Entrepreneurship for All?

Entrepreneurship, notwithstanding its innocuous appearance, generates enthusiastic adherence as well as intimate rejection among people. If the creation of economic value is, as I am prone to believing, something as intrinsically human as is artistic creation, how come we cannot consider it socially valuable? Probably, entrepreneurship is not good to cure all evils, but maybe its benefits can be more far reaching than what we believe.A short time ago, I wrote a column about a US entrepreneurship program. There would be nothing particular about that subject if it were not that the program is being developed within American prisons and its students are inmates. And what is even more remarkable: the PEP (that is the program’s name) has the support of universities as prestigious as Harvard and Stanford and engages volunteer work from more than 800 top executives of US corporations who work side by side with convicts in a creative effort to promote their social and economic reintegration when they are released.
Now, what for entrepreneurship fans, such as myself, is exciting news, for other people is purely and simply an exaggeration. Someone told me in reference to this column, “Is it that entrepreneurship may be applied to find a solution to all evils?” The question is valid, “Can entrepreneurship promotion be used to improve the correctional system? Can entrepreneurship be applied to everything?”
Put along those lines, the answer is an almost certain NO. No medication has such a broad spectrum.
I have the impression, however, that what exacerbates positions and sets up protection barriers and skepticism among many individuals is not the indiscriminate promotion of entrepreneurship, but its very own nature (the entrepreneurial activity). In other words, entrepreneurship, notwithstanding its innocuous appearance, generates enthusiastic adherence as well as intimate rejection among people.
I remember that about five years ago the managers of one of the entrepreneurship promotion American foundations commented on the barriers and difficulties they had had in developing their entrepreneur educational programs in public schools in Argentina. Many of the students’ parents, and some professors and managers as well, refused to allow the foundation to carry out its activities arguing they did not want their children to learn how to become entrepreneurs given that, in their opinion, entrepreneurs develop immoral and unethical activities.
The odd thing is that, based on the same criterion but a different assessment of the programs, in private schools (where pupils mostly come from better off social segments) these were enthusiastically promoted: “I want the programs to be given for my children to be taught how to become entrepreneurs”.
The story’s paradox: those who learnt more and received more tools were probably those who less needed it.
The story comes in handy to illustrate that not everybody embraces the idea of the need to promote entrepreneurs in the same way. And not everybody understands “entrepreneur” to mean the same thing. For some, an “entrepreneur” is acceptable but they do not approve of a “business person”. For some, “small is beautiful”, and they accept entrepreneurial activity as long as the business does not grow too much. For others, no business activity is good, whether they dare to say it in public or not.

One of the effects the fall of the Berlin Wall had (among the many it is believed to have had) is that it is not that easy to oppose market economy. It is true that an interesting debate was generated about the multiple forms, nuances and models capitalism may admit. But it is not less true that for some people the matter is out of the question: no profit-yielding economic process is good. Only that it is not that easy to hold that view in public; then it becomes a quasi-prejudice, partly visible when the question of entrepreneurship, for instance, is raised.
This is what renders the topic somewhat controversial, when one digs a little under the surface.
It has always appeared to me that the fundamental debate is related to the moral legitimacy of business activity, because it is (only) on that conceptual and cultural basis that work can be done with instruments, programs, promotion, etc. later on.
If the underlying tension about entrepreneurship is not solved, we will find obstacles and cultural impediments, especially in Latin America, that cause those who less need it to keep receiving help, information and tools to a greater extent.
Is entrepreneurship useful to improve the lives of the people released from jail? Probably; at least in the American case it was. But, are we ready to accept this type of programs in a wide range of spheres and social sectors? Deep down, do we agree to our children receiving them? Do we believe they are useful for all or only for an elite that uses that knowledge afterwards to take advantage of the rest?

If we are not convinced that business activity is legitimate (not only tolerable, not only unavoidable, but also SOCIALLY POSITIVE) then it does not make sense to discuss what tools we will be using.
But if the creation of economic value is, as I am prone to believing, something as intrinsically human as is artistic creation, how come we cannot consider it socially valuable?
Probably entrepreneurship is not good to cure all evils, but maybe its benefits can be more far reaching than what we believe.
Eduardo Remolin

Leave a comment