The pandemic has created a Covid-19-apocalypse of unemployment. In the first quarter of 2021, with Statistics South Africa reported alarming figures for youth unemployment:
* Youth account for 60% of total unemployment;
* 46,3% of youth aged 15-43, and over 63% aged 15-24 are unemployed;
* 40% of graduates aged 15-24, and 15% of graduates aged 25-34 are unemployed; and
* 32,4% of youth aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training.
At the same time, the youth population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050, bringing unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.
With this in mind, the University of the Witwatersrand has launched the Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic (WEC).
The Clinic, based in the Wits School of Business Science, is one of 24 projects in Africa that successfully bid for funding from the inaugural Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, a new initiative developed by the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships programme that seeks to support the development of Africa-UK partnerships that can build institutional capacity for universities to develop entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in selected African countries.
The University of Edinburgh with whom Wits has a long-standing partnership, is the UK partner in the project, together with ecosystem players – the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the Africa Circular Economy Network.
“Young entrepreneurs are one of the country’s best hopes in solving the jobs crisis. However, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, South Africa’s Total Entrepreneurial Activity is behind the average of other economies with a GDP per capita of less than $20 000, and one reason is that entrepreneurship as a career trajectory has historically received little support at university level.
“The Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic aims to strengthen the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to enable young entrepreneurs to become the future job creators and the drivers of economic development in Africa,” says Dr Rob Venter, project leader for the WEC and senior lecturer in management in the Wits School of Business Sciences.
To achieve this, experiential learning and evidence-based management, together with a structured mentorship programme, will help develop senior commerce students to become clinicians who will provide professional and quality business advice to entrepreneurs within the University community and general public. In doing so, the students will develop business acumen and improve their overall employability.
The Clinic will also bring together academic staff, alumni, volunteers, and entrepreneurial business leaders, to develop a culture of and appreciation for entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to employment whilst at the same time provide support to budding entrepreneurs in surrounding communities.
WEC also aims to encourage and develop enterprises that are centered on grand challenges. In particular, entrepreneurial opportunities that address challenges related to climate change and the circular economy will be encouraged.
Universities have a pivotal role to play in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship for the good of the world. “That is why, in celebrating its centenary this year, Wits has identified catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship as one of eight strategic priority areas for the next 100 years,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University.
“Wits’ origins are bed-rocked in the entrepreneurial spirit of the mining revolution in South Africa. A hundred years ago it was this spirit flaming the need for higher education and training that led to the establishment of the University in 1922.
“It is only fitting that in its Centenary, Wits is returning to its roots by creating space, offering knowledge, and commitment to help foster entrepreneurship that is desperately needed for the country to address burgeoning poverty and unemployment levels,” says Vilakazi.
The Clinic is one of the first initiatives aligned with Wits’ recently approved Strategic Plan for Innovation. As part of this strategic plan Wits has set up the Wits Innovation Centre (WIC) that will coordinate all innovation-related activities at the University. A R50-million endowment was also received to establish the Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation.
Wits’ Director for Innovation Strategy Professor Barry Dwolatzky, says: “The WIC and WEC are both part of a key drive to create an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset at Wits as we enter our second century.”