22 Jan The Psychology of Poverty- The Biggest Barrier to Entrepreneurship
The classroom that Michael and I go into is full to overflowing with 11 and 12-year-old children, some with places to sit, others perched on the same chair sharing a corner each. Their desks, for those that have, don’t provide enough space for anyone unlucky enough to have entered first to exit the class unless all the children stand and move the desks forward allowing those pinned in the back to maneuver, with difficulty and with much disturbance, out of the classroom.
This is the one facet, the educational facet, that the majority of the children come into and this is also the institution tasked with intervening in the almost certain and perpetual cycle of poverty that consumes every aspect of these children’s lives.
Michael, my original sidekick when we started Wealth Creators, retells the anecdote of when we did the lesson that involves teaching the concept of low hanging fruit. And we use a game involving apples to illustrate this business concept. In one particular lesson, a young boy exclaimed excitedly after claiming his apple, that “now I have lunch for today.” Hunger, poor sanitation, teenage pregnancy and substandard living conditions are some of the factors that inhibit the intervention in this cycle and reinforce a mental state that is even harder to break.
And yet, even in these awful, stifling conditions, the entrepreneurs still seem to find a way of identifying themselves. I often get asked what my purpose is in this business and in life, and it is never clearer than when I stand in a classroom like the ones mentioned above, and talk about flipping that mental switch to start thinking of problems as opportunities. And there is a child (more often more than one) who identifies a problem in his or her life and reshapes their thinking, in that moment, to create a business opportunity.
I honestly believe that if we could remove some of the elements that consume the mental bandwidth of these children that are so inextricably linked to their quality of life, that we could identify the entrepreneurs far quicker. If the children we teach were learning on full stomachs, in classrooms with the right equipment and resources, where their home lives were not plagued by social sicknesses, the entrepreneurs among those kids would have the mental energy to solve the problems of their world and take the required action.
Their psychological state created by their circumstances limits these kid’s abilities to envisage a future that isn’t constrained in the same manner that theirs is currently. They can’t picture a world where they have started a business and employ those from their community unless someone close to them has done it- and in these societies, those human examples are few. My intention, other than searching for the entrepreneurial spark that exists, is to model that their world is not the only reality that can be created. That the cycle of thinking poor can be broken.