Entrepreneurship and Citizenship Education – Toward Better Facilitation of Creativity and Engagement

For the DARE network – Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe – I am one of the education experts in the Entrepreneurship 360 project. In an interesting research-practice collaboration with a cross-sectoral character, we are identifying good practices in entrepreneurship education. We are also exploring how the European educational framework EntreComp could support educators and learners. This article shares my reflections on the similarities and differences between Education for Democratic Citizenship and Entrepreneurship Education.

The human quest for change is often told as an entrepreneurial or civic “hero’s journey”: A business success story began in a garage and led to a multinational corporation. For social change, it takes a poster and a determination that soon inspires a community of thousands and perhaps millions of followers. Despite their different interests and social values, the entrepreneur and the citizen activist must have something in common if we look at both stories in terms of competences. Some competences, understood as knowledge, attitudes or skills, seem to be similarly helpful for activism and entrepreneurship. One overarching aspect might be a goal- and opportunity-centred, proactive mindset. Another is the ability to make things grow. Other aspects are easy to identify, especially if we broaden the focus from leadership to the social and collective dimension of creation, engagement or whatever you want to call social, cultural or economic activities. So, in some ways, citizenship education and entrepreneurship education seem to have similar goals – to help people become proactive, to act on their own initiative, to seize opportunities and to make a difference. So we might ask whether they should work more closely together.

The Rise of the Entrepreneur in Education

In general, we are facing a paradigm shift. For a long time, skills such as creativity and commitment were seen as part of art education, reform pedagogy, participatory political education or youth work. In contrast, economic education was mainly about explaining micro- and macroeconomics, the math of the stock market or the charts and tables of business plans and reports.

Today this has changed. Entrepreneurial learning has become attractive, probably because entrepreneurs and businesses have become attractive role models for more Europeans. Business today is about innovation, creativity and disruption. Approaches close to entrepreneurial learning are now attracting more attention from policy makers and the media. Learning for social, cultural or economic impact is often rhetorically contrasted with an ‘old’ understanding of education.

However, advocates of the ‘old’ do not seem willing to capitulate. On closer inspection, they form a heterogeneous alliance. Some criticize any indiscrimination of education in terms of usability and applicability. Others see the value of competence-based learning as empowering individuals and groups for social cohesion, participation, expression, social understanding or innovation. But they are also critical of an “economisation” of “free pedagogy”.

At a time when debates are dominated by generalized assumptions, it is interesting to look for interfaces: What active approaches from the broad field of active citizenship education/democracy learning have in common with newer approaches to entrepreneurial learning. But also what quality lies in the differences between the two approaches.

Entrepreneurship – More than Business Learning

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 as an active person (entrepreneur) 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

The connection between social impact and entrepreneurship widens our understanding of the term entrepreneurship, since from this perspective rather the aim of transformative education would be to catalise “innovation” – which can be done through economic, citizenship, culture or any other education. Doesn’t the innovative character of human proactivity become tangible in changed social, cultural or economic practices – and not only in new business models? I find it most consequently to put an understanding of “social innovation” in the centre of such a transformative educational approach.

Innovative activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need and that are predominantly developed and diffused through organisations whose primary purposes are social.

Mulgan et al. (2007): Social innovation what it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated

Initiative and Creativity as Transversal Competences

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

EntreComp Framework

One example for a modern perspective on entrepreneurial learning is the EU Science Hub’s Entrepreneurship Education competency framework EntreComp. It defines entrepreneurship competence in a very broad 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

Initiating is Not Simply “Doing” or “Making”

The example of EntreComp shows how a more holistic understanding of learning through competence based education would gain relevance and impact by not narrowing its concept too close on the subject entrepreneurship.

But what does “active” mean in this context? There are different views depending on the perspective.

No other than Hannah Arendt put action in the appropriate relation with freedom and plurality. Hereby she was giving it foundational meaning for democracy (and for civic education). In her idea of a vita activa which was described in The Human Condition, entrepreneurship, work or labor are similar attitudes, but they are not as fundamental like action. In her point of view the family of proactivity has three sisters. Labor (the struggle for bread and some butter), Work (the ambition to materializing the world and of making concrete products), and the big sister Action (the compulsion to initiative and to deliberate interaction). From the perspective of the whole society, Action is the most important family member as the existence of the democratic public is depending from her (open-ended, free and public) engagement. So it’s becoming clearer why in democracy- and human rights-related education emphasis is not mainly put on toiling nor making but on initiating. Impact in democracy is less about value creation but about (co-)creating lives in dignity, self-responsible, free and peaceful – and in continuation.

In educational approaches aiming to support holistic personalities and wanting to be relevant in different social sectors, all appearances of proactivity need to find their place. ‘Value creation’ is welcomed, ‘targeted action’ is important, in businesses, in parties or in the offices of civil society organizations. However, they are not more fundamental than the ‘democratic action’ which we could sketch as an attitude and a practice characterized by open deliberation, initiative and fair cooperation. Impact is as well not reducible to outcome but the instigated change (or “social innovation”) in the social, cultural, economical and environmental spheres.

Toward a Holistic Understanding of Proactivity in Education

On that conditions it would be fruitful for Education for Democratic Citizenship to include more ‘economical engagement competence’ in its learning. But it would absolutely not make sense of perceiving ‘civic engagement’ as a sub-section in any entrepreneurial education framework. With Hannah Arendt I at least could never accept something like ‘civic entrepreneurship’.

It’s not only rhetorical hairsplitting. In the words we express our values and attitude toward democracy. Just imagine yourself offering an educational program in a prospering but authoritarian society like in China – what would you try to achieve by promoting a creative entrepreneurial pedagogy? Would entrepreneurship contribute to the public good when not linked to social/democratic (working) principles and to labor rights? EDC educators and facilitators should have a clear position in here – it would be even counterproductive.

Unfortunately the explicit link of value creation to democratic values and contributing to a democratic culture is even not part of the EntreComp framework. Although ethical behavior seems to be important in it, it’s not the same like democratic behavior. For citizenship this would be a fatal reduction. For instance, because educators and organizations would be strengthened which are taking democratic values, diversity and critical thinking not for very important but are emphasizing on their “ethical” competence.

Beyond all criticism we should not ignore the 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 possible anymore (in example 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).

Second, shouldn’t all be happy, that entrepreneurship education in 2019 is going further than being a counter program to democracy learning? Nowadays social impact and socially oriented forms of entrepreneurship (cooperatives, networks, share economy) are widely acknowledged among entrepreneurship educators which was not the case for decades.

The broader the concept of entrepreneurship education will become, the more it would even need to include 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.

Third, a competence framework like EntreComp is awakening civic education in the EDC sector, because the here used competence frameworks 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.

Actors from both fields might be inspired by the qualities of the others in order to deliver quality education. At least they need to position to the others and therefore become clearer in their idea of their educational mission. The intersection between both is that they intend to strengthen and empower individuals and groups for actively contributing to social change. This awareness for proactivity as a field and goal of learning – if for initiative, work or creation – seems to be part of a global trend. Active pedagogy around the terms of engagement, action or entrepreneurship is coming more and more into the focus. For instance, 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.
  • Entrepreneurship 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 organization 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.

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 add critically that EntreComp is closing a gap at least in the EU context.

Five conclusions

1. Call Engagement ‘Engagement’ and not ‘Entrepreneurship’

The essential form of active involvement for democratic citizenship education is the involvement in the public, as individuals, in civil society organizations, or in initiatives. The establishment of cooperatives or social entrepreneurship enterprises or of economical actors trying to incorporate democratic values and procedures is a valuable extension of the scope of EDC. Nice, that entrepreneurship education is broadening itself toward such social impact. But we should be aware about the fundamental difference illustrated in the language game with the ‘economical value’ on the one and the ‘democratic values’ on the other side. Action, Work and Labor are sisters and therefore connected. But we cannot replace one by another without losing our impact and understanding.

2. 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]

3. Promote Entrepreneurial Spirit in a Democracy

Third, inline with a trans-sectoral understanding, entrepreneurship 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 enriches the courses or trainings.

But as well the other way round: entrepreneurship might be an interesting form of social engagement for learners and help citizens to improve their civil engagement. Therefore, EDC and HRE educators could consider it as an adequate space for engagement complementary to the self-organization in initiatives or non-profit organizations. Under this new perspective as well VET and learning in the workplace could get fresh impulses.

4. Working across Pedagogical Boundaries

This leads to the fourth point. Entrepreneurial thinking and individual pro-activity is one way to teach learners how the world might be changed. 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 and not necessarily a pro-active one. However, civic educators need to accept that entrepreneurship for some people or groups might be 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 – and seek methodological exchange.

5. Exploring the Meanings behind the Terminology

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 us 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.

  • I used in this text the acronyms EDC (Education for Democratic Citizenship) and HRE (Human Rights Education). More info regarding why I use them and what they do actually mean is to be found at the Council of Europe’s page.
  • This text is elaborating first thoughts about Entrepreneurship Education published on COMPETENDO – Tools for Facilitators by the author and recently published on EU’s blog on Entrepreneurship Education EntreComp 360.