ELI Founder Gary Schoeniger keynoted the Junior Achievement Europe 2017 Annual Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the conference theme was “Investing in Europe’s Transformers through Education & Innovation.” Conference organizers conducted the interview below with Schoeniger:
1. How can societies create “new” people who can solve new challenges and have a happy life?
Big thinkers around the world have begun to recognize the need to encourage and support entrepreneurship education as a change agent necessary for creating the societies of the future. And, the evidence is abundantly clear that education plays an essential role in shaping entrepreneurial attitudes, behaviors, and skills. Yet thus far, the subject of entrepreneurship has been largely absent from the curriculum. When it does appear, it is often narrowly defined, misrepresented, or treated as an extra-curricular activity rather than a required subject worthy of serious study.
The world has changed in profound ways, yet our systems of education have not kept pace – in many ways they are designed to create employees rather than innovators and entrepreneurs. In other words, we have been creating entrepreneurs by accident rather than by design.
If we are to create “new” people who can solve challenges, we must not only infuse entrepreneurial thinking throughout the education system, but also examine new methods of teaching that encourage the development of entrepreneurial attitudes, behaviors, and skills. As Google’s Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap once said, “Stop asking students what they want to be when they grow up and start asking them what problems they want to solve and what they need to learn in order to solve those problems.”
2. How can we apply the entrepreneurial approach in our daily lives, as professionals and humans?
Seneca once wrote: “The duty of a man is to be useful to his fellow-men; if possible, to be useful to many of them; failing this, to be useful to a few; failing this to be useful to his neighbors; and failing them, to himself: for when he helps others, he advances the general interests of mankind.”
This speaks to the essence of the entrepreneurial mindset; the simple notion that it is our responsibility to figure out how to make ourselves useful to others, and by doing so, we empower ourselves. Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset shifts our perspective in ways that can have a profound impact on our attitudes and behavior. And, it does not require big ideas, venture capital, or an Ivy League MBA. It is a deceptively simple concept that anyone can learn to develop and apply.
Therefore, if we are to apply the entrepreneurial approach to our daily lives, we start by solving everyday problems in our daily lives. We must learn to approach problems, frustrations, or unmet needs as potential opportunities. And, rather than complaining or accepting the status quo, the entrepreneurial mindset asks: How can I solve this problem? How many other people have this problem? By doing so, we will not only make the world a better place, we will empower ourselves.
3. Who are Europe’s and the World’s transformers? Who are the people capable of changing the world we live in?
The worlds transformers are, of course, the innovators and entrepreneurs – those who invent new products and services, start new businesses, create new jobs, revitalize our communities and improve the quality of our lives.
Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of our economy and entrepreneurs are vital to the overall health and wellness of our societies. They are at the forefront of discovery, challenging the status quo and driving progress. And, they possess the skills that not only enable them to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing highly complex world, but also to make a greater contribution to society.
The important question is, why do some people behave this way while others do not?
4. What is your wish for JA Bulgaria and the 20th anniversary of the organization?
My wish for JA Bulgaria is that your efforts will not only continue to impact the lives of young people in your communities and throughout Europe, but also to help business, academic, and government leaders recognize the power of entrepreneurial thinking as an essential life skill necessary for all students in order to create the societies of the future.