The Anzisha Scenario – A future where students of high potential choose entrepreneurship as a career

In this article, Josh Adler Vice President, Entrepreneurship and Growth, African Leadership Academy shares the Anzisha Prize’s approach to imagining a future where young people choose entrepreneurship as a career path.

The term “4th Industrial Revolution” has come to embody the conversation around the future of supply-side of the jobs debate -skills and education. We hope to drive new research, discussion and policy around the demand-side of employment by deeply exploring entrepreneurship as a career -particularly for students of high potential. What if skilled students with options chose an entrepreneurship path and hired their friends and peers along the way? What does Africa’s youth employment situation look like if it happens?

The Anzisha Scenario campaign concept was born after heated discussions and exchanges internally in response to a research paper that was released in 2018, and the resulting coverage it got in the media. The research took a position that older founders in the US have been more successful as entrepreneurs generally, and particularly when it comes to scale and job creation. The media and social media that resulted seemed to quickly extrapolate this to an insight that applied globally. Emails quickly circulated across the entrepreneurship and education ecosystems echoing the sentiments of the research and its impact for programming.

I had a particularly strong reaction to the report. It’s not that the research is wrong (it isn’t), it’s that it:

  • It is pretty obvious. Prior work, life and management experience should make you a better entrepreneur when you’re older, in the same way it should make you a more successful manager or leader within an existing business.
  • It inadvertently positions the problem of youth unemployment as largely unsolvable by young people themselves. With not enough job opportunities to start with, if only people with 15 years + experience can create other jobs, we’re in a heap of trouble.
  • It is quickly supported by those who have followed traditional education and career pathways, crowding out other experience pathways as less legitimate. Anyone who received a great degree, and then worked for a great company, is immediately validated and pre-qualified as a better scale entrepreneur through formal training. Few have that opportunity.

Having had this research kick off some of our own thinking, we started to look at our own evidence and work. And this then became the next driver of investing in a campaign as a pan-African, inclusive, multi-stakeholder scenario planning exercise.

  • We have seen time and again young entrepreneurs start out from the very youngest of ages, and slowly build careers –in the same way any other career professional would. Those that are well supported throughout tend to be more successful, just as a well-supported professional would be on their path to senior management. We present these stories in our Hall of Fame.
  • We also have seen clear evidence that managers hire their peer group in terms of age. Older entrepreneurs hire older professionals. Young entrepreneurs hire young. The only people really willing to hire 19 year old’s without question are 23 year old entrepreneurs.
  • We have seen young people of high potential and choices (they are actively recruited by universities and employers) choose entrepreneurship.

The combination of this and many other thoughts are part of the discussion we want to have. Is the Anzisha Scenario possible. What are the drivers, barriers and opportunities? What are the roles of parents, teachers, students, policy-makers and other stakeholders in making the choice of “entrepreneurship as a career” desirable and supported, with appropriate income as you grow? The Anzisha Scenario as a conversation on campus has already begun to influence our own curriculum planning as our faculty think about their role in promoting and supporting entrepreneurship as a career path.

We’ve already had multiple stakeholder workshops with cross-sector representatives from South Africa, Mauritius, Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana. (Thanks to ALA, ALU, Harambee, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, Mckinsey, Nova Pioneer, Startup Academy and E-squared).

We look forward to you adding your voice. Please follow or contribute to the conversation using the hashtag #AnzishaScenario and let’s see if we as a community can put young people at the center of solving the employment challenges we collectively face.