Why entrepreneurship education can help meet the SDGs

We are all seeing very clearly the COVID-19 tragedy and its impact on healthcare systems in India and the ripple effects this can have on virtually all other aspects of life. It has shown us how the rules we teach in Indian higher education institutions can quickly lose their relevance as almost overnight they have changed and brought a new focus on good health and well-being.

The pandemic should be a wake-up call for all educators to see the world around us in a different light. We may be able to see more clearly what is important and what perhaps is not.

This has given us the chance to ask ourselves whether what we are teaching is really preparing our students to be good citizens and the global leaders we need, the kind of leaders the world needs at a time like this, the kind of leaders who can make decisions based not just on spreadsheets but in a truly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment.

COVID-19 shows the need to include entrepreneurship education in the curriculum of Indian higher education institutions. It is a powerful means of reducing poverty, creating sustainable governance, stimulating resilient infrastructural growth and boosting innovation, in addition to enhancing social and environmental sustainability.

It includes innovative ways of thinking, openness to new experiences and assessing issues such as value creation.

If students are developed with an entrepreneurial mindset, they will become self-reliant and self-confident. They will be ambassadors able to resolve their local and regional problems with innovative ideas, solutions and sustainable business models which are aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 9 (SDG 9) of the United Nations.

Investing in entrepreneurship education can create an entrepreneurial mindset and eventually this translates into developing an entrepreneurial orientation among young people. An effective entrepreneurship education policy is a prerequisite for any emerging economy to empower its people with the knowledge and ability to ‘fish rather than just giving them a fish’.

However, the broader objective is to increase the number of individuals starting new ventures and developing an entrepreneurial culture to reduce poverty (SDG 1) and to play a key part in reducing inequalities within and among countries (SDG 10).

National Education Policy

In the past five years, the Indian government has sought to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem and has been supporting young people’s enterprise, encouraging them to leverage their entrepreneurial skillsets and knowledge to become self-employed. This has acted as a catalyst for entrepreneurship as a career option for graduates across the nation.

To help young people to pursue this entrepreneurial passion and become job creators, the new National Education Policy 2020 of India has set a roadmap for Indian higher education institutions with its emphasis on the holistic development of students through multidisciplinary education and vocational training.

It has emphasised that education must move towards less content and more experiential learning to create positive outcomes, including increased creativity and innovation, risk-taking ability, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication skills, more in-depth learning of curricula across fields at all levels and a spirit of service towards the social community.

Quality education must build character, enable learners to be ethical, rational, compassionate and caring, while at the same time preparing them for gainful, fulfilling employment (SDG 4).

In this way, India’s higher education institutions have been bestowed with a great responsibility to prepare young generations to become more self-reliant, independent and sustainable. They need to bridge the gap between the perceived desirability to become an entrepreneur and the feasibility of creating a new venture.

Entrepreneurship education should help them to bridge the gap between the current state of student learning outcomes and the vision of the National Education Policy. It must prepare young students for more meaningful and satisfying lives in terms of successful careers which in turn add economic, social and cultural value to society.

The channelling of young people away from ‘taking a job’ that someone else has already created towards ‘creating jobs’ by conceiving and starting up new businesses is aligned with the prime minister’s ‘Self-Reliant India Mission’ concept and with SDG 8 of the United Nations.

Innovation and entrepreneurship

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has encouraged its accredited colleges to deliberately include coverage of specific topics like social responsiveness, responsible leadership, sustainability, engagement and societal impact in undergraduate business curricula by revising their standards and integrating them into their curriculum.

AACSB’s proposed 2020 business accreditation standards give hope that business schools will rethink their activities and focus more on integrated approaches to the curriculum (SDG 4) as well as their engagement and societal impact (SDG 9).

Entrepreneurship education, innovation and technology were chosen as a grouping due to the critical impact they have on one another. Although all AACSB-accredited business schools (and probably those not accredited as well) have included some type of course related to information technology, there is wide scope to enhance student learning outcomes around developing their entrepreneurial skills.

Technology is often a source of entrepreneurial opportunity, which is the result of the creative process. Likewise, entrepreneurial thinking sometimes results in technological innovation and the creative process can result in both new technology and-or entrepreneurial businesses.

Global challenges

Entrepreneurial capacity building is not simply linked to employment, but also plays a pivotal role when it comes to addressing some of society’s toughest challenges by constituting a synergy between economic development and achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Many of the world’s governments, think tanks, non-governmental and international organisations now look towards entrepreneurship as a key part of the solution to ending poverty and social inequity, promoting women’s empowerment and implementing business solutions for our global societal challenges.

To achieve these United Nations SDGs, Indian higher education institutions and universities need to foster the development and infusion of entrepreneurship education curricula that explicitly target and enable young people to successfully become the next generation of entrepreneurs.

In doing so, we must ensure that the entrepreneurship curriculum is preparing leaders to deal with situations such as COVID-19, shocks to business as usual that are likely to continue to occur in the future, and helping educators and students to adapt quickly, to work together and innovate.

As we move past merely surviving this crisis, what happens next is becoming increasingly important. We need to think how we can use this crisis as a crucial opportunity to rebuild better than before, and how we, as higher education entities, as teachers, as researchers and as consultants, can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Dr Balvinder Shukla is professor of entrepreneurship, leadership and IT and vice-chancellor of Amity University, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India. Professor Dr Anupam Narula is professor of marketing and deputy director (alumni relations) at Amity University, Noida, India. The views expressed are personal.