Enterprise Week 2008 – why lessons in enterprise are worth the risk

As global economies teeter on the edge, Alex Bellinger argues that Enterprise Week is vital to help educate new generations about valuing and managing risk better.

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17th November 2008 at 1:04 pm

If you’re looking for a single theme to explain why the world’s financial system is in such a mess and why the UK economy is being hit particularly hard right now, you could do a lot worse than focus on the subject of risk.

And that’s precisely why Enterprise Week 2008, which starts today is so vital. Not because we want to create more entrepreneurs, although that’s a great ambition, but because we need to create a generation that values, understands and manages risk a lot better.

Resourceful, shrewd risk-takers is what we need.  In our corporations, in the public sector and out there starting businesses themselves.

In an interview with Peter Jones who’s fronting Enterprise Week, Richard Tyler of the Telegraph suggests some will wonder whether it’s wise to be giving kids enterprise education at a time when the economy’s in such a parlous state.

Risky business - enterprise education and risk

Playing with fire - risky business?

Jones gives this view short shrift, reiterating that downturns offer great entrepreneurial opportunities and wishing his own 12 year old was a little older so he could take his chances.

But imparting a little of the entrepreneurial mindset to young people in our schools is about more than creating a plethora of Peter Jones clones.

Entrepreneurs are traditionally thought of as risk takers.  And of course they are.  But their attitude to risk is actually, in my experience, quite refined.  It combines astute gut instinct with focused analysis and a shrewd understanding of a market opportunity.  It’s not about rolling the dice and seeing how they fall.

The failure of the banking system and the painful crash in the housing market are both arguably the direct result of a lack of this entrepreneurial approach to risk.

It turns out senior bankers had no clue how risky or otherwise the complicated financial instruments used to parcel off debt actually were.  A lack of understanding bordering on negligence.

Equally people who bought property using loans at many multiple times their salary over the last couple of years probably had an under-developed sense of the way the market they were entering was likely to perform, at least in the short term.

While money in property may be as safe as houses in the long term the one trillion pounds sterling of personal UK debt was clearly going to come home to roost at some point.

Educating young people about taking risks, about resourcefulness and about managing money effectively is therefore doubly important and timely.

So the Department for Business (BERR) and all of those backing the Make Your Mark campaign by taking part in Enterprise Week are to be congratulated.  As are organisations like Young Enterprise who have been fostering a sense of entrepreneurship in the classroom and inter-school rivalry for many years.

NESTA (The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) too is encouraging some fantastic work around giving young people a sense of risk-taking and getting them involved with real businesses.

All this activity does have an impact.  I saw first hand last year how young people in an east London school clearly relished the responsibility and the rush of taking part in projects based around enterprise education.

Combining young people with entrepreneurs, as Enterprise Week does, brings together two powerfully optimistic forces.  A combination that’s a little unpredictable, but one I reckon is well worth the risk.

[Picture credit: Christiaan Briggs @ Flickr]

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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