Student-led businesses: developing key skills for the future

Current global youth employment trends signal a tough future ahead for today’s young people. According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, around 75 million young people are currently unemployed worldwide, while 470 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 to sustain a growing global workforce.

The question we were all asked as children – “what do you want to be when you grow up?” – could soon very easily be replaced with: “how are you going to find a job when you grow up?”.


At Teach a Man to Fish, a UK-based non-governmental organisation, we’re attempting to turn the tide on youth unemployment by providing opportunities for students to gain the skills they need to not only fill jobs, but create new ones.

Our programmes support schools around the world to start student-led businesses, which enable learners to gain essential 21st-century skills, while generating funds to support schools. In 2016, our student-led businesses earned an average net income of $780. But, perhaps more importantly, student-led businesses can introduce learners to the possibility of different pathways into employment, such as entrepreneurialism.

Our School Enterprise Challenge programme provides schools with a model of how to plan, start, and grow a student-led business. The model is adaptable and flexible enough to be used in any country and for any business, from a plant nursery in Nigeria to a banking cooperative in Peru. And with the free guides and training provided through the programme, teachers can guide their students to set up businesses that suit their ages and interests, as well as local resources and economies.


While no two student-led businesses are the same, all give students the opportunity to develop the skills they need to succeed in work and life. Here are five key skills learners can gain from being part of a student-led business:


In student-led businesses, participants take on different roles and responsibilities. Students in a leadership position learn how to motivate their team. Others learn how to collaborate with peers outside of their grade or group of friends to create a strong team. Teamwork also means making decisions as a group and using everyone’s strengths to overcome challenges.


From dealing with local customers to pitching a business idea, student entrepreneurs learn early on how to communicate professionally and confidently. Students learn market research and marketing skills to effectively reach their target audience. Some are also required to present their business to a panel of teachers and may even have the chance to showcase their business at international conferences.


Student-led businesses encourage learners to use critical thinking and creativity when faced with challenges. Being able to think critically helps students approach new information or business problems with confidence. Students also learn how to turn challenges into opportunities to make their businesses stronger.


Students learn how to set and achieve goals outlined in their business plans and see success as a journey, not an endgame. By learning how to manage and accomplish their business goals, they can extend this outlook to their personal lives, families and wider communities. Some students even go on to start their own businesses, improving their livelihood and offering employment opportunities to others.


Budgeting, banking and numeracy: all essential skills, whether you’re in the business world or not. Student-led businesses give learners real-life contexts for their academic studies and help teachers make their lessons relevant beyond the classroom.


When Sharom was a student at Mackay Memorial College in Uganda, he was the project manager for a student-led business started through the School Enterprise Challenge. It sparked Sharom's interest in entrepreneurship and motivated him to set up his own poultry business. “Participating in the School Enterprise Challenge equipped me with the practical skills, but also with the marketing, planning and accounting skills that have been so vital in creating my own business,” says Sharom. Today, he uses his profits to employ another person and support his family. He also still helps out at Mackay, mentoring students in the school poultry business.

Good Earth, an eco-friendly handicraft business run by students at Choithram School in India, received the 2016 School Enterprise Challenge People Award. In their winning final business report, the team described how they learned new leadership and teamwork skills. Youtee, a grade 12 student, said: “I never realised I could convince customers to such an extent,” and she is considering studying business at university.

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