Three Stellenbosch University Academics were recently recognised for their contribution to Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching in the Higher Education sector of South Africa at the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2022 national finals.
It is not every day that entrepreneurship pedagogy is honoured in South African higher education. But the most recent EDHE Intervarsity 2022 finals introduced a new award, the Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching Excellence Award, with the aim of shining a spotlight on entrepreneurship pedagogy across all disciplines.
Dr Ruenda Loots, and Juan Ontong and Sher-Lee Arendse-Fourie, lecturers from the Stellenbosch University (SU) Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, were recognised for their respective programmes.
Developing agile leaders and entrepreneurs
Dr Loots is the head of the Diploma in Sustainable Development, a three-year learning journey for a new generation of change agents and social entrepreneurs. Through a series of interlinked modules, students explore values, perspectives, and paradigms that shape concepts of sustainability.
Over the past two decades, South Africa has adopted several frameworks, policies, and global commitments to promote a transition to a green economy making this Diploma – aimed at those between the ages of 18 and 25 looking for a generalist foundation in a sustainability focused career path – relevant and needed in society. It prepares graduates for unpredictable futures (exacerbated by accelerated change, disruptive innovations, and radical thinking) by developing their entrepreneurial mindsets, resilience, and values through social entrepreneurship.
While her name may be on the certificate Loots is quick to emphasise that the course is indeed a team effort. “I represent a wonderful team of facilitators who, together with five cohorts of incredible students, have shaped the diploma since 2018 to deliver this transformational learning experience,” she shared.
Loots and team use social entrepreneurship as a thought-leadership practice for transformational change and it is also used as a solution‐orientated process to develop skills like self-efficacy and the creative competencies that form the basis for ideation. “Social entrepreneurship modules are a safe-to-fail space where students experiment with responses to and solutions for local challenges. To this end, we focus on developing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial competencies.”
The Diploma promotes an embedded view of sustainability that acknowledges the interconnectedness between social, ecological, and economic systems. This perspective highlights the importance of a social entrepreneurship approach: environmental issues are social issues and social issues invariably have detrimental environmental effects. To covey this to students the programme uses place-based learning. “Students actively engage with local projects within the praxis hub (managed by the Sustainability Institute within the Lynedoch ecovillage) and the greater Stellenbosch region through field trips. This allows students to witness the relevance of academic content and simultaneously develops their critical thinking skills,” explained Loots.
She continued to stress that as a society we must redesign our economic systems to actively contribute to social justice and ecological restoration.
“This requires active decolonisation of our entrepreneurship curricula. To prepare effective change agents, we must acknowledge our African contexts and draw from indigenous knowledge systems.”
Teaching and learning within unconventional spaces, is a theme continued by Ontong and Fourie who manage the Ex-Cell workshop, a joint initiative of the School of Accountancy at SU and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in Paarl.
This free five-day educational and capacity-building workshop is targeted at incarcerated youths, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 35, and nearing parole. It aims to upskill and empower participants to create their own employment opportunities which may improve their reintegration into society, where those with a criminal record often struggle to find meaningful work.
Education can change one’s life for the better according to Ontong who shared that by giving people in prison access to opportunities, the programme hopes to help those from particularly disadvantaged positions to gain more powerful places in society through higher education. This may help to address the systemic inequality present in some areas of South African society.
“The workshop provides assistance in the local community by supporting, through equipping past offenders with business acumen skills, the creation of financially and socially sustainable businesses, or assisting them to find employment,” he shared.
Through the programme participants are taught how to develop a business plan covering the topics of market research; strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis; analysing supply and demand; budgeting and funding opportunities; ethical considerations in business; marketing; crisis management and conflict resolution; employing staff; business etiquette; creating your Curriculum Vitae (CV); finding job opportunities; and preparing for an interview (including mock interviews). At the end of the workshop participants present their business plans and are awarded certificates for having attended the course.
As both Ontong and Fourie believe in a holistic approach to education, participants are encouraged to make contact after their release. “If possible, we want to assist our Ex-Cell participants with finding resources such as other entrepreneurship courses, mentorship, and funding,” shared Arendse-Fourie.
While not the aim of the project, Ontong is appreciative of the recognition he and the team have received from the EDHE. “As this was the first time the specific award was granted, I feel extremely privileged to be one of the first three award winners of the EDHE Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching Excellence Awards. A total of 23 submissions were received and to be selected as one of the three best affirms the importance of the Ex-Cell project’s impact,” he shared.
The Ex-Cell workshop is funded by the SU Social Impact grant and was launched in May 2021. Its aim is to rehumanise learning by focusing on learning’s social, Ubuntu-focused dimensions, namely collaboration, community building, and connectedness.