Piloting an Internship Program for Young Ethiopian Entrepreneurs

There is a growing interest in learning whether providing training in entrepreneurial skills can play a role in stimulating the emergence and growth of new firms in developing countries: we want to look at training in a broader context by considering the potential benefits of ‘learning by doing’ on the job, rather than merely studying entrepreneurial skills in a classroom context. Our study will also shed light on other important issues: for example whether improving aspiring entrepreneurs’ “networks”, i.e. their connections to established firms, can improve their prospects for success.

In earlier work, we conducted a “business ideas” competition for aspiring entrepreneurs in Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam and Lusaka. The competition was open to aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18-25, and the ideas were judged by managers of established manufacturing firms. As part of this earlier work, we sampled aspiring young entrepreneurs; across our three study cities, we have a sample of about 500 young people, all of whom developed and presented a specific business plan as part of the business ideas competition. This is a unique and unusual sample: as we learned when running the business ideas competition, it is unfortunately not easy to find a large number of aspiring young entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. We will use this sample to study the value of internships for encouraging young entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas and entrepreneurial abilities.

Young entrepreneurs will each spend a month as an intern in a management-related position within an established firm. Participating firm managers will spend time discussing firm operations with the intern, and may have the intern assist in management-related tasks (for example, in reviewing draft accounts, assessing new marketing opportunities, etc.). This is intended to provide an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to see management techniques in their practical implementation, rather than simply studying them in the abstract. We are interested in learning (i) whether established firms are willing to take interns, and whether £500 remuneration is a reasonable sum to induce firms’ participation, (ii) whether firm managers are willing to share business expertise with aspiring entrepreneurs, (iii) whether aspiring entrepreneurs are interested in an internship as a way of learning relevant business skills, and (iv) whether aspiring entrepreneurs feel that the program was worthwhile. We will carry out a pilot using a sample of 30 firms, which will together accept a total of between 30 and 60 aspiring entrepreneurs. If the program proves viable, we would then intend to seek additional funding to expand to a larger sample for a full randomised control trial of these internships.