The national EDHE Community of Practice (CoP) for Entrepreneurial Alumni was launched amid much celebration during the recent Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla 2022, that was hosted in a hybrid format by Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha, in mid-July.

This CoP aims to help entrepreneurial graduates transition to life beyond university campuses, and to enable the unemployed university graduates to harness their entrepreneurial abilities.

The structure was unveiled during a panel discussion featuring student alumni Mr Risuna Maluleke (3rd from right, above), Ms Zikhona Matolongwe (who participated online), Mr Sandile Mjamba (2nd from left) and Ms Nombulelo Ncube (3rd from left). Also on the panel were Mr Richardt Kok (2nd from right), Stakeholder Manager: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf); Ms Lerato Makgonyane (far right), EDHE’s Administrative Officer and moderator and convener Ms Zubaidah Amod (far left), another student alumnus.

Panel members held a common view that the pursuit for entrepreneurial universities is meaningless unless students are involved in the process.

Mjamba, (2nd from left in the front row, below), who was the first convenor of the EDHE Studentpreneurs Community of Practice while studying at Nelson Mandela, and now the Black Management Forum Young Professionals Chair (Gqeberha) and Economic Strengthening Linkage Officer for FHI360 in the Eastern Cape, explained: “In 2018, I was a student entrepreneur at Nelson Mandela University and was sent to attend a EDHE Lekgotla in Cape Town. We listened to academics speaking about student issues but there were no students present (on the panel of speakers).

“A group of us agitated for a more student-centric approach towards building the programme. Student voices need to be heard in entrepreneurship initiatives. The process of agitating resulted in us being brought to the table by a very open and receptive EDHE team. We then had discussions on how best to incorporate the student voice into the EDHE programme. We drafted terms of reference going forward, towards establishing an actual CoP,” he said.

“We went on to create a conducive environment for students and micro-enterprises on campuses to thrive. The most important aspect of this was economic transformation for student business owners.”

However, student entrepreneurs often find it difficult once they have graduated, as the narratives below demonstrate.

Ms Nombulelo Ncube (left), a previous Student Entrepreneurial Week winner for a shoe laundry business she ran while a student at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), who holds an advanced diploma in Human Resources management, shared her post-qualification experience.

“I was fortunate to be part of a community of student entrepreneurs on campus, speaking the same language and going through the same challenges. Once I left university, I lost these support structures – both physical and financial. It was a different life with no resources and economic restraints. It got to the point that I had to decide whether to continue on the entrepreneurial route or seek employment. It was a different reality. I wish I could have found a community who understood what I was going through. At that stage nobody facilitated graduate entrepreneurship.”

Mr Risuna Maluleke (right), who holds dual roles as Managing Director of Youth Village Africa and CEO of the Young African Entrepreneurs Institute and is also a volunteer working in rural communities, was in firm agreement.

“Students must transition from university to run their businesses. And there’s a gap in terms of resources. One day you are on campus, and you wake up in a bed, having access to food, Wi-Fi and those sorts of things. And then you graduate and return to your deprived socio- economic circumstances. You meet with many challenges, and you aren’t given many chances. Some people can’t even afford a bed.”

Of his experiences, Mjamba further said: “There was this disintegrated ecosystem with too many bottlenecks stifling students from successfully trading with the university. Part of the strategy to tackle graduate unemployment is to allow students to trade with universities, develop their supply chains and also improve their institutions’ BEE scorecards. The most important thing is to involve students in decision making.”

Ms Zikhona Matolongwe, a graduate of Nelson Mandela University and a Student Entrepreneurship Space Advisor, who spoke remotely, added that “It was invaluable being part of a student community of entrepreneurs. It was not always easy running your own business and studying and some of us were not taken seriously as students. There was also a lack of resources. The universities are now giving amazing support; there’s less red tape and a recognition of the office of student entrepreneurs.”

Maluleke believes alumni have a role to play with mentoring student entrepreneurs: “It’s important to share experiences and challenges, and to go back to the universities you graduated from. You have to contribute.

“We understand now that there is a need to help graduates effectively transition from university and go forward to run their own businesses,” Maluleke went on to say. “This requires a platform to support these graduates and help them plug into other ecosystems and partnerships.

“We also need to reach unemployed graduates to capacitate them with entrepreneurship education that enables them to become active participants in the economy. How do we consolidate all these things and create or find a space for these groups of people? The answer is the launch of the first The National EDHE Community of Practice (CoP) for Entrepreneurial Alumni.”

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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