Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions: having seen more social and technological change in the past two decades than in all previous centuries combined. Things are changing so fast that we barely have time to steady ourselves after one technological wave, before another washes up on deck and sweeps us off our feet again.

With AI, genetic engineering and robotics on the anvil, this pace is unlikely to let up anytime soon. It’s disrupting political, economic and social systems as well as cultural norms and social roles.

How can we prepare our-selves and our children for a world of such unprecedented transformation and radical uncertainties?
What should we teach to today’s babies that will help them survive and flourish in the world of 2050?

Since we have no idea how the world and the job market will look like in 2050, we don’t really know what particular skills people will need. Perhaps, much of what kids learn today will likely be irrelevant by 2050.
We might invest a lot of effort to teach kids how to code in C++ or how to speak Chinese, only to discover that by 2050, AI can code software far better than humans, and a new Google Translate app enables you to conduct a conversation in almost flawless Mandarin, Cantonese or Hakka, even though you only know how to say “Ni Hao”.

So what should we be teaching?
Governments from all over the world started looking at Entrepreneurship and Enterprise education as a solution to securing and creating employment, supporting economic growth and, most importantly, helping kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance during the age of disruption.

The EU has named Entrepreneurship education as a priority for its 2020 Strategy, while Entrepreneurship programs and classes in colleges around the U.S. have quadrupled in the past 25 years.
Entrepreneurship education is key to provide what many pedagogical experts argue to be the key competences for 21st century; namely the four C’s – Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

They can help young people to deal with change, to take risks consciously, to learn new things, to better team-work and to preserve their mental balance in unfamiliar situations. This can positively impact the incredibly high rate of startup failure , as well as help the corporate people of tomorrow to bring agility to their organizations (Airbus’ A380 is yet another story of a major company which failed to apply entrepreneurial thinking and validate key assumptions before bringing the product into the market).

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Unfortunately, teaching kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them an equation in physics or the causes of the first world war. You cannot learn resilience by reading a book or listening to a lecture, and many teachers them-selves usually lack the mental flexibility that the twenty-first century demands, as they are the product of the old educational system.

Is today’s Entrepreneurship education up to the task?

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Most business schools teach students how to be a good manager in a big organization, techniques on how to be an effective member of a group instead of empowering them to become leaders or training them to overcome risky situations, using innovation and creativity.

Teaching entrepreneurship is mainly theoretical. Students are required to form teams and write a completely fictional business plan, without ever validating their assumptions.

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If we take a look at EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework of the European Union, today’s entrepreneurship courses
are mainly delivering only 2 aspects of the entrepreneurial journey:

  • Planning and management
  • Financial and economic literacy

However, the key ingredients to start a business are completely missing in today’s entrepreneurship classes. These are: Courage. Conviction. Confidence. Belief. Heart. Spirit. Will. Perseverance.

Entrepreneurship classes tell stories about people who have these qualities, without actually teaching them.. Since the classes are too Theory oriented, we end up educating students about entrepreneurship instead of educating them through entrepreneurship. Having students passing an exam based on a highly detailed, fictional business plan, transforms the whole experience into a farce. This is even more aggravated by an educational system that doesn’t accept failure, as it doesn’t see it as a fundamental component of the entrepreneurial learning process.

Entrepreneurship is about failure.

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Entrepreneurship is about teaching students that failure is part of the game, and we can only succeed if we learn from it, instead of stigmatizing it… The ultimate goal is to master failure, so we learn from it and rapidly find out how we can make someone’s life better with our solution before we run out of resources.

This cannot be taught through theory or knowing that Walt Disney was reportedly fired by a newspaper editor for not having good ideas and no imagination.

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The same applies to lean startup education – which offers a great approach to solving problems, and increases the opportunities for success by avoiding a dogmatic approach. Knowing the story of Airbnb’s co-founders, who tested their assumptions with an air-mattress, won’t help students excel at lean experimentation. Students indeed get the theory, but do not fully understand it until they apply it.

Entrepreneurship is about getting your hands dirty

As Steve Blank says, it’s about “Getting out of the room and start learning”.

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The best programs push students out of the classroom: get them to apply design thinking to empathize with customers and define real problems worth solving. They require students to stalk early adopters to observe their behavior and run interviews with strangers, to learn about pains, gains and how they are solving the problem today.

At the University of Southampton, students are required to come up with a social enterprise idea for the school, so they can tackle problems that are close to them, targeting people that are easy to reach and interview.

They must build their business model in Babele and engage students from across the campus to help validate key assumptions. They must develop an MVP, find customers, and validate the existence of a market opportunity. The best proposals are supported by KPMG consultants, and a winning proposal gets seed-funding from the university for the implementation. Students have the opportunity to iterate their idea and pivot several times during the time of the course. I wish that more courses would embrace this approach.

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Another powerful way to get your hands dirty is through entrepreneur-student collaborations.
Initiatives such as Junior consultancy , which enable students to work side-by-side with entrepreneurs who are running real businesses, provide a unique opportunity for both worlds.

It enables often overwhelmed entrepreneurs to take a step back and get the big picture of their business model, assess the pain points, and use the students to come up with solutions that can be collaboratively prototyped.

On the other end, it enables the students to focus on a real business case, with real customers and real business issues, so they can learn on the field, through a combination of experiential learning and an internship like field-work.

Entrepreneurship is about Impact

Do you agree that business must serve the Global Sustainability Agenda?

Addressing the daunting social and environmental challenges facing our societies and planet will require a generation of conscious business innovators and change-makers.No alt text provided for this image

Already, millions of entrepreneurs trade for a social or environmental purpose,and reinvest their profits into their mission, and are accountable for their actions. They create jobs and bring hope to our most disadvantaged communities, delivering social, environmental and economic value. Through their innovative approaches to reduce inequalities, these entrepreneurs provide a model for rebalancing how money and power are controlled. However, their story is untold to most students, despite new generations place an increasing importance on values and ethical practices in the workplace.

As the British Council brilliantly explains in this article : social entrepreneurship should be integrated into education systems, as it would create opportunities for young people to solve global issues and equip them with a lifelong capacity to address problems through an enterprising approach.

Step #1: Reinventing the teacher role

The bottle-neck of the 21 st century Educational Reform is the teacher, and its resistance to change regarding its role.

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In the age of information technology, through an ever pervasive internet, we have content, videos, readings, case studies, blogs and podcasts about literally any topic.

Why in the world students should go to class to listen to one person explaining a topic – that they could easily learn somewhere else, perhaps better explained?

We have the luxury to have all the information available, in the palm of a hand. Students could learn at their own pace, organize their learning accordingly and, perhaps, learn about lean startup from the comfort of their toilet at 11pm in the student dorm (all we need to do is to help them to self-manage themselves). In such a society, the role of the professor that comes to class to hold the traditional lecture is simply anachronistic. Professors must become mentors for the students, so that they can dedicate more quality time to each team and, through coaching, help them to recover quickly after each failure, and truly support them with developing the skills that make-up
an entrepreneur.

The time is now

If you wanted to change the world 400 years ago, you did it through religion; 200 years ago, you did it through government; today, you do it through business.

According to a recent study , the upcoming Generation Z are addressing social problems rather than waiting for the government to take action.

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They’re forming their own small businesses rather than waiting for the job market to improve or for companies to consider them over millennials. These young men and women are in desperate need to learn entrepreneurship, as compared to the past. If they truly want to
change the world, they will have to do it through business.

So we need to reinvent the way we teach entrepreneurship to students if we want to give them the tools and resources to foster a new era of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity, as well as succeed where the previous generations have failed.

Emanuele Musa

Interesting Resources

Through the Hillary European Funded project, together with 7 consortium partners, we have developed a completely free curriculum about social entrepreneurship: