Entrepreneurship and Citizenship Education – Competitors or Advocates for More Active Learning?

The story of change-making is often narrated in one of the two following ways: Or exceptional entrepreneurs run great businesses or courageous activists inspire lots of other people to change. Looking from the perspective of learning on both stories the economical entrepreneur and the civic activist must have something in common. Maybe one big part of this might be described with a goal- and opportunity-centered, proactive attitude. Therefore, citizenship education and entrepreneurship education both seek to support people in becoming proactive, autonomously acting and opportunity-taking toward their interests and goals. However, when they have a lot in common – what quality is hidden in the difference between both approaches? What might Entrepreneurship Education gain from Active Citizenship Education and vice versa?


The idea of entrepreneurship is strongly related to self-empowerment and to individual initiative. It’s intending a value gain, often by putting a business idea into practice. But in a broader sense entrepreneurship can be perceived as any activity with a clear value – or in the language of the social sphere impact:

“Entrepreneurship is when you act upon opportunities and ideas and transform them into value for others. The value that is created can be financial, cultural, or social.”

EntreComp (2016)/Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (2012)

With activities encouraging such thinking in value and outcome, learners would be encouraged to become ‘intrapreneurs’ (inside of groups, companies, or organizations) or ‘entrepreneurs’ (in their owned or co-owned businesses). Entrepreneurship education is a roof uniting different approaches like…

  • stock-exchange simulation games,
  • school companies,
  • teaching economical skills,
  • coaching or mentoring
  • or social entrepreneurship.

The last one is a hybrid field within the non-profit sector of the society and maybe the most natural connection of the idea of civil involvement with becoming an economical entrepreneur:

“Social entrepreneurship can take the form of a social enterprise, an entrepreneurial structure which foresees profit making, but unlike a business structure, is not profit maximizing. It spends the profit on statutory purposes.

T. Katsbert; p. 104

Initiative and Creativity

Like other holistic educational approaches Entrepreneurship Education is addressing transversal competencies. If someone is a community organizer, youth leader, single activist or an entrepreneur, all of these different people require the competency to ideate, to take initiative, to put plans into practice and the methodology how to do this under the concrete circumstances. This leads to the conclusion that a lot of the skills, attitudes and knowledge addressed through entrepreneurship education is covered too in other learning fields, in particular active citzenship education taking place in the non-formal learning sector.

EntreComp Framework

The EU Science Hub’s Entrepreneurship Education competency framework EntreComp defines entrepreneurship competence in a very broad sense and smart way as:

Transforming ideas and opportunities…
– Spotting opportu­nities
– Creati­vity
– Vision
– Valuing ideas
– Ethical and sustai­nable thinking
by mobilising resources…
– Self-awareness and self-efficacy
– Motivation and perseverance
– Mobilizing resources -Financial and economic literacy
– Mobilizing others
into action.
– Taking the initiative
– Planning and management
– Coping with uncertainty, ambiguity and risk
– Working with others
– Learning through experience

Do we need a broader Entrepreneurship Education Approach?

The interesting question from the perspective of Education for Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights Education is why lobbyists and educators around entrepreneurship are broadening their approach? Is it a strategy to marginalize participatory and creative civic education or even to economize the broad field of active pedagogy?

On the other hand – shouldn’t all be happy, that entrepreneurship education in 2019 is not anymore only about informing students about economy? The broader the concept will become, the more it would need to include as well alternative entrepreneurial approaches and promote a diversity of entrepreneurial role models (beyond the single fighting competitive entrepreneur) – for instance referring to the entrepreneurial spirit in cooperatives and collectives, learning about sharing economy or gaining experience from post-growth economical experiments.

It seems both perspective inherit a grain truth. In fact European Union seeks to promote entrepreneurial behaviour with more passion than it promotes active citizenship or democratic self-organization. It’s even legitimate to suspect some countries in Europe finding in Entrepreneurship Education and Social Entrepreneurship a strategy, how to marginalize explicit democratic citizenship education and civil engagement. However, there are strong reasons for including more entrepreneurial thinking in democracy learning. For instance entrepreneurship might be a way to have social impact when non-entrepreneurial democratic engagement is not anymore possible (it might be the case, if spaces for independent civil engagement are shrunk by governments). Instead of building social capital through civic engagement social entrepreneurs would accelerate economical capital and invest the profit in social purposes (and maybe in democratic change).

Another reason why a competence framework like EntreComp strengthens the position of active pedagogy as well in the civic and democracy education field is because the existing competence frameworks here tend to ignore the active component. A lot of them were focusing on schools and the formal system, while most activities in learning participation, creativity or transforming social or political ideas into reality are organized in fact outside the formal system. It’s not, that there would not exist a rich landscape of active citizenship education. But for policy makers and curricula designers it’s still not much present. Even the EU Key Competences for Lifelong Learning under-appreciate the active components of citizenship education. The responsible General Directorate would know better, if they would check the aims and methodology of the Erasmus+ funded projects – active and creative pedagogy is today in the center of civic education.

The two perspectives make clear that a simple battle between entrepreneurs and citizens in democracy education would not lead to new insights. Actors from both fields might be inspired by the qualities of the others in order to deliver quality education.

The big gap in the current world of key competence models is that they tend to ignore the broad field experience in non-formal civic education. In entrepreneurship education this was never the case. A lot of education was offered here in a non-formal way and addressed lifelong learners (like business courses for migrants, empowerment for women…). We might conclude that EntreComp is closing a gap at least in the EU context.

Similar efforts are taking place somewhere else. UNESCO is discussing the term “transformative engagement” [UNESCO 2019] under the roof of its Global Citizenship Education [UNESCO 2015]. OESCE define something very similar in their Global Competences as “Taking action for collective well-being and sustainable development”. Youth workers and civil society activists are focusing on active participation or self-empowerment.

Terminology around active pedagogy
transformative engagement – active citizenship – entrepreneurship – action for collective wellbeing – participation – self-empowerment

What is specific about entrepreneurship education?

  • Entrepreneurial learning is accepting money as a medium for social interaction. Some educators emphasize on solid business plans, some are taking as well collective economical forms into consideration, like cooperatives or commons. Entrepreneurial education would not in general criticize the existence of capital or resources as one influential medium of social life.
  • Entrepreneurial education is focusing on services or products. Some activities within citizenship education are as well clearly centered around a project or a concrete activity. However, other social activities are ongoing, steady and following a fundamental different logic of participation.
  • Entrepreneruship education prepares people for specific challenges of being an entrepreneur. In fact running businesses is exposing people to monetary risks and requires specific skills, such as responsibility for assets, accepting responsibility for liabilities, ability to deal with the opportunity costs.
  • The idea of entrepreneurship is putting emphasis on individual competency building and gives the personality of the entrepreneur specific attention. Usually Entrepreneurship Education is less supporting the idea of collective action.
  • Therefore, the idea of competitiveness and of competition is strengthened. Collaboration with others is often understood as outcome-related, intentional activity. In contrast, education emphasizing on community development or on collective impact seeks to emphasize on the quality of collaboration.
  • The organisation of activities is goal-related and related to the intention of the owner(s). In contrast, other approaches emphasize on the ethical aspects of social organization – building fair, democratic, inclusive, transparent and participatory institutions. Ownership is here a fluid category.
  • The social goal of entrepreneurship is the entrepreneurial activity, not necessarily in its social impact or its social business model. Therefore, social entrepreneurship takes care to integrate a social reinvestment and/or a socially relevant product/service into business models.

We mentioned before the diversity of economic and entrepreneurial models. It would be misleading to reduce the entrepreneurship education on the business plan development for small enterprises. In fact there much more, in example cooperatives, experiments with non-monetary value and good exchange, commoners, or social entrepreneurship. Some entrepreneurship courses have even more the character of social work as they empower minorities or are opening specific groups in the society new opportunities.


1. Explore the broadness of entrepreneurial models

Looking from a citizenship education perspective on entrepreneurial education it should highlight and use the whole range of economic models for offering solutions best fitting to the context, needs, and skills of the learners – “small business creation is only one possible way of addressing the problem of youth unemployment. Other ways include assisting striving enterprises, supporting them to employ young people, encouraging young people’s participation in alternative business models such as cooperatives, mutual associations, or ensuring their voices are heard in trade unions, etc.” [M. Pantea; p. 46]

2. Appreciate the diversity of active pedagogy

Furthermore, entrepreneurial thinking and individual pro-activity is not the only way how learners wish to change the world. Activism rooted in altruism, willingness to give, wishing to be part of a community, or by anti-materialist attitudes is following each a different logic. However, civic educators need to accept, entrepreneurship is for some people or groups a very interesting way of instigating social change. In order to support learners to find the form of activity fitting best to their personal and social needs, pedagogy from both directions would better promote a diversity of ideas how to involve in the public.

3. Promote entrepreneurial spirit in a democracy

Third, entrepreneurship educators pedagogy could consider that entrepreneurs are part of a democratic ecosystem – as employers, as corporate citizens, or in their free time as citizens. Under this perspective a democratic or civic perspective on entrepreneurship would enrich the courses or trainings.

4. Exploring the meanings behind the terminology

Fourth, innovation, creativity and activism are not necessarily connected. One might be a successful activist without much creativity. Another might be a less innovative but successful small business owner. A group might be innovative although they are not aware of their innovation. Let’s critical assess the key words of entrepreneurship education as well as the buzzwords of civic education like participation, empowerment or empathy. If we practice this dialogue across the boundaries of our groups and experiences, this would be the foundation for democratic innovation of active learning.

  • This text is an extended and reviewed version of the article on Entrepreneurship Education published on COMPETENDO – Tools for Facilitators by the author.