Last week Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was the key speaker at the fourth edition of the increasingly popular Pakasa forum.
While he might not have played to the thirst for business how-to-do tips that the forum’s followers have come to expect, he spoke very passionately to the big issues, about what he thought needs to be done to widen the opportunities in the East African community especially for the youth.
He talked about creating a conducive business environment through building infrastructure, improved policies and even reported how they have affirmative action for the youth in national tendering processes in Kenya.
It reminded me of the saying, “you can take a horse to the well but you cannot make it drink.”
It’s heartening to see the region’s governments getting increasingly switched on about what their role is in improving the business environment and by extension raising incomes and wealth levels of their citizens. But once they have done that the people have to rise up and take advantage, create opportunities and maximise the benefits of these government initiatives.
In his book, “The origin of wealth” author Eric Beinhocker draws the conclusion that knowledge is the origin of wealth. The aggregation of a society’s knowledge will determine whether it is wealthy or not.
Very simply put, we can say that the reason you are not as wealthy as your neighbour, is because he knows something you don’t know. Be it how to build a business or where the deals are or what can be leveraged to make wealth.
So all the roads, railways and power dams will be for nothing if we do not know how to employ them for our benefit.
The world pays for value. It therefore follows that to get paid you need to have value and to get paid more you need to add more value, be more valuable.
Then the question for the youth – and everyone who wants to get more, is how do you become more valuable?
You have to know more. You have to learn more.
There seems to be two paths of learning. One can go to school and with increased learning earn more money on average. There is a reason why a graduate earns more money than the grasscutter.
The other is through experience of oneself or others.
The grasscutter may earn less but make more money than the graduate.
To earn money is to be paid for your labour, while to make money is be paid for creating an organisation to provide a good or service to more people than you can serve individually or at one time.
So the grasscutter can organise his fellow grasscutters and instead of earning from his own labour alone make money from the business.
As a worker your ability to earn is limited by how much work you can do and the company you work for. A business ability to make money while not unlimited, provides opportunity for much more earning power.
The essence of the Pakasa pullout published in the New Vision on Friday and its offshoot the Pakasa Forum, is get people and particularly the youth to make money rather than wait around to earn money.
Our school system continues with its colonial role of producing workers who can read, write and count to man the private and public bureaucracies. However the real role of schooling is to make its graduates more open to learning.
Building a successful business is a skill like any other, which takes years to develop and which knowledge needs to be renewed regularly to keep up with the changing environment. Businesses fail often because the owners have failed to keep up with the times.
For the first time in the history of human kind all the information required to build a business is only a click away. But this also means that business has become more competitive since this knowledge is not the monopoly of powerful cabals.
So while the youth may lament the lack of jobs available or the low pay for such menial jobs like grasscutting, by thinking how to add value – organisation, to some of these menial jobs they may end up creating jobs for themselves and others and make money in the process.
The most valuable skill is that of making money. And the greater the ability to organise around a service or product the more money can be made.
So while Uhuru did not let us in on the secrets that built his family’s vast wealth, valued by Forbes magazine at more than a billion dollars, he gave us a sneak peek into the possibilities of the future. The rest of us need to recognise these opportunities for what they are and organise to take advantage.
But first we need to brush up on our ability to learn.