Friday, February 19, 2010

Hail the entrepreneur

One of the largest job creators in the world is, well, you. You don’t need to necessarily work for somebody else – you can work for yourself. Millions do. Entrepreneurship is truly a magic bullet to overcome unemployment.

Entrepreneurship is a long and complicated word. It hints at some grandiose big startup ; it doesn’t need to be. The largest number of entrepreneurs run an organization of 1 – themselves. It’s the corner shopkeeper, the street trader, the plumber, the carpenter, the doctor, the taxi driver, who are truly the greatest of entrepreneurs. They don’t moan about unemployment. They don’t demand 6 weeks of holidays a year. They don’t demand travel privileges in first class. They just work hard and earn their own living.

Entrepreneurship need not necessarily need huge capital. It doesn’t need breakthrough ideas. It doesn’t need a MBA. It however needs commitment, guts, hard work, luck and some breaks.

I’ll tell you the story of an entrepreneur I know. He comes from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. He came to Bangalore, a few thousand miles away, to try and earn a living. Without real qualifications, he did not stand much chance of a job. So he took to being an entrepreneur. He made snacks and came to the office area in the evening and sold it to hungry office workers. He didn’t have a place to sell from; nor had he a roadside stall. Instead, he brought his stuff to the staircase in the office building and caught the attention of the smokers who usually inhabit this place. Little by little his business grew. Come rain or shine, he was there. The office folk started to regularly buy from him. He was meticulously polite. He was always there, everyday. He looked upon each person buying his stuff as “God” – who was enabling him to survive. Little by little he grew his business. He started doing well with a steady clientele, a steady income . So much so that he caught the attention of a catering outfit who found him an ideal candidate to run one of their shops. He is still humble, polite to a fault and still looks on you as “God” when you buy something from him. He is truly an unsung hero and he shows the way how to overcome unemployment.

In this entire series on jobs, I have been preaching that governments should do this or not do that. Entrepreneurship is one area where my position is that governments should do nothing. Just stay out of the entrepreneur’s hair. Not do like what has happened in Europe - any entrepreneur there will tear his hair out trying to follow a million directives from Brussels and a million more from his own country. Stop putting barriers in front of entrepreneurs and then let them find their own way.

This series on creating jobs has dragged on, but I submit that this is a justified topic to examine in some detail. One of the most degrading of situations is to be unemployed. One of the most "punch in the pit of the stomach" feeling is losing your job for no fault of yours. Being gainfully employed is fundamental to any person. Besides the economic necessity, it brings a sense of identity to a person. Some measure of social standing. An anchor in this difficult world.

Full employment is not an utopian dream. It is something every society must strive for. It is possible to achieve this to a large measure. It is a holy grail worth toiling for.