Elena Tikhonova: ‘The best strategy is to invest in the development of children and adolescents’

The head of KidSpace children's city on how necessary knowledge about entrepreneurship is for schoolchildren, and how to combine it with school classes

“The best strategy is to invest in the development of children and adolescents — and this is the best strategy both within one family and within the state. This has always been the case and is especially relevant now," says Elena Tikhonova, an entrepreneur, mother of three children, head of KidSpace children's city. And this academic year, Elena's team is implementing a large-scale republican project on the formation of entrepreneurial skills in children and adolescents “School Business Start”. How much do students need knowledge about entrepreneurship? How can this be combined with school classes? How do I become a project participant? Is it appropriate to finance such projects now and who teaches entrepreneurial sciences to modern teenagers? Elena Tikhonova will tell the readers of Realnoe Vremya about these and other questions in anticipation of the World Entrepreneurship Week.

Without going into details of the political and economic situation in our country and in the world, I can say unequivocally that it is our children who are destined to lead humanity out of the current crises. If earlier the development of children and adolescents as a task of the state was included in the outline of the usual cyclical work with the younger generation, now this direction, I believe, is of strategic importance. Especially the direction of the formation of entrepreneurial skills. Why? Yes, because this is what is commonly called flexible skills: the ability to plan and effectively spend time is the most important resource, calculate risks and be able to get away from them, be able to negotiate and, in principle, communicate effectively with people, correctly distribute tasks in a team, take responsibility, overcome crises, present yourself and your product and much more. In addition, entrepreneurship is impossible without knowledge in finance, economics, and law.

Famous economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter writes that entrepreneurship is not a profession, but a part of human character that does not depend on social affiliation. I absolutely agree, as well as with that entrepreneurial skills can be formed in any person, because they will only strengthen professional qualities in any field. You must agree that the owner of a private clinic, who is a doctor himself, or the owner of a sewing factory who knows how to cut and sew, is much more effective than an ordinary manager in these companies.

Having entrepreneurial skills allows a person to respond positively to changes and use them as new opportunities. Adaptability is the ability to be flexible and adapt to any changes. Haven't recent years clearly demonstrated to us the literal vital necessity of this quality? Readiness for continuous development, search for the best solutions — isn't this what is necessary for both a farmer, a pilot, a cook, and a veterinarian?

When, if not at school age, should these skills be formed in a child? By whom, if not by current entrepreneurs?

I am very pleased that we live in a republic where this is understood at the highest level. It was the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Nurgalievich Minnikhanov, who set this strategic task last autumn in a message to the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan. I will say more, we are talking about the formation of entrepreneurial skills in children, students in rural schools and schools in small towns of our republic. After all, not every family has the financial means to get such training, and many simply do not see this as a first necessity.

Already this academic year, the project “School Business Start” has covered 12 thousand schoolchildren of 5-7 grades. These are residents of Alekseevsky, Almetyevsk, Mendeleevsky, Menzelinsky, Arsky, Baltasinsky, Bugulminsky, Laishevsky and other districts of our republic, as well as the cities of Zelenodolsk, Naberezhnye Chelny, Bugulma, Almetyevsk and, of course, Kazan. The project did not appear from scratch — work in this direction has been carried out in Tatarstan for many years. This is a truly unique experience of interaction between the state and us, entrepreneurs, for creation, the birth of a new generation with financial and legal literacy and having business experience already at school.

I compare working in the School Business Start project to weaving lace. After all, we have to carefully integrate into the educational process of children provided for by school curriculum. But, as practice shows, if children are lucky enough to study at a school where the management and teachers have an active life position, there is an opportunity to study without prejudice to the compulsory general education programme.

Of course, it happens that we meet and with bewilderment, and sometimes with some resistance, like why should children fill their heads with some kind of entrepreneurship, what is more — in the village? I disagree. Even if a young person does not become an entrepreneur, which is quite normal (not everyone can really do their own business), having basic knowledge about the structure of private business, pricing, tax system, marketing basics, profit formation, etc., he will become a strong member of the team in any commercial project and a support in the entrepreneur's team. Don't municipal districts need young people with entrepreneurial thinking? They do!

At the very beginning of the project, literally at the first lesson, we ask children to look around, imagine their way from home to school, tell us what surrounds them. Literally everything in their path is created by private businesses — clothing, jewelry, furniture, gadgets, electronics, grocery and industrial stores, products in them… How wide their eyes open! It turns out they didn't even think about it! But it's true: entrepreneurship is a powerful support for the country's economy. But in the families where there are no parents-entrepreneurs, and this is 95% of families, a businessman is considered some kind of cunning fox, on whom money just falls from the sky… In our project, step by step, we reveal the true essence of an entrepreneur — a person who invests his money and his whole life in a business that brings not only profit (which is not a fact), but creates jobs, finances the state through taxes, creates something useful, competitive and tries to do it as well as possible, so that the customer, the buyer come and buy his product again and again.

We receive positive feedback from children, teachers, parents, a lot of appeals and applications for participation in the project. But this academic year, the project is still ongoing — out of 12 thousand participants, only 5% have moved on to the next stage — it is more complicated and more in-depth. Six hundred children of the republic design their startup for three days under the mentorship of real entrepreneurs. This is a very interesting and, I am sure, life-changing experience for many children. In December, we are planning to hold a School Charity Fair, where children will already sell their products, and in February, we are holding a business case championship. The winners of the first “School Business Start” in Tatarstan will be awarded closer to the end of the academic year. I dream of opening new horizons to the winning children and I really hope that the project will continue — after all, it was also a startup, and a lot of municipal districts remained uncovered. Where there are children — there is a perspective. So we, adults, need to create these prospects for them today. Especially today.

Elena Tikhonova

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