Zimbabwe has one of the fastest growing economies in the world; the most educated populace in Africa; the best climate globally according to the UN and correspondingly the growth of the nation's mining, tourism and agriculture sectors is set to be first, second and third in the world in 2011.
Zimbabwe is also the richest country on the planet with respect to the IMF's Natural Resources Per Person Index and yet her GDP Per Capita is a mere $365, second to last after the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Most people ask: how did Zimbabwe drift into negative socio-political and economic limelight when all’s been well but did not end well? Reams of editorials, thesis' and books have tried to answer this question and as important as this question is, Zimbabweans must focus on how to ensure that the gap between the nation's GDP and undoubted potential is closed as quickly as possible.
How do we get there, when all has not been well but should end well? The answer lies in the youth and the ongoing indigenisation and empowerment initiative.
Victor Hugo once remarked; ''You can resist an invading army but you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.'' Today, indigenisation is such an idea. ''Every generation needs a new revolution,'' Thomas Jefferson wrote towards the end of his days. The revolution of the current generation must be an entrepreneurial one spearheaded by the indigenisation and empowerment drive.
Our parents’ generation aspired to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, and engineers – persons of standing in society. Given the regime that constrained their potential, these were indeed noble goals, but we must ensure that our children are educated to aspire to run law firms, set up medical practices, create engineering firms from scratch and build schools and centres of excellence – in short, become owners and entrepreneurs rather than CEOs. Ergo, change makers and economic drive-chains rather than economic cogs.
This brand of Social Entrepreneurship is what has driven many economies towards their pinnacle: the exploration that drove the British Empire during the 19th Century, the free-wheeling and albeit flawed enterprising capitalism that has driven the American Empire during the 20th Century and of late the entrepreneurship that has created many multinational companies from scratch and driven growth in Brazil and India, that will come to define this century.
In today's global knowledge based economy, entrepreneurs play a vital role in creating new companies, commercialising new ideas and just as importantly, engaging in sustained experiments in what works and what does not. Zimbabwe's best way to be globally competitive is not lower prices but new ideas.
Entrepreneurship is a powerful force for doing good as well as doing well. In fact, a small number of innovative start-up companies account for a disproportionately large number of new jobs. Start-ups spin off subsidiaries, provide experience to employees who then decide to go it alone, and nurture dozens of suppliers.
As a result of economic sanctions, the “go to college, get good grades and then get a job,” mantra isn’t working the way it once did. Inadvertently sanctions on our companies have paid a demographic dividend – Zimbabwe is now teaming with young entrepreneurs, call them accidental entrepreneurs, unintended entrepreneurs or forced entrepreneurs if you will. Clearly it is no longer a pure dichotomy that entrepreneurship is risky and other jobs are safe, so why not encourage our youth to follow their dreams and do what they love whilst creating jobs in the process?
The Indigenisation and empowerment drive anchored on youth entrepreneurship can lead to the democratisation of opportunity and increased control by citizens over their own economic fate if it expands its focus from shareholding to include four key areas:
The first is investment to promote a vibrant higher education system. The more nations that we out-educate today the more countries we can out-compete tomorrow. Business is increasingly dependent upon knowledge, particularly technical knowledge. Some 75% of all the high-growth businesses created in Zimbabwe since Independence were launched by University graduates. Government must ensure that entrepreneurship is taught in secondary schools so as to create a shift from a résumé-driven society to one where people create their own jobs.
The second is openness to foreign direct investment and outsiders. Emigrés have always been more entrepreneurial than their stay-at-home cousins and their funding is an indispensable source of venture capital required to get local entrepreneurs onto their feet: the three most entrepreneurial spaces in modern history have been the ones inhabited by the Jewish, Chinese and Indian diasporas.
Zimbabwe's diaspora renowned for its work ethic and standard of education could help circulate ideas, money and skills; they fill skills gaps; and they mix and match knowledge from different parts of the world. The diaspora can provide local entrepreneurs with advice, contacts and management skills as well as money.
The third is to harness technology. The tools to become an entrepreneur are more accessible ever these days. Thanks to the Internet, there are fewer upfront costs. A business owner can build a Web site, create slide presentations online through a browser, host conference calls, and host live meetings and Web seminars — all on a shoestring budget. The next Google or Facebook could well be cooked up in a room in Harare or Mutare.
The fourth is creating a regulatory environment conducive for stimulating entrepreneurial enterprises: A big challenge for Zimbabwe is the relatively undeveloped intellectual property rights environment, which continues to stifle incentives for invention. Why invest in something that can be copied without any consequence?
Government must lower corporate taxes for start-ups, reduce costly reporting regulations for nascent companies and expand tax breaks for research and development to make it cheaper and faster to start new firms. Capital gains tax for any profit-making venture start-up should also be slashed to 1%. Our best minds should be able to make a killing from starting new companies rather than aspiring to work for banks that make a killing by betting against existing companies and stifling funding for young entrepreneurs.
Finally, these banks and local venture capitalists fund only a small fraction of start-ups in Zimbabwe. The money for the vast majority comes from personal debt or from the “three fs”—friends, fools and families. The Indigenisation Fund should be the fourth ''f''. The indigenisation and democratisation of the Zimbabwean economy is not merely a moral initiative designed to overthrow the legacy of a past discriminatory colonial economic system. It instead serves as a pragmatic development strategy designed to unleash the nation’s full economic potential.
However, neither the past wrongs nor future’s promise can be addressed without prioritising youth economic empowerment and young entrepreneurs. The energy, innovative capacity and aspirations of youth constitute a capital that no society can afford to waste.
By Garikai Chengu
Garikai Chengu is a research scholar at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
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