not recognize the true cost of its externalities the market proves unjust and is ineffective in solving social ills. The definition you provided I think illustrates this and gives some insight into the exciting potential of social entrepreneurship. I think I am right in saying that social entrepreneurship is currently internationally the fastest growing sector (I’m not sure by what measurement, but Bornstein’s ‘How to Change the World’ gives some interesting information, see also http://www.ashoka.org) . It is neither ‘devious’ nor insubstantial as you suggest, but the name given to a growing group of driven individuals with a sense of social justice, working in the real world.

The point, I think, is not only that entrepreneurship (particularly social entrepreneurship) is a phenomenon that the UK education system would do well to respond to, but that the promotion of entrepreneurship in schools is the promotion of qualities that lead to empowered and fulfilled adults. 


3 thoughts on “Why promote Entrepreneurship?”

  1. Jake,

    In your last post, you set out some more positive qualities – I’ll happily call them virtues if that’s not old-fashioned – that you think children should develop as a result of their schooling. I’m not about to disagree with them and I hope not too many other people would either. So is our disagreement entirely verbal, having only to do with a dislike or an inclination towards the term ‘entrepreneurship’? I don’t believe it is, though I think the verbal disagreement is not, in any case, trivial and it is this disagreement that I address first.

    ‘Entrepreneurship’ carries a number of connotations and you don’t have to be an enthusiast for any kind of literary theory to worry about the effects these connotations are likely to have. Most obviously this term is inescapably pro-business. You or I can define it in more neutral terms if we choose, but then we will not have a sufficiently weighty stamp to make much difference. Tony Blair, amongst others, has already recruited the social entrepreneur into the structure of his third-war ideology, claiming she is:

    Someone who brings to social problems the same enterprise and imagination that
    business entrepreneurs bring to wealth creation

    (http://www.seo-online.org.uk/html/definitions.asp 14th August 06)

    Why isn’t he praising ‘business carers’ who achieve a similar dedication, concern and utility to those people who take on nurturing roles? Community action has, apparently, to develop its own vocabulary by analogy with business. But why should it? So-called social-entrepreneurs, on the broad definition you offer, must have existed before business entrepreneurs. And if community activists need to use this term why stop there? Do we understand Luther better if we regard him as a ‘religious entrepreneur?’ I can’t think of many people with a greater capacity for ‘enterprise’ (though it be a loaded term) or imagination.

    To my mind – and I’m sorry if I’m labouring the point – there is no way of avoiding sounding a bit relativist and recognising that these kinds of labels grow out of ideologies. All the virtues we have so far discussed are necessary for the success of cooperatives (though they are not sufficient). Indeed, some of the websites that you pointed me towards list cooperatives in their news items and stress their importance. But why should cooperatives not form the dominant language of citizenship education? All of the social virtues you mention could be taught quite comfortably under this header instead.

    By way of justification you mention that you think ‘social entrepreneurship’ is the fastest growing sector internationally. I haven’t found any evidence of that myself and would be interested to be pointed towards it. My immediate suspicion is that the definition is inclusive when it comes to compiling this statistic but this generosity is swiftly forgotten when some people enunciate what a social entrepreneur is. Besides which, if the sector is growing in the UK isn’t this just because the government has chosen to fund (or match fund) organisations that are described in this way. You ask whether schools should respond to the ‘phenomenon’ of social entrepreneurship, I worry that schools would merely be responding to a contrivance.

    My other concern with this third-way educationalist project is that it will teach these virtues at the expense of others, particularly the contemplative ones. In our enthusiasm for all things entrepreneurial aren’t we in danger of forgetting that education should also have a sobering effect? Pascal said something like ‘all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room’. Maybe schools should spend more resources trying to address this problem? If I could help children to appreciate this saying I would have made a modest contribution to addressing the environmental crisis. (And certainly a better contribution than I would achieve by helping children to develop their drive or capacity for risk-taking.)


    On a purely practical note you might want to try and get something up on the citized (http://www.citized.info/) website about whether we can only understand the idea of citizenship with reference to entrepreneurship.
    I’m contributing partly because I’m impressed by your energy and what you’re trying to do and also because it’s good for me to force myself to write. So direct me if there’s something where you actually benefit from another voice rather than having to answer out of politeness.

    Best wishes,


  2. Great piece guys. I’m in the process of learning as much as possible about entrepreneurship, I wish I was introduced to the concept at a younger age. Through my research, I believe that both of you bring some great points forward. I have a question though about what do you guys think about teaching kids business concepts? There is another blog I ran into that discusses that topic http://boujepublishing.wordpress.com/



  3. Thanks LB,

    I’ll take a look at that blog. I’d be interested also to hear more about your research.

    On teaching business concepts, I think it can be important. Within the citizenship agenda there is clearly some use in pupils gaining competency in the increasingly complex field of personal financial management. Also an understanding of how ‘business’ operates is essential for any free thinking, critical citizen.

    Beyond that, however, I am a little skeptical as to the usefulness and importance of teaching ‘business studies’ as a discrete subject, alienated from practical experience and devoid of any exposure to the encounters that probably really shape business people – those that require risk, initiative, analysis of an uncertain future etc. Moreover, I suspect the hardnosed business studies curriculum (in say KS4, perhaps even KS5) is not so specialized or mystical that it can’t be learnt pretty quickly by anyone with decent levels of literacy, numeracy, analytical thinking etc. learnt in other subjects.

    I think I might therefore prefer business studies to be focused on a meaningful, practical activity rather than course requirements. Preferably one in which the potential for making profit, and for failure, is very real. Failing that, I wonder if we’d produce just as good a set of entrepreneurs if we replace business studies with the requirement to climb a very big mountain or trek through a jungle?!

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