When I came to Namibia I knew that I would be working in Community Economic Development in some capacity, because that’s what the program I got accepted to was called. I’ll admit I didn’t exactly know what that would entail. When I got my site placement, I found out that meant primarily focusing on youth entrepreneurship and small-medium enterprises (SMEs).
Moreover, one of my primary projects would be teaching entrepreneurship to young adults. This was a daunting job description at first because I’ve never owned a business or taken a class specifically on entrepreneurship. What I’ve learned is that business skills are not the equivalent of entrepreneurship skills. You can learn all the basic business skills in the world but if you don’t have passion, motivation, tenacity, and creativity, it’s difficult to become an entrepreneur.
In Namibia, entrepreneurship is everywhere. As a newly independent and developing country, there is a lot of room for innovation and economic growth. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about entrepreneurship over the last 19 months through teaching youth and working with current and aspiring small business owners. The grit, the passion, the struggle, the success – I’ve seen it all.
Building something out of nothing and becoming truly independent can be so rewarding, but it takes a leap of faith and a lot of work. And that is sometimes where people fall off. Dropping everything to try and build an empire of your own is scary. Sometimes people have to quit their job, sometimes they sacrifice their social life or time with their family. In Namibia, it is more often than not people trying to lift themselves out of unemployment or poverty. The successful ones are the people who put in the overtime and understand that failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s just part of it. Entrepreneurs make the seemingly impossible, possible. They have a mission and a vision to make the world a better place, be it through creating employment, solving people’s problems, or even giving back to the community.
So what’s my biggest takeaway so far? Entrepreneurs are awesome, small businesses are necessary, and the hustle is real. I’ve never been exposed to it at a grassroots level so I’ve never actually truly appreciated the determination involved. It’s been eye-opening.
My other realization is how important it is to support small businesses. I mean, I always knew this to some extent but I didn’t put it into practice as much as I should. An example in Namibia is choosing to buy produce from the meme (pronounced “may may”, meaning woman) stands along the road over a National grocery chain. Or you could buy a handmade wooden table from your local skills development centre (shameless plug!) rather than one imported from China. In the U.S. it might mean getting your latte from a small mom-and-pop coffee shop rather than Starbucks or buying produce from the farmers market.
It’s no coincidence I posted this just before Black Friday.
Small businesses are just as the name says: small. But they really can have a big impact. Small businesses help support families, grow villages, develop towns, and build community. So this Black Friday (and every day), consider where you’re spending your money and who it truly benefits. Make a conscious effort to keep it local as much as possible and support the people who at one point dropped everything to follow a passion and build a business.
And entrepreneurs – keep hustling.