10th August 2016

Entrepreneurship education is high on the agenda for many educational institutions across the world, particularly those in low to middle income economies. It helps to justify their role as catalysts for regional, economic and workforce development, especially in regions that suffer persistently high rates of poverty and unemployment[1]. The OECD’s[2] 2009 report and the entrepreneurship 2020 Action sub-strategy issued by the European Commission emphasised the need to embed entrepreneurship in all education sectors. In parallel, the MDGs-SDGs[3] frameworks provide distinct yet complementary development targets as part of a broader coalition to address the issue of global poverty, unemployment and rising inequalities. As such, many economies have used these frameworks as bases to set national development priorities.

The emphasis on entrepreneurship as a means of tackling poverty and unemployment is particularly relevant to Africa where there is a rapidly growing youth population compared to the rest of the world. Africa’s 226 million youths (aged 15 - 24 years old– this number increases significantly if 25-35 year olds were included), which account for 19% of the global youth population is largely unemployed and will increase to 42% by 2030, thereby swelling the predicted 1.1 billion urban labour force (exceeding China and India) as a result of urbanisation. By 2040, Africa’s urban areas would have received the equivalent number of migrants to the population of the United States. As such, urbanisation together with youth unemployment constitutes as the most significant challenge facing Africa in its efforts to integrate into the global economy. However, the paradox of Africa’s burgeoning youth sector presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. If African economies can provide its youths with the education, training and the employability skills essential to guarantee personal wellbeing, then the youth workforce could prove to be a powerful force that unlocks Africa’s potential for global integration.

In Nigeria, entrepreneurship education is a compulsory curriculum within the higher education sub-sector envisioned to provide students and youths with the entrepreneurial knowledge and skills for creativity, innovation and enterprise, ultimately create a pathway to develop entrepreneurial intention, and thereby address the issue of youth radicalisation by the Boko Haram group[4]. Entrepreneurship education perhaps was seen by the Nigerian government, and more recently by other African economies as an effective means by which their disparate poverty, unemployment and conflict mitigation initiatives could be linked – and given greater coherence. As a result of this, and a host of other serious reasons, Nigeria provides a useful strategic context in which to examine the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education as a way of tackling youth unemployment and terrorist conflict. First, apart from the size of its economy - ahead of Belgium, Norway and South Africa and its population - some 170 million and the world’s seventh most populous country - Nigeria is in every sense Africa’s superpower[5]. Yet, it is also a country plagued by systemic corruption, large-scale inequality and high youth unemployment. Secondly, labour productivity is very low and the number of workers in vulnerable employment remains very high at 77%[6]. Moreover, the latest rate of unemployment is very high and varies across the youth sector. 56.1% of 15-24 year olds are currently unemployed, whilst 32.8% of 25-34 year olds are either unemployed or underemployed.

Thirdly, the extremely destructive nature of the Boko Haram conflict and propaganda - which rejects all forms of formal or Western education, meant that most educational institutions particularly in northern Nigeria have been severely weakened and in some cases devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram’s abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls from Government School Chibok, which sparked the global media campaign - ‘#BringBackOurGirls’ underscores the extent of this devastation. Fourthly, and linked with the issue of systemic corruption, there are very serious broad (e.g., lack of wholesale commitment to articulating a sustainable entrepreneurship education model for Nigeria, lack of large-scale co-ordinated investment in entrepreneurship education research, training and infrastructures e.g., curriculum and pedagogy) and narrow (e.g., lack of institutional delivery capabilities) challenges which needed to be overcome before entrepreneurship education could function as a coherent strategy for tackling poverty and youth unemployment in Nigeria. It was precisely these broad and narrow challenges that the Wolverhampton Business School’s Centre for African Entrepreneurship and Leadership (CAEL) set out to confront in partnership with Bayero University Kano (BUK), Kano and the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Maiduguri through transfer of entrepreneurship education pedagogies and practices, whilst also providing for a concept of collaborative training and research that has guaranteed the sustainability of our model.

In addition, in order to achieve our goal of promoting and building the knowledge ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship education to thrive in Kano and Maiduguri – two Boko Haram strongholds, we had to overcome serious travel restrictions and risk of abduction by the Boko Haram group. Notwithstanding, we felt that UNIMAID and BUK share a strategic convergence as appropriate contexts in which to demonstrate for the first time that entrepreneurship education training could be an instrument not only for intellectual development but also for socio-economic empowerment within an environment devastated by terrorist violence. Against this backdrop, and amidst the socio-political tension and evidence that Boko Haram was actively recruiting BUK and UNIMAID students, we began by engaging directly with staff and students from both institutions as well as with community and business leaders in order to create awareness of the conceptual foundations of entrepreneurship education, its practices, and its effectiveness as a means of facilitating meaningful dialogue with different stakeholder groups about self-employment. Following these consultations, undertaken jointly with BUK and UNIMAID staff, we designed a comprehensive package of UK-based and in-country engagement and outreach activities including training of trainers, knowledge transfer workshops, curriculum design, graduate employability and mentorship schemes targeted at piloting new innovative ways of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills education. These activities comprise of the generation of business ideas, business skills acquisition, market analysis, advertising and financial management modelling skills framed around real sectors common in both regions namely; wielding, carpentry, pottery, bakery, tailoring, water processing, and ICT. Our project was delivered over a 24-month period with the following impact and outcomes:

  • SME policy changes and review e.g., establishment of Micro-finance Banks across local councils in the region

  • Design and validation of entrepreneurship degree courses, establishment of E-learning laboratories and operationalisation of entrepreneurial skills acquisition centres

  • Institutional capabilities for entrepreneurship education delivery

  • 1000+ trainers – who have trained over 10,000 beneficiaries most of them youth and women aged 22-35 years

  • 48+ start-ups at various stages of mentorships and with a combined workforce of 178+ some of them former Boko Haram supporters

  • Publications and collaborative research in entrepreneurship including PhD sponsorships

  • Prestigious UK national awards and recognition for impact e.g. 2014 Guardian Universities Award, IKT[7] Quality Mark and Small Business Charter Award

Although the impact of our work is recognised nationally and internationally, the Small Business Charter Award has particularly enhanced the visibility of our commitment to the principles of knowledge and skills acquisition through entrepreneurship education. Thanks to our Charter status, we have been emboldened and put in a position to negotiate more broad-based multilateral knowledge transfer partnerships aligned with the SDGs agenda, whilst also retaining our bottom-up approach to poverty reduction and employment generation in Africa through entrepreneurship, thereby helping to reduce youth vulnerability to poverty, radicalisation and terrorist violence.