Getting to know the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an international organisation providing entrepreneurship training and education programmes to young people
Halogen360 (H360): What is the role of entrepreneurship education in the context of nation building in the US and internationally? What are the key benefits?
Paulina Camarena (PC): Today’s youths face a new reality: a world that is more dynamic and less certain. No longer are good grades and college acceptance the keys to success. To be competitive in today’s economy, young people also need a way of approaching their lives that is opportunity focused, perpetually innovative, and self-directed. We call this approach “the entrepreneurship mindset”. The entrepreneurship mindset is the set of attitudes, skills, and behaviours that young people need to succeed academically, personally, and professionally. These include initiative, perseverance, adaptability, creativity and problem solving.
Increasingly, educators and employers are recognising the importance of entrepreneurial qualities and clamouring for ways to impart them. Their interest is bolstered by education researchers’ findings that student success in both higher education and later in life depends on a combination of both academic skills and non-cognitive skills – quintessentially entrepreneurial skills. Like business leaders, political leaders recognise the benefits of a skilled, highly employed and well-compensated workforce as a foundation of a growing economy. As more and more jobs require the skills comprising the entrepreneurship mindset, governments will see the need to invest in – and reap – the rewards.
H360: In Singapore, much of the entrepreneurship education is available to students as courses or electives of those in Institutes of Higher Learning. However we’ve noticed in the US, in the case of NFTE also, that the education is targeted for high school youths. Why is this the case? Also, it is targeted at inner city kids and not those who will end up doing MBAs from the Ivy League schools. Is there a reason why?
PC: Students lost in high school are, more often than not, lost forever. Over 26 years of teaching entrepreneurship, NFTE has found that entrepreneurship is a powerful tool to engage and empower young people. It keeps them active in school and connects their classroom experience to real-world benefits. Based on our research, NFTE graduates are more likely to stay in school longer, do better academically, start businesses and earn more money than their peers.
Because entrepreneurship is a mindset, NFTE has found that reaching young people while their attitudes and opinions are still forming is essential to sparking a genuine entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, our view is that setting this mindset may be done more effectively at an even earlier age of pre-high school.
The NFTE focus on at-risk students is precisely because those students lack so many of the advantages shared by their peers. We have also observed, as have many others, that a great number of disadvantaged students do very well in entrepreneurship-related activities because they are disadvantaged. In short, many of the living and success skills at-risk young people learn early and use every day are entrepreneurial. It’s why so many entrepreneurs don’t attend elite schools and earn MBA degrees. Some do. But a great many don’t.
“Because entrepreneurship is a mindset, NFTE has found that reaching young people while their attitudes and opinions are still forming is essential to sparking a genuine entrepreneurial spirit.” – Paulina Camarena, NFTE Programme Director
H360: Coming from the US, the “mothership” of entrepreneurial activity, how does entrepreneurship education apply in the context of other countries? From NFTE’s international rollout of local partners, what type of outcomes have you seen?
PC: Every country is different. NFTE has to adapt to the local context whenever we enter a new community. But most, like the US, face school dropouts, youth-at-risk and youth unemployment. Entrepreneurship education is not just a solution for poverty in the US. It’s a solution around the world. The results in the ten countries teaching NFTE programmes are excellent, although on different scales.
Many countries have specialised schools, like in Colombia, where we have a programme in several rural schools. This shapes the nature of the students’ businesses; it allows them to focus on what they know and what they are good at. China is our biggest programme. This year they will reach 41,000 students. Mexico is our newest market and it has a lot of potential for growth. The first Mexican NFTE winner will be joining us for our annual gala in Washington, DC in April. His business is called Mousikelo and he produces and records music for musicians on a budget.
H360: What are the key outcomes of the entrepreneurial education initiative that NFTE offers?
PC: There are several benefits. Our research shows that students who are exposed to entrepreneurship education connect their education to real-world opportunities As a result, they stay in school longer and have better outcomes including careers and income. Most importantly, NFTE classes give young people a real sense of ownership over their futures and the tools to turn that future into success.
“Our research shows that students who are exposed to entrepreneurship education connect their education to real-world opportunities As a result, they stay in school longer and have better outcomes including careers and income.” – Paulina Camarena, NFTE Programme Director
H360: How does NFTE nurture the entrepreneurial spirit?
PC: Our programme model is classroom-based, with entrepreneurship lessons that teach math and literacy skills in the context of building a business plan. Programmes are rigorous, experiential, and vital to students’ futures. At the end of the course, the students have a chance to compete for seed capital through a series of business plan competitions from their classrooms, to regionals, to NFTE’s national competitions.
H360: What is a teacher’s role in entrepreneurship education/grooming young entrepreneurial leaders?
PC: Our specially trained teachers transmit the passion for entrepreneurship. They also have to make it simple for the kids to learn business basics. For instance, it’s normal for youth to feel overwhelmed when it comes to financials but in the end they realise they have the potential to develop their own income statement, understand it and explain it in front of a panel of judges.
H360: Would having an entrepreneurship mindset be key for young leaders in preparation for the future? If yes, why?
PC: Yes, an entrepreneurial mindset – taking risk, pushing forward despite adversity and recognising opportunity – has many benefits beyond business. With these views, citizens tend to be more fiscally responsible and more committed individuals who take ownership to solve community challenges. Moreover, the global economy will benefit from the development of entrepreneurial skills in youths to address critical issues such as the nearly 75 million unemployed youths around the world (ILO, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012), and the oft-noted misalignment between education and employer’s needs (UNESCO, 2012 Skills Gap Survey). Overall, entrepreneurs are seen as the critical component to jump-start local and national economies, and to generate the jobs that will stimulate growth (G20 Entrepreneurship Barometer 2013).
H360: Entrepreneurship education is usually spoken of in Singapore in an economic context. Can entrepreneurship education impact the social sector in the form of social initiatives and social enterprises? Are the mindset and skills transferable?
PC: Entrepreneurship education is able to impact every aspect of a person’s life. We all use opportunity recognition, marketing, sales and financials in different aspects of our lives. Students who are exposed to entrepreneurship are more engaged citizens and achieve more – even as employees. The skills also transfer to social settings, non-profits and other organisations.
H360: If you would have a piece of advice/encouragement/challenge to an educator and a youth in Singapore, what would you say?
PC: Entrepreneurship is fun because it’s a great and creative way to solve problems and make money at the same time. It gives you the power to create the life and business you’ve always wanted. There’s no better time to start than right now.
Update: At the time of the interview earlier this year, Paulina Camarena was still holding the post as programme director. At the launch of this article, she has moved on from NFTE.—
Article by Jael Chng