Come on, let's do something!
Published 13/08/2013 | 05:30
I WORKED in Uganda in Africa for six years, in a country where 70% of the population make do on less than €1 a day. Most people wake up in the morning and do not know where their food is going to come from that day. They do not have the safety net of a social welfare system: there is no such thing as dole, no children's allowance and no prospect of a pension at the end of working life.
So the Ugandans say that there is 100% employment – and it is true. Everybody in the community is doing something. They all have a purpose, a role, a contribution to make. While most people in the country would like to have more – a better education maybe, or better health care facilities or a generally higher standard of living – no matter what they have or don't have, they are still happy people. Can we in Ireland say the same?
In the Globe Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) report, most of the poorer countries around the world rate very high on the scale for entrepreneurial behaviour. Is this caused by necessity? Almost certainly! Meanwhile, we in Ireland have been hit with the recession now for the last five years. Why are we not more entrepreneurial and why are we not happier with our lot?
The fact is that enterprise and entrepreneurship have become dirty words in Ireland since the bank crisis struck in 2008. Maybe it is the case that we see the so called entrepreneurs (the risk takers) as the cause of all our economic problems. I believe that nobody in Ireland can point fingers.
Before the collapse, we were all drunk with the heady, illogical, ill-founded elixir of the Celtic Tiger. The problem is that we were all entrepreneurs during the good times, but we didn't have the training for what we were doing, which was risk taking. We did not have an overall plan as we were carried along by the spirit of the time.
We just followed the crowd. We thought that we too could become rich and spend money as though it would never run out. Whether it was investing in an apartment in Bulgaria or taking out a loan for a new car, we were hell-bent on keeping up with the Joneses – and the Joneses did not own their car either.
We adapt to our surroundings, whether following the herd or spending money. And now, five years after the Tiger hit the buffers, perhaps we are once more too readily following the herd. Maybe in 2013 we have reverted to being so conservative that we are afraid to make decisions. The past should not be the reason why people are scared to invest their time or their financial resources in a new venture if that enterprise has genuine potential.
In fact now is exactly the right time to start a new venture, whether it's changing a job or starting your own business. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, said: 'Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.'
In my role working at the Enniscorthy Enterprise Centre, I deal with a lot of people who are the ones not following the herd. They plan to start up a business and are trying to come up with a way of keeping themselves occupied as they are unemployed.
I see that the Government and people in Ireland need to think of ways of allowing citizens feel useful members of society – even if they cannot find work. This is why starting up your own venture may be the best thing for you, not just to make money, but to feel you are doing something worthwhile.
In fact, Ireland and Europe may be catching up with Africa.
Does Africa have it right – a slow pace of life while they work for themselves?