Today, in a world where students will travel 8000 miles to be educated, is it enough to simply educate them through the locational lens of their home Higher Education Institution (HEI)? At Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), we believe it is important to provide students with a wider focus.
Our significant Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR) network continues to play a large part in broadening our students’ horizons. Our volunteer EiR programme, first launched in 2008, sees entrepreneurs dedicate at least one week every year to our students. The network has grown in strength and number to provide a local, regional, national and increasingly international perspective of business, utilising entrepreneurs from around the world to support student learning.
The benefits of universities working with local businesses is well documented, which is reflected in the number of EiR schemes being established by HEIs across the globe. Here at Lancaster University, our established network currently has 82 EiR members. This powerful network means we have at least one Entrepreneur-in-Residence supporting our school each day of the academic year. These entrepreneurs - leaders of businesses of all shapes and sizes - are part of our community; they support our group teaching activities, offer one-to-one meetings, mentoring, and their real-world experience helps to bring the latest academic theory to life.
Working closely with our school has proven to be mutually beneficial for students and business leaders – and so the scheme continues to evolve. In 2020, we committed to expanding the boundaries to ensure our EiRs were more representative of our student demographic. This meant we needed to increase our engagement overseas and we needed to engage younger business people. We took on that challenge, and now our youngest EiR is 21 years old, and we have EiRs based across five continents.
In the process of broadening our horizons, in 2021 we entered into a partnership with the Global Business School Network (GBSN), a forward-thinking commercial organisation committed to improving higher education around the world. We partnered with the aim of creating a truly global EiR scheme; a resource that all GBSN member schools could deploy. Whilst this is all still at an early stage, we are already seeing the very real benefits of sharing global entrepreneurship at a local level.
We worked with GBSN to design a six-week extra-curricular module based around the informal economy (which covers a range of jobs people undertake which may not be supported or protected by the state). Instead of using our academics to deliver this, we set out to find entrepreneurs from around the world who operate in and around the informal economy to offer their insights from the front line. The aim of the module was to give participating students a broader understanding of what the informal economy means to entrepreneurs on the ground, right across the world.
To that end, we connected students with entrepreneurs in Nepal, India, Cambodia, Brazil and Bangladesh. The aim was to look for a commonality in the issues faced by our entrepreneurs across this broad geography and observe the local solutions at hand. The students discovered that because the solutions were embedded in an informal economy in a specific region, these local solutions operated in silos, and they were unable to see the light of day elsewhere. The students provided recommendations on how to support entrepreneurs in the informal economy around the globe based upon their understanding of first-hand stories and their subsequent research, to great success.
Predictably, listening to a series of entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts from around the globe, talking about their own world and what it looked like day-to-day proved to be a moving experience for both students and organisers.
One entrepreneur, a young woman from Bangladesh with two jewellery shops and six years’ trading experience, shared her hopes that the oppression she suffers as a young woman will ease in the next few years. Another entrepreneur explained how she is getting micro finance from global banks to Nepalese farmers despite the fact that credit checks and ratings don’t even exist. Others talked about their ability to trade successfully being attributable to some basic educational needs they were able to source through HEIs.
These inspiring stories helped to broaden horizons and challenged the preconceptions of students. While the students themselves were from different institutions, it became clear that your average university student may wrongly assume that everyone can read, write and conduct basic arithmetic. This is of course not the case, and the use of real entrepreneurs in different countries highlighted this more effectively than any lecture in a university lecture theatre (an event and a place of relative global privilege).
Throughout the programme, a common issue highlighted by participating students was basic finance. All the entrepreneurs emphasised how their ability to trade and provide for their families improved significantly once they had gained some financial literacy training. We are not talking here about the balance sheets and profit and loss statement that a UK or US small business might prepare, but basic budgeting and cashflow mechanisms to manage costs and establish profit margins. Through learning about basic budgeting, one mother and entrepreneur from Brazil was able to manage her cash better, so she could continue buying baking ingredients to make cupcakes to sell on the streets. Effective budgeting meant she was now feeding her family consistently, had more confidence, a greater sense of security and felt happier.
EiR schemes are extremely valuable, but in an increasingly global world we need to access and learn from entrepreneurs from all walks of life - not just those most convenient to us in our own institutions. As university educators, we should naturally explore the use of local business and entrepreneurs to support student education. However, we should also be looking much further afield to demonstrate to students how people on the ground are dealing with real global problems at a local level – and let them hear from them in their own words. This is what is powerful. It also gears-up our EiR programmes, adding vitality to the influential networks EiR schemes naturally create, making the schemes more compelling for participating entrepreneurs. As EiR schemes proliferate across UK HEIs, we challenge them to strive for ‘EiR 2.0’; to be globally relevant, and to show students the reality of entrepreneurship for the vast majority of global citizens. We have seen the power of this wider perspective, and encourage you to see it for yourselves.