Nicole Mountain grew up in one of Cape Town’s poorest townships. Today, aged just 19, she is gearing up to start her own non-profit organisation, and has just been chosen to lead other talented youth via the international organisation the Young Global Pioneers.
With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and increasingly, societies are looking to the youth to provide direction and leadership for the continent. It is a role that Nicole Mountain, a budding entrepreneur and youth leader from Cape Town, is embracing enthusiastically.
Mountain, aged 19, has just returned from China, having been chosen to lead the steering committee for the Young Global Pioneers (YGP), a non-profit organisation that creates networks for young talent across the globe.
During her journey, she also received an Honour Award for participating at the 2015 International Youth Entrepreneur Summit in Xi'an – a moment she says still gives her “chills” to remember.
“I never imagined I would be able to represent my country as I did,” she says.
The mission of Young Global Pioneers is to ‘ignite global curiosity, empathy and aspiration in the next generation,’ explains Mountain. It does this by shaping talented youth into global-minded, responsible leaders.
“My values correlate strongly. I've always been inquisitive and motivated to be an agent of change through community service,” she says.
“Being voted to lead the YGP network means that I have an opportunity to show leadership on a global scale, and challenge myself during the process. My role is to ensure that the group remains closely knit and continues its global support system with regards to global insights and intercultural learning.”
Mountain, one figures out fast, has a will of iron, and doesn’t suffer fools or entitlement gladly. Despite growing up in Bishop Lavis, one of the country’s most disadvantaged areas, there is no trace of self-pity. South Africans, she points out, often forget about the suffering beyond our borders.
“It is important as a young entrepreneur to be aware not only of what is happening in your own community, but beyond your borders,” she says. “We always think we have it worse. South Africa is a developing country, and we do face a lot of adversity, but once you open yourself up to the rest of the world, you get a real sense of responsibility. Once that is instilled in you, that is a real motivation; it opens people to being agents of change. I really support that.”
This sense of responsibility is a major driver for Mountain. Her own desire to be a social entrepreneur was honed at the Raymond Ackerman Academy (RAA) of Entrepreneurial Development at the UCT Graduate School of Business. The Academy offers a funded, six-month programme in entrepreneurial development to motivated young people who have been unable to access tertiary education due to financial resources or other circumstances. It was during her time at the Academy that she was given the opportunity to travel to China along with fellow RAA student Shandre van Rheede. The two were the only South Africans invited to attend.
Mountain’s next plan is to study law, and thereafter to start her own non-profit organisation, which she hopes to do by the end of the year.
Finding a sellable idea is essential in an environment where entrepreneurship is the most viable way to create jobs – especially for the youth, a disproportionate number of whom are currently unemployed, believes Mountain. And it is equally important to ensure that young entrepreneurs are given the support they need to move forward.
According to the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, youth in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the most entrepreneurial in the world, with 52% of youth in SA intending to start a business and 28% running their own businesses, but that the region as a whole does not have enough support infrastructure in place to help turn these youth businesses into long-term success stories.
The GEM report identifies relevant education and training as one of three key areas that could be targeted to improve the success of entrepreneurship in the region. It also underscored the correlation between the level of education and the success of the entrepreneur.
Mountain says that this makes interventions such as the RAA even more critical. The RAA has allowed numerous students like herself – from under-resourced backgrounds or communities – to cut their teeth in the academic and business world. Its mission is to provide a post-matric qualification to those who ordinarily would not be able to attend university, either because of financial constraints or other circumstances.
That’s why one of Mountain’s main, though tongue-in-cheek, pieces of advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to enrol at the RAA. “Apply as soon as possible!” she jokes.
But more seriously, Mountain strongly believes that people who want to start their own business should not hang back.
It’s a mistake, she believes, to say capital is the first step. “What most young entrepreneurs lack is not money but motivation,” she says. “What you need to do is just start. If you get organised, draw up your business plan, and you are passionate about your idea, it is far easier to attract investors. Just start!”
Motivation, she adds, is also a problem when it comes to unemployment. “I notice with many young people that they say there are no jobs. But what jobs? Often they are not even qualified for the job they want. If you get an opportunity, grab it with both hands. No job is a waste of time as long as you are learning. Watch the senior person – learn from them. Save the money you make to start your own business. If there is a job available, take it.”
Resourcefulness; being able to make more of what you’re given is also important, she says. “Learn how to execute your plans well even if you have little.”
And lastly, humility if you are not humble, you cannot connect with people, and people are important to a business!
* To find out more about the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development to www.ackermanacademy.co.za. Applications for 2016 courses now open.