In an environment where the unemployment rate is high and job opportunities are few, the Young Entrepreneurship Project (YEP) offers young people an alternative way of thinking about employment.
For the past two years the project, a joint initiative of Stellenbosch University (SU) and the HU University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, in the Netherlands, has presented an entrepreneurship workshop to high school learners from schools in the Stellenbosch region.
Working in teams, students from the two universities developed course material for the workshop. At the workshop, held during the July school holidays, start-up ideas and business plans are developed, culminating in a presentation in front of a panel of judges on the Friday. The best ideas win start-up capital of R4000 per group to make their plans a reality.
This year, learners from Kayamandi, Makapula and Lückhoff High Schools attended the workshop. The winning idea, called Siblam Bracelets, came from Lückhoff High School. The learners presented an idea to recycle plastic and other waste and turning it into bracelets, which can be used to store information of those wearing it, especially young children, to help track them if they were lost or became separated from their loved ones.
Last year, two of the winning business plans came from Makapula High School in Kayamandi.
The Kayamandi Vegetable Store Garden plants vegetables at school, selling the fresh garden produce at low prices to Kayamandi residents to improve the health of and empower the people of the community. The second project sells vetkoek at the tuck shop at school. They recently bought a gas stove to enable them to produce vetkoek in bulk and use skills they learn in subjects such as Accounting to do their own books and manage their business.
The project offers mentorship for up to six months after the workshop.
According to Mr Adolph Neethling, YEP programme coordinator and lecturer in the Department of Business Management at SU, some of the teachers at schools report a high degree of despondence and lack of motivation to study among learners.
“Many of the learners don't see the point of matriculating because of the high unemployment rate in the country. This project exposes them to an alternative way of thinking – that they should perhaps create their own opportunities.
“It aims to empower learners and give them the support and confidence they need to convert their ideas into practical products."
Neethling is also passionate about the project's second goal, which is to introduce university students to communities that they might not have been exposed to before. Participation is voluntary and students go on a township tour and speak to small business owners in these areas, among other things.
“We go to these communities to learn. We see people who make a living regardless of their circumstances. We might think that we don't have resources, and then we see people who have even less but still manage to make something out of the little they have."
The students' participation in the project is very important.
“These schools are on our doorstep. If we can assist in a small way to stimulate learners to be more positive about the future, students who pass through SU have the unique opportunity to contribute to the upliftment of society."
Neethling is currently engaged in discussions to expand the project. He has recently held talks with student leaders of Engineers without Borders at Stellenbosch University, who had expressed an interest in providing expertise and support such as prototype and product development.
“With the right support and marketing, we can engage more students to reach and offer support to even more schools," he says.