The Enterprise School Idea

When I ran out of money in 2014, I decided to take a two year break, to revisit my ideas and see if I still feel them after a while. Sure enough, some ideas died down as their immediate context changed. But others persisted, and as life comes a full circle and I think about what I must do, one particular idea that I flirted with not just during U-Aspire days, but even before, when I was working to rejig a London college. This is to set up an Enterprise School.

An Enterprise School - and I may have to find a better term for it eventually - is not a school to make entrepreneurs, much less for handing out degrees or diplomas of entrepreneurship. One of the people I consider my mentor says that entrepreneurs do not go to school, and indeed, going to school to get a degree is somewhat anti-entrepreneurial. That entrepreneurship, at its core, is about a bias for action, can not be denied: It is about knowing, assessing and managing risks through action and commitment, rather than getting another degree.

Enterprise School, however, is about doing things the other way around. It is about creating Skilled Workers who are enterprising. I have a problem with the idea that only the hotshot entrepreneurs have to be enterprising, but rather see everyday enterprise as the main engine of our progress. This whole glorified 'entrepreneur' thing is becoming meaningless, as it is simply becoming a label for rich kids who can not run their parents' businesses. [They often give a whole new meaning to 'disruptive']

Instead, I believe we should celebrate everyday entrepreneurship as displayed by the Corner Shops, Taxi Drivers, Self-employed Electricians or even that guy in the Bank Counter (or the Airhostesses, the Receptionists, or whatever they may be), all those nameless 'little people' who live entrepreneurially, seeking out possibilities and following their heart, rather than being a cog in other people's ideas. Indeed, this is personal: I see myself as a successful entrepreneur, as despite my failures, compromises and false starts, I have always pursued what I liked, seeking to create the possibilities, the 'changes' that I would like to see in the world.

There are other reasons why I think 'Enterprise' should be at the heart of education. The most obvious reason is uncertainty - who among us can predict what shape work and businesses will take in a few years - and enterprise, as in finding opportunities and responding to them, is a key ability in the context. Then, there is also the question of not accepting status quo, but rather being an agent of change ourselves - because change steamrolls you if you remain passive and let it happen to you - and an enterprise mindset is again at the centre of this universe of agency and action.

Given this, while I am in love with this idea of an e-School, this idea is more about treating Enterprise as a value, permeating all the different things that the school may do, rather than as a skill. This may sound pedantic, but it is not: It must be made clear that the idea is not to teach (or train on) Enterprise, but to put it at the centre of all the things that the 'school' does. So, the e-School may not have, will not have, a 'course' or a 'programme' on enterprise or entrepreneurship; rather, all the courses or programmes that the school may have will have an enterprise context and enterprise as a value would be promoted and appreciated in everything that happens there. And, if such a thing is done, the broader issues about enterprise would hopefully come out: How does one become enterprising within a group, or community, context, as the learning will happen within a community? How to think about enterprise within pre-set rules, as there will be some, pre-defined norms within a school environment? 

These are important issues to consider about enterprise, at least when we treat this as a value. This is not just about taking advantage of opportunities for personal gain - that will be opportunism - but, to create social 'value' and to capture a part of that value (to paraphrase Henry Chesbrough's definition of Business Models). Besides, the point of e-school as I describe here is to make learners better workers, agile, imaginative and taking initiatives. As they will have to work within an organisation, it is important that they are equipped to work with other people, adapt and understand the values of their employers and work in harmony, while they try to better their jobs and lives.


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