Ms Janina Peschmann of the Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, presented an overview of STEP training and its role in South Africa at last week’s launch of the national Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW 2022), hosted in a hybrid format by the University of Venda (UNIVEN) in Thohoyandou.

She presented in person at #SEW 2022, a project of Universities South Africa’s (USAf’s) Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE).

STEP is an acronym for Student Training for Entrepreneurial Promotion, essentially entrepreneurship training for youth and young adults. It was founded in 2006 by Professor Dr Michael Frese and his team from Leuphana University, in cooperation with two universities in Uganda, the Makerere University Business School and the Uganda Christian University. The first training started in 2009 and it has since trained over 10 000 people.

The initiative was introduced to South Africa in 2018, when it was implemented at the University of Limpopo (UL). It is now at three universities in the country: at UNIVEN since 2019, and at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) as from this year.

STEP’s successes

Ms Peschmann (right), a Project Coordinator for STEP, did her master’s degree at Leuphana University, focusing on collecting data on teamwork processes during the STEP training in South Africa. STEP is underpinned by scientific evaluations. Each time it is implemented at a new institution, they conduct randomised controls with a training group and a control group to measure its impact.

She says their evaluations show that STEP has significant long and short-term effects on business ownership and total income. And she presented graphs to support these findings. They showed that the impact for the group that did the STEP training is considerably higher than the control group – and this impact continues two years after the training has been completed.

“That is great for us to see. Because we can see that STEP has changed the lives of its participants. But we don’t only have data on that. We also have success stories,” she said.

There are success stories at UL and UNIVEN, she said. She cited the example of someone she introduced as Janet, from Uganda. Peschmann said Janet had initially lacked the confidence to be entrepreneurial and quoted her as saying: “I never thought of becoming a business owner before the STEP training. This has never been a real option. I was very shy and approaching people was a big challenge for me. I thought I won’t be able to deal with all the challenges you’re facing when you’re an entrepreneur.”

The training transformed Janet’s views about her own capabilities.“The training opened my eyes. It was a turning point in my life. I don’t think any longer that entrepreneurship is a challenge that I cannot overcome. I’m not shy anymore. I go to people, I talk to people,” said Janet, who had progressed from a very small poultry farming business, to becoming a successful portfolio entrepreneur two years after the training, now also running an IT consultancy.

How STEP works

This type of confidence building to run a successful business is one of STEP’s aims, alongside developing skills and knowledge to pursue an entrepreneurial career.

STEP is a 12-week programme where students learn how to start their own businesses, step by step. The course covers business administration, entrepreneurship and psychology, in an interdisciplinary approach and focuses on 12 topics that determine success in entrepreneurship. These include identifying business opportunities, acquiring start-up capital, accounting, business planning, persuasion and negotiation, and networking.

Peschmann said one of STEP’s strengths is that the programme is its flexibility and ability to adapt to different contexts.

STEP’s aims are linked to those adopted by the United Nations

STEP’s work in South Africa has been supported by the German Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), whose programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 and defined in the 2030 Agenda.

Peschmann said STEP primarily supported two of these SDGs, namely quality education, and decent work and economic growth, and reinforced six others. She said STEP’s overarching aim is the reduction of youth unemployment. Its two supporting aims are the national institutionalisation of STEP in South Africa, that is, establishing the training programme as a norm within organisations’ culture, and the transfer of STEP to neighbouring countries in the southern African region.

SA universities are making STEP their own

“I would say we are on quite good track right now,” she said. “The University of Limpopo and UNIVEN are now taking a more independent approach. We are still there but only as consulting partners. They are making STEP their own, conducting the training without our active support. We are very excited to see how this will go and we are already very impressed with the organisation that has been done,” she said.

Focusing on sustainability and promoting more exchange between partner universities in southern Africa, STEP has been training what they refer to as “master trainers” from UL and UNIVEN to train trainers at UWC.

Programme plans in the region

They are planning to start with the institutionalisation of STEP in South Africa’s neighbouring countries in 2023. “We are in the preparation phases of scaling up,” Peschmann said.

They are planning three main activities:

  • a digital workshop series with existing partners;
  • an in-person meeting with potential stakeholders; and
  • a networking event for regional education stakeholders.

To be able to achieve all of the above, they would be happy to contact interested parties, she said. “We’re very, very convinced that this programme can change something. And we’ve seen so many success stories of changes that we are hoping to scale this project up even more,” said Peschmann.

Peschmann, in brief

A Business Psychology (B.Sc.), Management and Human Resources graduate from Leuphana University, Peschmann started working for the STEP project in 2018 and has since overseen the implementation of this project in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. She is currently developing a version of the STEP training that focuses on the empowerment of young illiterate women as part of a World Bank project in Niger.

Within her current PhD research, she is mainly evaluating the effects of entrepreneurship trainings on long-term business success and income.

With the national launch event now completed, universities are expected to go on to host their individual #SEW2022 events for what remains of August until 30 September 2022.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

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