If we say that COVID-19 has changed the world, it would be an understatement. COVID-19 disrupted our world. No area of our lives has remained untouched by the impact of the outbreak, including the domain Seedstars is active in — entrepreneurship education and training.
In this Q&A article, Claudia Makadristo, Regional Manager for Seedstars in Africa, gives some insights into how to design inclusive online and offline learning opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa, based on our 7-year experience in this area.
You can also watch a video version on the Seedstars Youtube channel:
How has the entrepreneurial training dynamics changed due to the pandemic globally and in Africa?
At Seedstars, we have always run both physical and virtual educational programs for entrepreneurs. When the COVID-19 outbreak happened, we were quite lucky as a company because we already had a solid experience in designing online learning opportunities. Given our experience in more than 90 emerging markets, we always had this hybrid model where we would be able to provide entrepreneurship education at any time for everyone, both physically and virtually. So the pandemic has only moved us further towards the online entrepreneurship education. Our goal is to ensure that our programs are as inclusive as they could be. Doing training physically could be quite intensive and also quite expensive as it requires a lot of human resources to organize the process and support entrepreneurs.
The reason why virtual entrepreneurship education is very interesting to consider for anyone who wants to support entrepreneurs globally and from emerging markets, in particular, is that it allows you to be more inclusive and reach more innovators and entrepreneurs from different geographies.
If you organize an on-site program, people are bound by certain geography. For example, you might go to a country such as Mozambique, but physically you might have resources to provide vocational training only in Maputo. So if you design a virtual experience, all of a sudden you ‘open the door’ to participants from other cities who might have had some difficulties travelling to the capital.
The pandemic made us rethink how we provide entrepreneurship education and reflect on how we can do that effectively and in an inclusive way.
How to teach entrepreneurial skills during the outbreak? How efficient is online entrepreneurial education in Africa?
There are a few things to take into account. First of all, it’s crucial to select the right tools, ones that won’t cause too many complications for the participants. This means selecting tools that don’t consume a lot of time and data, which is especially important when organising training in emerging markets. Internet access is, unfortunately, quite expensive in many of these countries, so we need to be sure that we do not overwhelm the participants with special requests and extra steps.
Secondly, it’s important to find different ways to ensure that even though the program is taking place in a virtual setting, the participants are still engaged. A lot can be done online but it will never replace that human interaction and experience that you get face-to-face, so taking that extra effort to ensure engagement is key.
There are a lot of interesting tools out there you can use to your advantage, from creating certain breakout rooms in Zoom to having polls where participants can choose the best answers. There are also tools such as Miro which help you collaborate and brainstorm online. These tools are usually easy to use and often have freemium versions.
Whatever tool you leverage, it’s important to find the right balance between interacting with your participants and presenting the materials.
It’s also important that you allow for flexibility. I think this is one of the most interesting things about doing vocational training for entrepreneurs virtually. You can pre-record your presentation; you can give an option for people to receive a consultation after the training; if someone missed the sessions, they can re-watch recordings later. Of course, there might be some issues such as poor internet connection or tech difficulties, but that’s part of the process.
What is the role of entrepreneurial education in reducing the gender gap between female and male entrepreneurs in Africa?
I think a lot of organizations are extremely aware that we need to take every effort to provide more women with access to entrepreneurial training.
First of all, it shouldn’t be done just to tick a box ‘We have women on a program’. Women are known to create great business opportunities. They represent the strongest portfolio companies for many investors. When we help female entrepreneurs grow, they typically reinvest their earnings, funds, and successes back into their children. This is the so-called multiplier effect of supporting women. We know that if we give women the right opportunities, they can be a very viable business opportunity for any investor. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why it’s difficult for women to access entrepreneurship education. These could be social rules, high pricing of the education, responsibilities at home, etc. but very often, it’s also related to flexibility.
Due to different cultural norms and traditions, women have a lot of obligations apart from focusing on their personal growth and career. For example, if we are designing an entrepreneurship education program that takes place at the time when a woman has to pick her kids from school, it’s an issue.
It’s important to look at the concept of gender equity versus gender equality. Gender equality is about having equal outcomes for women, while gender equity is more focused on “we understand and realize that women and men are different, but we need to make sure that this doesn’t serve as a burden for female founders to access the right opportunities’.
When it comes to supporting women entrepreneurs, getting more women in the programs, and being inclusive, we must design our learning opportunities based on the women’s needs and pain points.
We, the team at Seedstars, are happy to be a small cog in the machine of change, and we are inviting you to join us in the process of transforming Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape.