Me and Richard Branson, the boss of mighty Virgin empire, share something in common. We both started our businesses at school. His was a scrappy school magazine, leading onto the development of a recording business. Mine was selling illicit contraband – well, not actually illegal goods, but stuff my headmaster did not approve of!
After that, the similarities between us got ceased. He went on to build a mighty multi-billion pound empire; and my struggle went on trying to make British education responsive to the changes of modern world. There was something that was right from my end. The school I was head of – an all boys’ senior school in London – won accolades for the work we did in entrepreneurship and leadership development.
1. First, we held the mental and emotional attitude that every child is potentially brilliant. This is not too dissimilar to Vivekananda’s own vision that every child is potentially divine. Divinity and brilliance are closely connected.
2. With that as our bhavana (intent), as we call it in leadership terms, we sought to create an environment where so-called “failure to achieve” was only ever regarded as an “opportunity to step up to something better.” These attitudes are all-important when it comes to educating in entrepreneurship.
3. The school or college must have leaders who feel entrepreneurial themselves and who create the right mindset from the beginning. In my own case, as a young man my first business David Boddy is the Principal at Anglo Schools International Services venture failed spectacularly, an idealistic magazine that was easily 20 years ahead of its time. My project lost quite a lot of money and definitely a great deal of pride too. (Actually, the loss of pride was worse than the loss of money!) Then all of a sudden, life gave me an opportunity to encounter an American venture capitalist. He asked me how much money did I lose and whether it was mine. Well, to your surprise, my answers weren’t any different from my reality andit simply came out this way, “Yes, most of my savings.” Then, the fellow asked me how much money do I need from him for my next venture.
I was dumbstruck to see his belief and blind faith on a loser like me and without any hesitation or embarrassment I asked him why would he lend money to a loser like me. To my astonishment, whatever I heard for the next few seconds took me way out of this mundane Earth and instilled an enormous amount of energy. His words were, “Having lost your own money, you have learnt most of the lessons and so I believe you are going to look after mine rather better and much more successfully.” Yes, he turned out to be right. He earned a multiple of his investment behind my “recovery” venture when it was finally sold out.
The Curriculum at My School
1. Speaking in public
2. Learning how to give presentations
3. Learning how to debate and negotiate; In my school, we assembled together most days, and the young people always did most of the talking. We put them on the spot to answer questions. They also had the opportunity to participate in a young entrepreneurs’ scheme, starting up with minimal (but real) capital (no more than £100) and trying to swell it in value with a realtime business proposition. Leaders from local companies used to visit school and offer advice and judge which business plans had holes in them and which would make money. On one occasion, the local business leaders set up their own model company to compete against the schoolboys. Much to my delight, the boys won. However, the most significant step we took was to invite every boy at the school to spend full week learning about leadership and entrepreneurship at a summer camp. We had other young entrepreneurs and leaders teach at the camp; their presence was the most inspiring. Teaching through games and situations, the young participants experienced in a safe environment what it meant to fail, to pick yourself up, to remodel your idea and to go again.
One of the participants looks like he is going to be the next Richard Branson. This young man’s business is in the education sector, so maybe something of his old mentor rubbed off on him too.